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Politicians curry favour with fan proposal

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David Bond | 19:27 UK time, Monday, 29 March 2010

Having presided over record levels of public debt, you might think it's a bit rich for Gordon Brown to start lecturing football clubs on their finances.

But there's an election to be won and while some might argue there are more serious issues for the government to address, football is a good way for the Prime Minister to show he is a man of the people.

That's certainly what opposition parties and the Premier League thought of new proposals to give fans the right to buy shares in their teams. "Blatant electioneering" howled the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Gordon BrownSupporters could be given the chance to buy a stake in their club under radical proposals being considered by Labour

"Leave us alone and concentrate on the Football Association's failings", said the Premier League.

But before you dismiss the idea as pie in the sky, there might be more to this than a cheap election stunt sketched out on the back of a fag packet.

Government lawyers are understood to be considering a scheme to force the FA to change its constitution, which would in turn cause member clubs to offer fans the right to buy shares in their team.

If they don't they will threaten to withdraw £35m of annual government funding or, even worse, pull support for the highly prized basis of the sport's economic boom - namely the right to collectively sell their television rights.

What Brown's team is proposing is a state intervention with few parallels, except perhaps the bailout of the banking sector.

They would also require supporters groups to come up with huge sums of money and an amendment to insolvency law - which means that in the event of a football club going bust, fans would get first refusal on a takeover ahead of alternative bids which potentially offer more money to creditors.

There are a lot of hurdles to clear - not least the election itself.

But for a Government which has always sided with the Premier League's free market model, the proposals are a sign that patience is running out with football's economic arrogance.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hmm - last election it was fox hunting, now its football.

  • Comment number 2.

    But for a Government which has always sided with the Premier League's free market model, the proposals are a sign that patience is running out with football's economic arrogance.


    No, the proposals are the sign of a government, guilty of their own economic arrogance, trying to court popularity with a scheme that will never be implemented because it's unenforceable. Blatant electioneering from a flim-flam government.

  • Comment number 3.

    If this idea ever sees the light of day I'm a Frenchman.

  • Comment number 4.

    OK, it's not a bad idea in theory, but these clubs are independent privately owned or publicly quoted businesses. You cannot make them do this. And if you tried, UEFA and FIFA would come down like the proverbial tonne of bricks, citing their laws against political interference. In an extreme case, you could see English clubs thrown out of European competition, and the England team expelled from the World Cup and European Championships.

    Whoever wins the election, this will be forgotten about. The Premier League and the Premier League alone, have the power to do this, and even then, it couldn't be properly enforced. It's the 21st century, not the 19th and we have to deal with it.

  • Comment number 5.

    David, sorry cannot tell from your blogg what's going on here? However it is no wonder the Premier League don't want politicians, in particular someone who has the 'Midas touch - in reverse' interfering; as though football hasn't enough problems!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    "......even worse, pull support for the highly prized basis of the sport's economic boom - namely the right to collectively sell their television rights."
    Think you will find that the removal of this requirement would suit some clubs 'down to the ground' -excuse the pun! Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal,etc have a massive fan base world wide and would all make more money from selling their 'viewing rights' individually, both outside as well as inside the UK

  • Comment number 7.

    Brown is getting desperate. He's ruined the economy, now he's trying to ruin football.

    His ideas would probably fall foul of EU regulations on trade and would almost certainly lead to accusations of Government interference in football. Something that FIFA would not stand for, with them having the ultimate sanction of suspending England from FIFA sanctioned events.

    Funny that a Scot wants to interfere with English football matters, I wonder why??

  • Comment number 8.

    The "Brown Midas Touch" indeed - not quite the same lustre as gold.
    The free market and business sponsorship has resulted in the Premiership being the strongest football league in Europe, if not the world. No-one is suggesting that the Glazers or Hicks and Gillett are ideal for football, but this smacks of a desperate government trying to indulge in populist nonsense and fix a non-existent problem. Or is Manchester a key marginal?
    Red card for Brown.

  • Comment number 9.


  • Comment number 10.

    "1. At 9:27pm on 29 Mar 2010, Rover the hill and far away wrote:

    Hmm - last election it was fox hunting, now its football."

    haha shows what you know about hunting,what a massive vote winner :-/

  • Comment number 11.

    what a total numpty this man is. does he seriously think he's fooling anyone? what this unelected man has done to our country is a disgrace, i don't like Cameron as a person but the tories have my vote this year.
    OUT WITH NU-labour!

