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Football's trusts must keep the faith

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Matt Slater | 17:06 UK time, Wednesday, 21 October 2009

"You must never run a football club based on what somebody might shout at you from the stands."

Given the nonsense I sometimes spout about the "size" of my club (and therefore what division we should be playing in) this advice was possibly the most important message to come out of last week's slightly subdued Supporters Direct Annual Conference.

I say subdued because delegates from the 150+ supporters' trusts active in the UK assembled in Birmingham eager to trumpet how far the fan-ownership movement in football (and more recently rugby league) has come but mindful that the last year has witnessed a few bum notes.

If you'll allow me to run with the jazz metaphor a little longer, in the Kind of Blue corner you have the phoenix clubs of AFC Wimbledon and FC United, the renaissance of Exeter City and the shining example set by Barcelona; joining anything by Kenny G on the naughty step you've got the sheepish surrender at Notts County, the cash crunch at Stockport County and British football's continuing refusal to live within its means.

Dave Boyle, SD's chief executive, encapsulated this mixed report card when he opened the conference with the geographically sound but comically iffy observation that the movement was at a "crossroads". But why?

Why did 93% of the Notts County Supporters' Trust vote to hand over its controlling share of the club to a shadowy group of investors who still haven't answered even the most basic questions about who they are (not publicly anyway)?

solcampbell595pa.jpg Sol Campbell in action in his only game for Notts County at Morecambe

Why was the supporter-controlled board at Stockport just as incapable of safeguarding the medium-term health of the club as the various speculators, asset-strippers and out-and-out crooks that have wrecked other football teams?

And why are Exeter City the only fans-run club left in the Football League?

I'll tell you why: it's because football fans are stupid. OK, not stupid, but irrational.

Not that I blame them. As I've already mentioned, I'm just as susceptible to the "if Burnley can reach the Premier League so can we" daydream and only rarely remember the nightmares endured by Barnsley, Bradford, Charlton, Derby etc etc.

My club - like many of yours, I imagine - is eternally short of the decent full-back, wide player and a bit more cover on the bench that will propel us towards the Promised Land. Who cares if we can't afford the transfer fees/wages for these missing pieces, let alone the pieces we've already got. Where's your ambition?!?!

And it's not just football fans; everybody is at it.

"I think we just have to recognise that both firms and consumers don't always make the best decisions. They don't always act in their best interest or indeed in the best collective interest of society."

Substitute the words "firms" and "consumers" for "clubs" and "fans" and Hector Sants, the chief executive of the Financial Services Authority, could have been talking about football this week, not self-cert mortgages and pre-approved loans.

We all want too much, too soon. Given the choice between live-the-dream excitement or long-term sustainability, well, it's just not much of a choice, really.

And that is why the Notts County Supporters' Trust gave up the thankless and possibly impossible task of balancing a League Two club's books (whilst persuading the wider fan base that promotion is still part of the plan) and accepted the very tempting but slightly suspicious offer of life-changing investment.

One former trust representative on the Notts County board turned up in Brum to face the music for selling out (not that any money actually changed hands) but he was given a sympathetic hearing, and not just because he was one of the 55 who said "no" to Munto - "there but for the grace of God go I" appeared to be the consensus view.

It was a similar story when a former director at Stockport put his head above the parapet to admit they had not been strong enough, they had not learned how to say no to the manager and they had failed to communicate their more organic growth plan to the club's support.

Again, this list of mea culpas was greeted with resigned nods by most in the room.

For every dogmatic suggestion that the trusts at Meadow Lane and Edgeley Park should have accepted what happened on the pitch with the good humour of somebody without financial worries, an experienced old head would smile and say, "Nice idea, have you tried it?"

Delegates from Brentford, Chesterfield and Rochdale all spoke passionately about their battles with debt, former owners and demands for signings from the terraces.

Even the pair from Exeter City, the movement's star pupil, admitted competing in League One was a daily grind against the odds and the club's revival would have been impossible without the support of the council, a city-centre ground, lots of volunteers and a good break in the FA Cup.

What struck me about all these stories is that the fan-ownership model has become a victim of its own success. Time and time again, trusts have come to the rescue of badly run private enterprises. This has raised expectations without changing the fundamentals.

When the government set up Supporters Direct in 1999 the aim was to get fans' representatives on the boards of clubs. That way the common supporter would be given a say in how his or her club would be run. But the extraordinary responses from ordinary fans at clubs as diverse as Bournemouth and Manchester United made it seem more was possible, much more quickly.

