Who owns football?

Supporters’ revolt against corporate power looks likely to produce a change in the law in Scotland.

Football: Celtic''s Kris Commons
A Scottish parliamentary committee has unanimously backed proposals that would give fans the right to buy their clubs [Reuters]

The slogan “against modern football” was first used by Croatian fans at Euro 2008.

It is a cry of revolt against corporate power, soulless all-seater stadiums and the drive to make money out of people’s love for the beautiful game.

The cry has been taken up by supporters across Europe who want to change the way that the game is run.

In Scotland, the call for football to be democratised now looks likely to produce a change in the law.

A powerful Scottish parliamentary committee has unanimously backed proposals from the Green Party’s Alison Johnstone that would give fans the right to buy their clubs.

She said: “Football has been dragged from the back pages of Scotland’s newspapers to the front pages by a series of catastrophic failures, from small clubs like Gretna to clubs at the very top like Hearts and Rangers.

“The current model of ownership has failed, and we know, both from Scotland and elsewhere, that fan ownership works, and that fans are obviously going to be the people with the long term interests of their clubs closest to their hearts.”

Rangers are by far the biggest example of how private ownership can lead to disaster.

With 54 league titles the Glasgow club had won more domestic honours than any other team in the world and it attracted supporters from all over Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Match day attendances were higher than successful English teams that have become global brands, including Chelsea and Liverpool.

Despite this, the club went bust and was forced to start again in the lowest tier of Scottish football. Rangers proud history of sporting success was broken by financial mismanagement.

German model

In the UK, football clubs can be bought and sold like second-hand cars. Johnstone believes that Germany, where almost all clubs are fan owned, offers a better model.

Fan ownership means that German supporters have a much stronger voice in the way the game is run than their English or Scottish counterparts.

As a result, ticket prices are much lower. Bayern Munich offer season tickets for as little as $160. This compares to $875 for the cheapest ticket at table-topping Chelsea. Furthermore, the Bundesliga has not had a single bankruptcy in over 40 years.

Fan power has reached its height at FC St Pauli, in the port city of Hamburg.

In England, supporters’ groups worry that high ticket prices are pushing families out and turning football into an old man’s game. St Pauli has opened a nursery for children while their parents watch the match. Commercial activities that could divert attention from the game, such as LED advertising displays, are banned.

Dave Scott from Nil by Mouth, a charity that campaigns to stamp out bigotry in Scottish football, has welcomed the move towards fan ownership.

“We welcome such strong cross party support for these proposals for greater fan control and ownership of their clubs and feel that this could be an exciting opportunity for the silent majority of fans to find their voice and use their increased position to bring about the real changes required to bring the Scottish game into the 21st century.”

Fans are beginning to fight back against big business and show them who is boss.

Source: Al Jazeera