MOMS Goes to Parliament
At the start of July MOMS along with 15 or so members of various supporters trusts and groups, via an invite from the Football Supporters Federation (FSF), went to meet Shadow Minister for Sport, Clive Efford MP at Parliament.
Essentially it was a brainstorming session to access the changes needed to help increase supporter involvement in the governance of their clubs and to safeguard supporter interests in the club. The meeting would “help formulate Labour’s policies ahead of the 2015 Election”.
The agenda was as follows:
1. Fan Groups and Football Authorities
b) Grievance procedures
c) Football Authorities communication with fans
d) Are fans listened to enough over major decisions?
2. Fans involvement with Clubs
a) Should rules require clubs consultation on major issues (Ticket prices, Club identity and sponsorship)
b) What form shouldfans involvement with clubs take?
c) Open meetings to question boards (How often?)
d) Fans and boards
e) Right to acquire shares
3. Labour’s policy to protect football stadiums
a) Presumption under palnning use to remain as stadiums
b) Recognised fan groups can register as a consultee on any changes of use
c) Development may be permitted where it meets local priorities and there is like-for-like replacement
d) Partial development to improve what remains
4. Other issues
We’ve discussed some of the above issues already on MOMS and have a few more to cover in upcoming posts, so we’ll just use broad strokes here.
The Villa Supporter Example
If you want a example of why such concern is being shown by politicians about football, look no further than the detailed survey of Villa fans undergone by the Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust (results to be published by them soon) which indicated that only 16% answered ‘yes’ to the question: ‘Do you believe the club listens to its fan’s views and takes their interests into account when making decisions?’ (59% answered ‘no’, with 25% ‘undecided’).
Only 16% of fans think their interests are taken into account. That’s a shocking stat, but very reflective of the mood of other supporters across the country too.
The feeling of the disconnect between supporters and the Villa board was also shown with 79% of Villa supporters stating there should be a supporter-elected director on the board (like Swansea has). Only 8% disagreed.
In terms of the bigger picture, 72% of fans thought there should be some form of mechanism to allow supporter involvement in the ownership structure of AVFC (11% said no, with 17% undecided).
Such sentiment pretty much reflects the nationwide supporter discontentment that is boiling up; take the recent battles Cardiff City and Hull City supporters have engaged in to protect their club’s basic identity and heritage. Or, the recent battles our neighbours Birmingham City and Coventry City have had to contend with in terms of their owners behavior.
Money has little time for sentiment or tradition, but take those virtues out of the game and it’s soulless ‘entertainment’ that isn’t worth the time and investment to bother with.
[quote_center]Only 16% of [Villa] fans think their interests are taken into account – AVST survey[/quote_center]
Using the above agenda as a rough guideline in the meeting, the practicalities of football governance was discussed, although supporter influence on that level in the top-flight at least, seems a long way away in terms of being regulated. Certain legal protections to basic heritage – whether it be the club’s name, colours, stadium – also seemed to be in the forefront of Labour’s thinking. In other words a basic set of laws to protect a club’s historical identity.
I proposed that the notion of empowering supporters was key moving forward. ‘Empowerment should be regarded as more than a simple ideology. When you have numbers, people listen and football supporters are one of the biggest consumer groups there is. The organisation of those numbers to represent themselves more effectively is of paramount importance to increasing football supporter’s standing in their own game.
Supporter solidarity across colours is also key and something that MOMS has increasingly been involved in especially with our participation in the two Football Supporter Federation marches in London.
Another key to an increased supporter voice is the formalisation of the role of Supporter Liaison Officers (SLO) at football clubs, that if undertaken properly could potentially lead to much improved communication links between clubs and their fans. And importantly, communication on an equal footing, which is key to its success.
The role of the SLO seemed to be news to the Shadow Minister and is very much in its infancy at clubs.
The German way
As the mention of Germany must crop up every five minutes in any FA meeting about how to improve the fortunes of the England team, what has been happening in Germany on a supporter side of things was front and centre of the meeting called by Cliff Efford MP.
As a recent article in the Daily Telegraph pointed out there’s simply a fundamentally better attitude from the Bundesliga to German supporters.
German football’s approach to running its affairs to that of budget supermarket Aldi, boasting of its “holistic” attitude and the emphasis it placed on doing its part to improve “society”.
While English supporters have little infrastructure or organisation to stand up for themselves against the Premier League, our German counterparts don’t like to be messed with.
As Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert, says, “German supporters would kick up a “huge s—storm” if their clubs increased even the cost of a bratwurst.”
While in England tickets to watch games are expensive and clubs focus on attracting followers through TV broadcasting in emerging markets like the USA and Asia, the Bundesliga clubs always have a duty of care to their supporters through maintaining affordable ticket prices and retaining cheap standing areas in their stadiums.
