January 13, 2016
Off the ball
What is it with football fans? Their players and managers come and go, strips may change colour and even stadiums can move, but their devotion to the team never falters. It’s a powerful force (albeit not always easy to fathom) which many believe could achieve much more. The Scottish Green Party was responsible for ensuring that fans could realise some of this potential through the Community Empowerment Act. And before the fine detail is agreed, Scottish Government wants to hear the fans’ view. But be quick. Only two days left.
Over the past couple of years, community empowerment has been high on the agenda when it comes to Scottish politics, and Greens have worked hard to make the case that giving communities greater control over the assets they rely upon is vital for the country’s happiness, economic success, and to boost equality.
The assets essential for community empowerment go beyond the obvious things, such as land, and include the full range of services that communities depend upon.
Given the key role that football clubs so often play in local economies, and for local identity, our national game seemed the perfect place for a Green campaign for community empowerment to begin – not least because it illustrates well how closely connected political reforms are to our daily lives.
In 2013 I launched the Fans First campaign, seeking to give supporters the right to buy their clubs, because I am convinced that community and fan ownership should not be seen simply as a last resort to rescue a club already at crisis point; but as a viable and sustainable option for clubs to adopt.
After an amendment to the Community Empowerment Bill that was passed by the Scottish Parliament in June, the matter of fan ownership and right-to-buy moved into a period of consultation, allowing supporters to have their say until 15th January.
Too many clubs are sold without fans being involved in the process, even to the extent of being fully informed about the merits, or otherwise, of prospective new owners, or without being given the time to assemble a credible bid themselves should they wish to do so.
I also know there are very good owners who may, for whatever reason, want to step away from football or plan for their retirement, and would like to hand their clubs on securely to the fans if possible. Our proposals would allow them to plan an exit strategy that suits all concerned.
Ultimately, we must make a break with Scottish football’s reliance on white knight owners who sometimes turn out not to be able or willing to deliver what they’ve promised.
The Greens want the Scottish Government’s final legislation for the Community Empowerment Bill to include: a fans’ right to buy their club for an agreed price or an independent valuation; a right of appeal for owners, with a requirement for democratic fan support; and eligibility for Scottish Government loans or grants to help fans buy their clubs.
Clearly those supporters’ trusts who decide to exercise a right-to-buy should be required to show the decision has been democratically arrived at, along the lines of a one member, one vote mechanism; and depending on the size of community, there may be a case for groups being eligible to receive government grants or loans.
At a meeting of St Mirren fans in Paisley recently, it was made clear that some fan groups would need a bit more time than others to get the cash together to buy, but it would be devastating to see a club fold for want of a relatively small loan that could come on fair and secure terms from the government.
Greens believe fans’ trusts are most likely to be the most responsible and successful owners for their clubs in the long term, and when a committed and well-organised group of fans has strong support on the terraces for a takeover, we want them to be empowered to do so.
Let’s work together to take Scottish football forwards, and put fans first when it comes to the big decisions affecting the long term future of our game.