  • Comment number 12.

    What, exactly, will the fans be getting for their 25%?

    Football clubs aren't cheap, even Ebbsfleet cost 700k and just look at what happened there. From over 30000 to under 800 members in two years and staring relegation in the face.

    And anyone wanting an Arsenal share won't see much change from 10k, to ought to be interesting to see how they plan to make it affordable for the 'average fan'. Something involving throwing out the bathwater with the baby still in it no doubt.

    I've no doubt several football club owners will have heard the sound of an opportunity to further fleece the fans though. You pay for a very small voice, or to vote someone on the board, which the club will invest in exclusive merchandise to sell you, which you'll buy to show to everyone that you're such a fan you paid through the nose to be slightly less of a nothing to the board than before.

    It reeks of another hurried, badly thought-out policy - if you can hear a banging noise near Whitehall it'll be the government lawyers banging their heads against a table after being handed a large lemon by, well, another large lemon.

  • Comment number 13.

    It's a shame the government haven't read and understood the seminal academic literature on sports economics - Rottenberg (1956), Neale (1964) and Sloane (1971), or even read Cairns et al. (1986) for a comprehensive literature review. The issues that clearly need to be addressed are the utility maximizing business strategies in operation at a majority of clubs (i.e. salary cap as per cent of turnover) and, recognising the Premier and Football Leagues as a joint-product, the structure of the game needs to be radically altered with an efficient FA board and a CEO with real power - not a poodle of the Premier League.

  • Comment number 14.

    Read somewhere that it would be a great idea for lower league clubs, but people cannot afford to buy stakes in clubs such as Man Utd, worth nearly £1 billion. Is it just a way of buying votes?

  • Comment number 15.

    i thought the fox hunting ban was to hide our illegal war with iraq, another NU labour disgrace. i very well might be wrong however.

  • Comment number 16.

    yeh because the tories voted against Iraq didnt they genius

  • Comment number 17.

    Collective selling of TV rights is as safe as houses...(outside of the GFC). The top clubs would prefer to sell their own rights at something like 10 times the income the current deal gets them, so they'll be saying, "bring it on".

    That said, government or FIFA involvement in getting sensible funding into football is the way ahead. Football has, as did the GFC, shown that
    self-regulation doesn't work. A few powerful enough men will always rort the system to get wealthy and not care what carnage is left behind.

  • Comment number 18.

    While this might appear as a way to try attract cheap votes ahead of a looming election, I doubt it will have much of a tangible effect as most people have made up their minds anyway to oust New Labour. Swings and roundabouts - inevitable after such a long time in power, the stagnation that comes with it and especially following the various crises of the last two years.

    However, I do think that there needs to be further investigation into the finances of British football. I would advocate the introduction of a German-type model, as it is:
    1. far more stable (look at Portsmouth this season as well as the debt carried by so many British clubs)
    2. truly allows the fans their say
    3. will make watching football more affordable for many people and boost attendance, especially for lower league clubs (as an Aberdeen fan I feel this final point to be especially important).

    Therefore, I can see a little wisdom in the proposed scheme, but it is badly timed and hardly going to swing voters' minds at this late juncture.

    As for the comment in post 7 about a Scot wanting to interfere in English football matters, I think that's a pretty pathetic dig. We are not all woad-painted nationalists looking to spoil the English game as an act of defiance.

  • Comment number 19.

    This is a fantastic idea. Why has no-one thought of it before now!!!!!!!

    Oh yes they have. Bournemouth, Brentford, Chesterfield and Lincoln City have all been down this road already. I believe that The Red Knights have proposed this for Man Utd, The get the yanks out of Liverpool brigade have also put this proposal forward. Its a case of too little too late from this discredited government(and I am not a Conservative by the way).

    Also this will harm any standing we have within FIFA because it is govenment interferance into football matters. The proposal must come from the fans not Government, and even then the owners can refuse to talk to them anyway.

  • Comment number 20.

    It's amazing what a co-ordinated bloggers attack can do, isn't it?

    I'd like all those up-in-arms commenters to answer the following:

    1. Is Barcelona bust?
    2. Does Barcelona 'fleece its fans'?
    3. Do Barcelona fans possess 'a small influence' or complete influence?
    4. Are Barcelona the only club with such ownership?
    5. Are those other clubs bankrupt?

    I'm neutral on this. I think if fan ownership comes, it's because fans want it and they're ready to take responsibilities attendant with it. But it should come from the fans, not from Gordon Brown.

