Football fans should have the right to own their clubs

Football fans should have the right to own their clubs
Daily Record, by Patrick Harvie

It’s no great secret that I’m not the world’s biggest football fan. When I’m asked which team I support I generally brush the question off with a joke about supporting whoever has the best legs.

But you don’t need to look closely to see that compared with, just to pick one random example, trudging the streets leafleting for a political party, football remains a massive draw.

Like so many areas of our lives though, the game has come to be dominated by big money and the big corporations which control that money. Deals are done over players and over TV rights for absurd sums of money, while many small clubs struggle to survive at all. That’s tragic because it’s often been those smaller clubs which have their roots most firmly planted in the local community.

They aren’t just profit machines, or playthings for Russian billionaires. They are loved.

What a difference there could be if those clubs could be genuinely in the hands of the fans who sustain them not just from season to season, but across the generations. It can happen.

In some communities, fan ownership is being pursued by dogged and resourceful people who want their clubs really to be theirs, not for profit but for the long term benefit of the club and the community.

Dunfermline Athletic is one current example. This last year has been a turbulent time for Dunfermline fans. Together with other clubs in Fife and central Scotland, the Pars have been hit by a combination of problems, but an extraordinary effort has been made to take the club into collective fan ownership and there has been real progress.

When I was visiting recently in support of the Green Party’s by-election candidate Zara Kitson I met with fans, volunteers and a member of the Pars Trust itself, and I learned about huge efforts made to date and the work still needed to put the club on a sound financial footing.

Fan ownership is common in Germany, and a few other clubs in Scotland, such as Clyde and Clydebank, have tried to go this way too. But there could be many more if the Scottish Parliament supports an idea my colleague Alison Johnstone is proposing.

Just as rural communities have been given the right to buy their land, we believe that the Government’s ‘Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill’ could establish a right for fans to buy their clubs, and we’re currently trying to persuade other parties to back us.

If communities and supporters’ trusts can take ownership of their local teams and save them from bankruptcy we’d make sure that clubs like Dunfermline are given a sustainable future and can work as a force in the community instead of being at the receiving end of irresponsible owners’ poor judgement.

This weekend the Scottish Green Party’s conference voted in favour of this idea, and we hope it will be something that unites politicians across the spectrum. Speaking personally, I still doubt I’ll ever see the attraction of the game itself (aside from the legs of course) but I’d be delighted if we’ve helped groups of fans to take control of their clubs as community assets, something to value and hand on to the next generation of fans.