I think the last year, however, has reminded everybody just how hard the journey to Barcelona-style accountability, democracy and, most of all, success, will be. Refocusing on the original target - and harnessing the lessons learned over the last decade - would help SD and football. Little acorns and all that.

barcelonacelebrate595afp.jpg Barcelona players celebrate a goal in the Spanish League in front of a packed Nou Camp

Let's be honest, Barca is the city upon a hill. It didn't just acquire 170,000 members, 1,500 supporters' clubs and 200m fans worldwide because a group of fans got together to buy the club. No, the Catalonian giants are "mes que un club" for fairly unique historical reasons.

I would love to see an English Barca emerge - and I wish the trusts at Manchester United and Newcastle and the Liverpool fans' groups ShareLiverpoolFC and Spirit of Shankly all the best - but the finances of our biggest teams are now so complicated, so massive, a fans' buy-out is almost impossible to imagine. When Liverpool host United on Sunday their joint debt will be over £1bn - that's a lot of pledges on a website.

The only scenario that is going to bring about a Premier League Barca anytime soon is for a club to fail. And I mean really fail. Not just the company that owns it. A Lehman Brothers, a sacrificial lamb. That would wake up fans, the media and the governing bodies to the perils of short-termism, unregulated speculation and warped competition. Any volunteers?

In the meantime, the supporters' trust movement should just comfort itself with the knowledge that it is very probably right about most things, it's just that most people aren't ready to listen yet.

ps I haven't named my club on purpose, mainly because I don't think it really matters (the issues are universal). But I'm happy to provide details below. I'll give you a clue: we're either on the verge of administration because we owe the taxman £300K, or all is well and we'll be in our new stadium asap - depends who you believe.

* As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about on Twitter


  • Comment number 1.

    As a Pompey fan, I would not trade the FA Cup for Premier League safety. But I would have traded it for Financial stability. Seeing how close we came to not existing is not fun. Especially since my local team was a second division side in Canada that folded twice (despite good players, we sold our keeper to Spurs![Lars Hirschfeld])and now that city has no club. It is a painful thing to go through as a fan.

    I think that all fans would like a bit of glory to remember, but not at the expense of their club. I hope that all clubs - those run by foreign ownership, local ownership, & fans all live within their means and keep their clubs running. That is the first thing. Promotion, cup runs, & titles can only happen if your club exists.

    There are rumours of transfers restrictions on clubs with debt, or penalties such as not being allowed to participate in tournaments. I think that these are needed more than any rules about homegrown players. However a part of me worries, that rules like these will only lead to even more shadowy book keeping.

  • Comment number 2.

    Southend United?

  • Comment number 3.

    Do fans really have enough power to change things?
    For example, say Liverpool went bust as the 'sacrificial lamb'. Their supports (top supporters they are) would be very annoyed at Hicks and Gillett for running the club into the ground, but how much of the blame should go their way?
    They want success, and didn't stop the present lot taking over when they had an image of success in their heads.
    How much could they have done?
    How much has Abramovic changed things?

    Top article

  • Comment number 4.

    A bloody good read.
    Astonishing the amount of debt there is in football nowadays. Real putting themselves in debt on purpose just to buy a couple of players. Would it have been worth it if Ronaldo had broken his leg on his debut? maybe so with insurance etc, but I just dont think its worth the risk.Lets just hope that not too many clubs will have to fold because of dodgy finances.

  • Comment number 5.

    Bloody hell, beardedshrimper, I thought we could at least spin that out until tomorrow morning. Yep, guilty as charged. Will we ever see Fossetts Farm? Of course we will. I feel disloyal for ever doubting us. I think I'll re-join Southend's supporters trust as penance.

  • Comment number 6.

    Good blog, and great metaphor comparing 'Kind of Blue'against Kenny G. That really is a case of the sublime against the ridiculous!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Mr Slater, is there any chance of us getting our beloved club into the headlines a bit more? Maybe get Adam Barrett's blog on the page weekly?

    To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if plenty of other clubs around the country are in a pretty simular position to us.

    Let's hope we see Fossetts Farm, and a team to play in it

  • Comment number 8.

    Looking at the examples of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and AFC Wimbledon and FC United over here, it is a lot easier to do if it is done from the start.

    I could possibly see a fan trust taking over and running a League One/Two club or lower, but there is just too much money in the Premiership (and even the Championship) for a supporters trust to take over one of those clubs.

    Imagine you need 100,000 members to take over Liverpool. With the club being worth roughly £400m (plus debt) that would need each member to put in £4,000. A big ask even before taking the current economic climate into consideration.

    And if such a trust were to successfully run a club (at any level), I think it would only work as they do it in Spain i.e. members elect a president (or chairman as we call it) who then runs the club. Even then you have the farcical presidential campaigns where each candidate promises he will buy one of the current world superstars (or all of them in Florentino Pérez's case).

    Ebbsfleet is another case of how it might work/go wrong.

    An interesting (and thought provoking) topic.

