Co-ops can solve football’s crisis, says FC United general manager

Co-ops can solve football’s crisis, says FC United general manager
The Guardian, by Simon Birch

The Manchester club raised £2m from a successful community share scheme.

The general manager of FC United, the award-winning community-owned football club believes that co-ops can help provide the solution to the crisis now crippling the national game.

Speaking at an event organised by Supporters Direct and the Co-operative Group to celebrate the role of co-operatives in football during Co-ops United and held appropriately in the National Football Museum in the heart of Manchester, Andy Walsh said: "All football clubs should be run co-operatively and no-one should be afraid of allowing democracy into the boardroom."

Walsh described how despite generating more cash than ever before, football is now wallowing in more debt than at any time in its history with 14 of the top 20 English clubs operating at a loss and record numbers of insolvencies in what was supposedly the richest league in the world.

"Finally, the issue is being recognised at the highest levels, with all three major political parties agreeing that something needs to be done and that one of the solutions is getting the fans involved with their clubs," said Walsh.

FC United was launched in 2005 by disenchanted Manchester United fans who were angered by the takeover of United by the American Glazer family and who alienated thousands of fans by what they saw as the rampant commercialisation of the club.

"Along with a couple of thousand other people, I wanted to establish something which will be a reminder to those who run the game that there is an alternative, one that puts fans first," said Walsh.

Since its launch, the club has played an active role in its local community, rolling out an active programme of community involvement including running coaching courses for refugees, setting up mental health well-being projects and working with local schools.

Now following a highly successful community share issue which raised almost £2m, FC United is now looking at building a new 5,000 seat stadium in north Manchester.

Also speaking at the event was the newly-appointed chief executive of Supporters Direct David Lampitt.

"Co-operatives are what football is all about," said Lampitt. "Football clubs at their heart are groups of people who want to come together and organise themselves collectively."

However Lampitt warned that the co-operative movement still has a very significant fight against the commercial march that has become prevalent in English football over the last 20 years.

"Supporters Direct has a very important role to play in the promotion of co-operative values to enable a better future for football that’s more sustainable and democratic," added Lampitt, "one based on its fans who are the economic and social lifeblood of the game."

Since its launch in 2000 with the aim of securing a greater level of accountability within football clubs, Supporters Direct has grown spectacularly overseeing the creation of 175 supporters trusts with a combined membership of over 300,000, 32 co-operatively owned clubs and a presence in more than 20 countries across Europe.

The evening was rounded off at the annual Co-operative awards with FC United winning the #coops 2012 award for best use of the media in promoting a co-op.

"The award is for everyone who has played their part in this," said Andy Walsh. "I never stop being amazed by, and proud of, our supporters and would like to thank each person involved for making this happen."