Football supporters angered by the manner in which their clubs are being run – and judging by a major new survey, most are – are being urged to make the sport’s governance a serious political issue in the run up to next year’s general election.
According to a random survey of just over 4,000 adults, carried out for Supporters Direct by ICM, only 18 per cent of fans believe their clubs are financially well run, and 38 per cent back the organisation’s call for regulation entitling supporters to be directly involved in the ownership of the club.
There was also overwhelming backing for formal consultation to be required on major changes such as name, shirt colour, badge or location.
Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters’ Federation, said the case for meaningful supporter representation in the governance of every football club has long since been unanswerable.
“We’re in a situation in this country where too many clubs in the top divisions are now either simply trophy assets for rich owners, and treated as such, or are basically being financially fleeced,” Clarke said. “The supporters see what’s going on, but they can’t walk away, they have an emotional bond to the club.
“More and more supporters’ trusts are having to take over clubs [including in the League Portsmouth, Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers and AFC Wimbledon] and many MPs already appreciate the need for change.”
Clarke accepts that, less than a year to a general election, the Government will not make such legislation a priority. But he also believes that political upheaval represents an opportunity.
“Supporters have more power than they realise. If every supporter emailed candidates in the run-up to an election and said, ‘Look, this issue matters to us and to the community’, the next Parliament could be the one that finally introduces regulation.”
Robin Osterley, the chief executive officer of Supporters Direct, said the survey sent a message to football’s governing bodies, especially the Football Association, that a “critical mass” of supporters now wanted change. “It shows irrefutably that the average fan does care that their clubs are run badly: that they do want to see the FA get control and run it in the interest of all, not just the minority of clubs or officials at the top; and that they believe part of that should mean a role in the ownership of their clubs.”
There are growing concerns about the state of some clubs in the Championship as the new season approaches. It seems reasonable to say, for example, that followers of Cardiff City, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Blackpool want a more meaningful say in how their clubs are run.
Leeds are now owned by a convicted fraudster Massimo Cellino and managed by David Hockaday, a man who not so long ago was sacked by Forest Green Rovers after losing seven games out of eight.
Gary Cooper, chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust, said fans’ involvement in ownership had to be the way forward. “Canvass opinion at any club, and there aren’t many who don’t believe there has to be regulation making it a legal requirement to consult supporters on certain issues. Ideally, supporters should have the opportunity to achieve the kind of representation they have in German clubs, where a private individual cannot own more than 50 per cent of a club.
“Leeds supporters have become used to disappointment and at the moment most are prepared to give Mr Cellino time to restructure the club.”