While revenue from TV broadcast rights is increasing in German football, it is only 29% of the total revenue. German football clubs record the highest average attendance in Europe; six of the top ten are from the Bundesliga. Despite this stat, the English Premier League likes to consider itself as the ‘Greatest League in the World” (say it enough times and it becomes true). Its financial success now features in the marketing syllabus of university business schools, because it is all about big business and the corporate and commercial enterprise that sprouts from it.
While English football supporters give away the rights to the image of their passion for free, so it can be marketed back at them to fleece them of their hard-earned cash (look at any Sky or BT Sport TV adverts that show passionate celebrating fans), German football clubs must be owned and controlled by their members, the local supporters.
[quote_center]”German supporters would kick up a “huge s—storm” if their clubs increased even the cost of a bratwurst.”[/quote_center]
Belief in the Possibilities
For those thinking that the 72% of Villa supporters who want supporter involvement in the running of their club are in cloud cuckoo land, in German it’s a given.
The presence of the ’50 + 1′ rule in DFB and DFL statutes means that supporter ownership (or majority control) is enshrined in German football. There is opportunity for meaningful supporter involvement in every aspect of a club – from electing board members to organising local community projects.
Lets not forget, up to 82% of the ownership of Bayern Munich, one of the world’s richest clubs, lies with its 130,000 members. Bundesliga is the world’s most profitable football league and is awash with funds and resources, yet cash is not necessarily king.
There is a way forward as the German model shows, but the money men and bodies that hold a vested interest in upholding the current status quo aren’t going to serve a solution up for fans. It has to be wrestled from them.
One thing that was highlighted in the overall picture at the parliament meeting was the fact that it’s always difficult to get any traction in terms of football supporters taking an interest in their rights and the issues that have their interests at stake.
Most fans are content to just go to games, read match reports and transfer news, with their main concern being what happens on the pitch, rather than what happens off it. That’s fair enough, perhaps that’s how it should be, but at the same time, it’s what has allowed greed to take our clubs away from us.
Increasingly our loyalty, emotional and financial investment in our clubs is disrespected. We are often patronised and ignored. Often a football club’s default setting for dealing with supporters is as ”uneducated masses’. There seems to be a hangover still from the hooligan reputation of supporter’s from the 1970’s.
One thing is for sure in terms of supporter apathy though , as a Manic Street Preachers-inspired banner said on last year’s march to the Premier League offices, ‘If you tolerate this, then your children will be next’.
In short, the future of what football could become is in our hands.
Are Labour just posturing?
What was interesting about the Parliament meeting was this feeling that Labour was starting from scratch, when it’s actually been a hobbyhorse of their’s for a while now. While the Conservative party have been seen as the traditional enemy of football (despite currently having a Villa-supporting leader), in no small part to Thatcher’s administration and Hillsborough and the ID scheme, the Labour Party have frequently positioned themselves as defenders of the working class people’s game. Is it empty posturing though?
In 1997, the Labour government came into office during a time that English football was allegedly ‘coming home’ due to the European Championships being hosted the previous year. England got to the semi-finals and buzz for the game filtered into the relatively new Premier League.
In 1996, the St George’s flag was something to be celebrated again. They were seen in house windows, from flagpoles on house roofs and smaller versions flying from cars as they drove past. Manufacturers and quick-witted entrepreneurs made thousands (and millions) knocking out St George’s flags and spin-off products. It was a template for what football became about – making money.
Now back in 1997, when it was first elected, the Labour government actually saw through the this ‘coming home’ hype.
The new government set up the Football Task Force to address issues including high ticket prices, how to encourage supporter involvement in clubs, and how the wider purpose of football clubs can be preserved when they are, in reality, companies being bought and sold or, as was the boardroom fad then, floated on the stock market.
That was 17-years-ago though. Not that much has happened due to it, as the same issues are being pondered.
In 2010, the party seemed to refocus their agenda on football. The start of that year had seen Manchester United fans protesting against the Glazers (Villa fans will remember their yellow and green scarves at Wembley for Villa’s League Cup Final against United) and Portsmouth seemed to have been left to rot.
Cynics would say in 2010, Labour was suddenly in danger of losing an election and perhaps looked to football in the hope for votes. Is this now true of Labour once again?
Having also been to Parliament for a MP discussion on ‘Safe Standing’ back in 2012, it is at least good to know that politicians are becoming invested again in the issues supporters are facing. They are there to be lobbied and written to, but the key for change will always have to come from within ourselves. UTV
* MOMS is not affiliated to any particular political party.