  • Comment number 9.

    Football needs to be nationalised in my opinion. We've seen the effect of free market fundamentalism on many aspects of life, including football. The free market concentrates wealth, and the effect of this is that football fans are seen as consumers, clubs as corporations and the end goal just appears to be profit maximization. This is not to say that the business side to football is unimportant, and clubs need to able to have a sustainable model, but I believe football clubs should be run as social businesses, with an understanding that the football club has a responsibility to social cohesion and community in their local area. Since this is unlikely to happen in the short tern, government intervention is required in my opinion.

    Eventually, I hope to see football clubs (as well as all workplaces in all industries) run in the form of co-operatives, and in light of recent events in the last year and a half, I believe this paradigm shift isn't too far away.

  • Comment number 10.

    Last season some guy was raving on 606 about dirty money in Barca and that they were hypocrites for wearing the UN stuff on their shirts! What was that about... I am not sure what your point about Barca is, it's clearly NOT run by the fans.

  • Comment number 11.

    Good blog and totally wish a club was owned well by the fans like Barca. On monday night there Norwich and Leeds playing each other in the third tier of English football considering both clubs were top of the 1st division/premiership this time in 1992. It was sad to be at Elland Road seeing a game which would have been a major game of the day in English Football. Both clubs destroyed by greedy chairmen and a fans base club would stop demises to clubs like Norwich and more so the staggering the demise of Leeds United. Where would both clubs be now if it wasn't for greed from people running the club not being true fans. We don't want the beautiful game destroyed by fat cats...

  • Comment number 12.

    collie21 wrote:

    Last season some guy was raving on 606 about dirty money in Barca and that they were hypocrites for wearing the UN stuff on their shirts! What was that about... I am not sure what your point about Barca is, it's clearly NOT run by the fans.


    I'm a member of the club and get my vote at all the elections. Whatever the story about dirty money is clearly rubbish (probably written by some jealous Real fan). And why on earth do you say it is not run by the fans? The president is elected democratically and can be removed from office as well if enough fans protest (as nearly happened to Laporta in the summer). If you are gonna post something ridiculous at least provide some concrete evidence and reasoning...

    The point about Barcelona is the club cannot be hijacked by rich Americans trying to profit from the club and helping to run it into huge debt. Clubs owned by the fans, run by a president have to answer to the board and therefore debt is kept more in check and you don't get the same debt levels. Real are obviously taking another punt on Perez and believe that the money he has spent will be recuperated through commercial rights etc...

  • Comment number 13.

    Well, SR819 (post #9),
    if "Football needs to be nationalised",
    then perhaps all the teams will end up like British-Leyland: extinct.

    I suspect that, despite the "Jerusalem" of Barcelona, extinction is the medium/long term fate for most "professional" clubs anyway.
    In American-"throwball" I think there are (about) 30 "big" teams for a nation of about 300 million people.
    This is happening in European football, despite what Platini & Blatter do, think, or say (and there's going to be a lot of saying).

    American sports-investors have arrived thinking they can pick the winners in advance of the disappearance of the many. Some of them may be wrong. Will they be billionaire owners with more patience than Man City or Chelsea owners? I doubt it.

    On the optimistic side, allowing foreign ownership of British clubs might (only might) save more British teams than could otherwise happen.
    The Japanese did more for the the UK car industry than any British investors.

    What will happen to teams like Ajax, Anderlecht etc ?
    Celtic and Rangers have seen the writing on the wall. Will there be one "big" Scottish club, or zero?

    Most English teams who know they are below the "cut" have already accepted the inevitable. Many of them are in the premier league.

    If I wasn't a Leeds United supporter, I would be feeling sorry for Liverpool at the moment.

  • Comment number 14.

    #11 - typical Canary - scared of fat cats...

  • Comment number 15.

    For a long time I was against a European Super League, but I can see its advantages. Taking the American view that 300m can have 30 super clubs, Europe should set up a simmilar pan Europe league. The clubs can be run and owned mainly by the very wealthy. They would be the teams that pay silly money for players and give them silly wages. Below that would be national leagues which could be run mainly by supporters trusts, individuals or a combination of the two. They would have a cap on the wages paid to individual players or perhaps whole teams, making teams more easy to finance (though the wages may still seem silly money to most of us) and would vary between divisions in a league. Transfers at this level would have no caps so that a well supported team would could buy better players.

  • Comment number 16.

    Great great read.

    "When Liverpool host United on Sunday their joint debt will be over £1bn - that's a lot of pledges on a website." Classic

    I think we have already seen a Lehman Brothers in the form of Leeds. Leeds was definitely there for the taking by a fan group, but it never materialized.