    It's reasonable for Gordon Brown to attach terms and conditions to any public money which is channeled through football. It's reasonable for him to impose business law on football clubs, as currently they are companies, not charities. It's reasonable for him to clamp down on match fixing, as that is fraud of the paying customer. And it's reasonable for him to look at the net financial outcome of the EPL and ask 'does it benefit UK plc'? Which is a far more open question than many of you might think.......

    But me thinks that the protesters doth protest too much. It's really extremely simple: if fans don't want to do it, they won't cough up the money. In which case it won't happen. And Ebbsfleet is a poor, poor example to cite: AFC Wimbledon is far better. Genuine fans with an affinity to the Borough of Merton setting up their own fan-owned club which is doing rather well.......

    Rather than attack Gordon Brown on this one, let the fans decide whether they will cough their money up. And, as 80% odd of both MUFC and LFC fans are pro a fan-owned situation, according to recent polls, it would be interesting to see what happens in the next 18 months........

  • Comment number 21.

    The FA gets £35 million each year from the government?

  • Comment number 22.

    Someone has had to introduce this idea. The financial state of football has been getting out of hand for ages, not least demonstrated by the price of Cristiano Ronaldo, the debt of Manchester United and the Portsmouth's crisis.
    Before so-called businessmen took control, this was not an issue. United were as the advert says "firmly in the green", and FANS were able to say that they were owned by fans.

    Regardless of which party is elected in, this is something that slowly needs to be re-introduced. Giving the control back to where it matters.

    Another thing - these are hardly successful businessmen, Abramovich included, if they are in billions of debt. Chelsea has only this year started to make a profit. If this is the case and they are a success, then the thousands of students who emerge with 1st class degrees, but with £000s debt each year are on the same level.

  • Comment number 23.

    '"Leave us alone and concentrate on the Football Association's failings", said the Premier League.'

    The FA has numerous failings, but a number of them are the fault of the Premier League. The FA has long sought a stronger regulatory function, but the Premier League and their 'free-market, revenues at any cost' approach has meant they have been vehemently opposed to anything even slightly more stringent than what could be called very-light-touch regulation.

    This Labour proposal is in all probability just electioneering, and although there some good things to be said of the proposal it is ultimately flawed, not least because of the necessary changes or exemptions from insolvency law, or the lack of protection for creditiors or investors.

    But despite all this, if the Premier League seriously wants to campaign for business as usual then they are deluded, and Man Utd, Liverpool and Portsmouth fans can offer a million reasons why.........

  • Comment number 24.

    We need to sort out the state of the club finances sooner or later. Without spending the huge amounts of unsustainable money English clubs would not be the force they are in Europe and would be forced to work within their means, like the German clubs. In the long term this would be to the benefit of the national side with more money invested in academies.
    The Labour government have their faults and this may be a stunt but they are still the only real option, the only football fans I could see voting for the Tories are the prawn sandwich brigade due to the fact they aren't real fans but are affluent and snotty. Plus there are of course also the racists who will vote BNP but they were shown their place by John Barnes. Lib Dems? More chance of Pompey staying up.

  • Comment number 25.

    The big four and quite possible a few more clubs like Spurs, Man City, Everton, Villa would jump at the chance to sell their own TV rights worldwide. And, why shouldn`t they, we live in a competive world with already far too many laws and regulations around our necks. Those clubs with a big fan base would see a huge rise in TV revenue and some might get even more than Real Madrid and Barca.

  • Comment number 26.

    Man Utd were second in the world for revenue, behind only Real Madrid. They have topped this for a number of seasons previously. The only reason they are in such debt is the underhand way in which the club was bought by the Glazers.

    Any move to sell the TV rights seperately would probably be welcomed by Man Utd and especially the Glazers as they can then milk the club for more millions without having to cough up any of their own money!

    However whilst I am all for fan ownership in theory, I personally don't like the idea of the Red Knight bid. Instead of having 1 owner, we would have 70 - all looking for a return on an investment opportunity. Anyone who thinks these people would be investing for the love of the club are delusional, these people didn't make money by being sentimental.

  • Comment number 27.

