Fans groups have welcomed reports of a government scheme to require clubs to offer stakes of up to 25 per cent to supporters, but the proposals have been labelled a "pipe dream" and a "gimmick" by opposition parties.
The Labour Party is set to include a raft of measures in their election manifesto to allow supporters a greater say in how clubs are run, including a window for them to mount a takeover bid if a club is put up for sale or falls into administration. The detail of the proposals remain to be seen, but any attempt to force clubs to allow supporters a stake will raise major legal and practical issues that would impact on company and insolvency laws. One football administrator described the proposed scheme as "crazy".
But it is an issue that strikes a chord with supporters. "The devil is in the detail, but finally the government recognises this is a key issue," said Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters Federation. "Football clubs are not like any other business, they play an important role in the structure of the community. This is a recognition that the football supporter is not just like a shopper at Tesco."
Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, said: "It is a major step forward and is what we have been lobbying for.
"There are all sorts of areas where the government intervenes if it is perceived to be in the public's interest. Scottish crofters were given the right to buy from landlords – that offers just one precedent. There is a strong public interest in football clubs."
The Conservatives are in favour of increased supporter representation, but Hugh Robertson, the shadow sports minister, said: "This has all the hallmarks of a pre-election gimmick." The Liberal Democrat sport spokesman, Don Foster said: "Supporter ownership is a nice idea but will be nothing more than a pipe dream for most fans."
The Uefa president Michel Platini, however, backed the scheme. "It is a great idea for supporters to invest in a club because they at the end of the day defend the club's identity," he said.