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Power To The People Who Follow Football
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Wednesday, October 29 2014

Chris WilliamsonChris Williamson, a member of RamsTrust and a lifelong Derby supporter has been the Labour MP for Derby North since 2010. He was formerly Leader of Derby City Council and was responsible for Brian Clough being given the Freedom of the City.

Prior to entering politics, Chris was a bricklayer and a social worker among other jobs.

Recently, Shadow Minister for Sport Clive Efford announced that a future Labour Government would encourage supporter participation in football club boardrooms with representation from the trust associated with the club. Chris Williamson was delighted to be a part of this commitment and offered to write an article for RamsTrust on the subject.

 

THERE is no doubt that professional football is a very different game to the one that I grew up enjoying as Derby County found great success on the field in the 1970s.

 

Flooded with some of the best talent from across the globe, the English game is an international spectacle, and the quality of some of the football on offer is unquestionably world class.

But all of that has come at a price. Some football fans have been frozen out as billionaires, from Britain and overseas, have bought up whole football clubs.

Along with the television companies who profit from selling English football around the world, these owners have made our game a truly corporate business.

As a lifelong Derby County fan and member of the Rams Trust, I am pleased that my club still offers one of the best value ticket prices in the league. But even Derby County's ticket prices are still too expensive, and wages certainly haven't kept pace with increasing admission costs.

When I started watching Derby County I used to pay 7 ½p. Even when we started sweeping the board under Brian Clough you could get into the Pop Side for just 20p.

Elsewhere, following your local team has excluded even more would-be supporters, while others have endured the frustration of seeing their club being used as a business rather than being a community asset that engenders local pride.

There are those clubs like Aston Villa and Newcastle United for whom treading water in the top flight is now considered success to their owners. But their fans would love to trade profitability for a chance at silverware.

Then there are the likes of Portsmouth and Leeds United, who rode high on the back of big spending but who have fallen from grace since then.

And of course there is Cardiff City, whose fans may have enjoyed a skirmish in the top flight. But their stomachs must turn at the way their owners sold out the club’s traditions, cladding the team in red and making a mockery of their Bluebirds nickname.

All of these clubs have had mixed fortunes and been affected by the heavy investment in our game in different ways. But one thing they have in common is a sense of detachment from their club’s community roots as a result of outside investment.

Even the mighty Manchester United are no strangers to this. A sizeable group of their supporters felt so disenchanted with the club’s sell-out to the American Glazer family that they started their own club – FC United of Manchester – and have enjoyed non-league success since then.

And it’s that sort of supporter-led participation that Labour wants to encourage with its plans to put fans back at the heart of their football clubs.

The party wants to give supporters – having established recognized groups – a guaranteed right to buy shares in their club.

It is about recognizing that football clubs aren’t simply businesses, but things that are held dear by local people, for all their heritage and history, for all they symbolize and for all they mean to their supporters.

The move should hardly come as a surprise. It’s what Labour has been talking about for years – giving local people greater ownership of the things that matter most to their communities, and ensuring those most affected by decisions have a say in what they will be.

And it’s not as if the policy, which Labour has pledged to introduce if it wins next year’s General Election, is pie-in-the-sky.

Swansea City have proved it can work. Supporters own 20 per cent of that club, and have taken even more satisfaction from the remarkable recovery that has seen the Swans climb from the doldrums to an established Premier League force in less than a decade.

Looking further afield there is the example of FC Barcelona. If the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid compete for the title of the world’s biggest club, then Barca, owned and operated by its supporters, is surely the most romantic.

Labour isn’t suggesting that the Barcelona model be replicated across England, nor promising that every team in the country will one day win the Champions League or boast a strikeforce of Messi, Neymar and Suarez.

But what it is hoping is that its proposals can bridge the vast gulf that currently exists between football clubs and their supporters.

If we can, then clubs will once again become community assets, and permanent symbols of local pride and passion.

 
 
 
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