    Anyone who thinks regulation isn't required in the 21st century is living in the past and hasn't learnt much from recent history. Of course the government should intervene in the shambles we call football.
    The main objective must be to ensure 'fair competition' and all the governing bodies have failed in this regard. Every team must have a reasonable chance of winning the league they compete in otherwise it makes no sense.
    With a £750 million overdraft any club could buy the right palyers and win the Premier League so what's the point. It should be set up so that noone, no matter how much debt or capital they can raise or inject, can 'buy' a league championship.
    The fans are the key part of a football club and should have a bigger say because they bring such things as community spirit, loyality and identity and these are the things that have substance and have nothing to do with money. That doesn't mean people can't earn a good income from the sport but it must be in balance with other industries and jobs in society.

  • Comment number 28.

    Disregarding the treachery often found in politics, I struggle to find anything wrong with this proposal. Clubs are often community property, with the locals most vocal and passionate about their running. With English clubs mostly based near or around residential areas, I feel it's the man on the street who should feel most near a club if ownership was to introduced. Benefits extend far beyond merely generating income for clubs, as hooliganism (a bit rare) can also be tackled. I mean, why engage in hooliganistic acts when you own a piece of the pie? A bit simplistic perhaps but still worth considering.

    Barcelona is a model of public ownership, with their being more than a club extending beyond the soccer pitch. At the height of Franconian dictatorship, Catalan could only be safely spoken at the Nou Camp, marking out this club as the region's flagship enterprise; a wholly owned public body with locals having massive say in its affairs.

    A benefit of local and public ownership would be better diligence at scrutinizing would-be owners, with the likes of (on behalf of anyone of like mind) Gillette & Hicks, and the Glazers likely to be non-starters in the ownership of clubs. Local ownership would also allow clubs to remain true to peculiarities of an area or region, e.g. Shankly's philosophy of a duality between the club and its fans.

    A related benefit could also be development of local talent, not to the detriment of talent from elsewhere, and certainly not in a bigoted sense e.g. Athletic Bilbao's policy of only Basques, but identification of youngsters from within, who're to be given first refusal to playing for their home clubs.

    It would be good to debate this proposal soberly, without getting caught up in partisan politics. After all, the nation belongs to the vulgus, not politicians, right?

  • Comment number 29.

    This just seems to me like a desperate ploy to win votes. I have never understood why Gordon Brown feels the need to comment on popular culture so much.

    My personal opinion will be that this is just another promise that is being said pre-election but will never be fulfilled. I really hope no football fans are suckered into voting Labour because of this. I can't think of any improvements under their government: immigration - disaster (let's face it, the BNP wouldn't have a sniff if it wasn't a problem), education - as bad as it has ever been due to endless tinkering (don't just look at exam results for evidence), economy - well what else needs to be said? We were better off with the Conservatives (not that I'm voting for them either mind), except of course in the amount of pointless legislation and needless paperwork.

  • Comment number 30.

    "1. At 9:27pm on 29 Mar 2010, Rover the hill and far away wrote:

    Hmm - last election it was fox hunting, now its football."

    "haha shows what you know about hunting,what a massive vote winner"

    Did I say vote winner - distraction technique I think. Still I don't massively care living abroad. Have well left that mess behind - just don't like politics becoming about spin, lies amd concealment - please clone Tonny Benn someone.

    "i thought the fox hunting ban was to hide our illegal war with iraq, another NU labour disgrace. i very well might be wrong however."

    I think it was trotted out so many times whenever Labour wanted something to distract people - its amazing how much emotion was generated over it and it covered over much more important issues at the time.

    "The Labour government have their faults and this may be a stunt but they are still the only real option, the only football fans I could see voting for the Tories are the prawn sandwich brigade due to the fact they aren't real fans but are affluent and snotty."

    I think this kind of generalisation is poor

    #20 - great post, couldn't agree more. The government should be concerned but should it be at Gordon Brown level who surely should have much more important things to occupy his mind.

    Overall I'd suggest a poor, uninformative blog however.

  • Comment number 31.

    Seem to remember John Major being "unelected" when he first took over as PM. That's how democracy works in this country, the leader of the party with the majority of seats becomes PM. Getting sick of having to explain this simple fact to the sort of people who think Richard Littlejohn is God.

  • Comment number 32.

    My idea would be to set aside 20% of the shares in each club to be available for beneficial ownership by shareholders who do not hold more than 'x' shares each. The number represented by 'x' might be five or ten, say - something very small.

  • Comment number 33.

    'Unelected' does not seem relevant. We are electing a patliament for the future and in my opinion neither Labour nor Conservastives have shown anything truly convincing. Of the leading personalities Mr Cable stands out at present.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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