    One club that you didn't mention is Ebbsfleet Utd in the Conference owned by the membership sharing scheme of It seems they are facing major issues to stay afloat, as once the novelty wore off of "owning your own club" people just decided to not renew their memberships.

    When the myfootballclub project was launched, it was around about the same time as when Leeds hit rock bottom. A lot of people buying memberships thought that myfootball club would try to buy out Leeds and were then utterly disappointed when the club turned out to be a conference side.

    Although it looks like this particular venture seems to be heading for failure (a whole blog can be written on why), the concept itself can and will definitely work sometime in the future. It will just need somebody with enough business sense and the "balls" to make it happen.

  • Comment number 17.

    What I would like to see from football fans in this country is that every once a month is have a meeting in your local community centre ifyou can get one booked sit down at the table & thrust things out about the future of your football team,

  • Comment number 18.

    Very good blog, and good to see the Trust movement given some coverage.

    Having served on the board of a league club's Supporters' Trust for some years, I concur completely that fans' irrationality is the big problem. The vast majority of supporters expect someone rich to "put their hand in their pocket" and bankroll a football club, and if they don't then they have "no ambition".

    Another problem is supporter apathy; unless their club is in immediate financial crisis, most couldn't care less about their club's trust. A well-represented Trust (in terms of percentage of total supporters) can be a major force for good at a football club, but more often than not it's left to a few committed individuals to carry the flag while most either don't care or moan online that "somebody should do something".

  • Comment number 19.

    I find it incredible how teams like yours which owe 300k to the tax man are going (being forced) into admistration when teams like united and liverpool owe £1billion (with no sign of paying any of it off)

  • Comment number 20.

    Barcelona is what it is because it was the front organisation for the Catalan identity, language and culture. You can't have one businessman owning that, can you?

    What we've seen over the past 8 or 9 years is the first shot at supporter-owned clubs. It's entirely normal that challenges will have been faced and sometimes overcome and sometimes submitted to.

    It's also entirely normal that the first places to try something new are where little is at stake. If the opportunity is big enough to attract a cash-rich investor, they'll go for it. And in order to compete with that, any fan-based vehicle will have to pass the 'show me the money' test.

    That means:
    i. Building a cash pile - that means fans buying shares in a vehicle which may or may not be successful in buying a club. Legal and practical issues to consider there.
    ii. Developing decision-making and oversight structures - which decisions the fans take and which they don't. Evidence from Ebbsfleet might be interesting there.
    iii. Managing the bequest of shares to descendents - what happens if the shares must be used to pay death duties etc?

    The other issue to raise is whether fans need a 100% stake or whether a 25.1% blocking stake is just as healthy. The point there is that constitutional changes can't be made without 75% support.

    It's entirely healthy for fans to be involved in running clubs. But like in all things in life, there is a learning curve to be ridden to become competent to do so successfully.

    This is an ongoing and evolving story and, like most things in Britain, most people in the media, at least when they write their articles, appear to lack maturity in judging what is possible in a given length of time....

  • Comment number 21.

    The debt issue can be solved, but at the cost of success. Look at the Bundesliga, the German clubs bring players on and sell them on for vast sums.
    When, not if, Ribery leaves Bayern, he will go for 60-80 mil. but they paid the half of that, another prime example being Berbatov, he had a reputation in Germany as a bit wasteful with his scoring chances, yet still cost 11 million and then sold to ManU for 30???
    How can it be that the clubs in the English football leagues can't snap up players like this (Mackay also went to Bayern and was prolific).

    Seems to me the scouting of foreign players is done via a network of dodgy second-hand car dealers and by the managers of EPL clubs watching major tournaments, like the Euro's or WC.

    The Premiership and La Primera Division often just heat up the market by lashing out money they don't have for instant headlines and success.

    Fans aren't so stupid as not to swallow the odd "below par" season if they know there's a long term well thought through plan; see Arsenal.
    Look at the current crisis at Anfield (where Benitez has spent a lot of money without having CL win aside, much success) and compare it to Wenger, that with his philosophy and budget restraints set EPL records, so it can be done.
    The clubs just need to hold back a bit and do more development work, it's easy to buy the "finished article" for top money, but that only works if you've got limitless reserves to "outbuy/gusump" your rivals.

  • Comment number 22.

    Super job Matt, a good read that was.
    As for supporter-run clubs I feel the foundation for any kind of such club is a strong sense of local community and togetherness. In the case of Exeter City, a club previously run by a couple of "businessmen" (essentially spoon bending, cash-siphoning criminals), a sense of "we've really got to do something here guys" pervaded the club shortly before the supporter's trust takeover.

    Needless to say, in order to succeed we needed some lucky breaks (the Man Utd FA Cup game as case in point) and prudent management but this has all been based on a sense of community - the club producing several local, young players with whom it is easy to identify and who obviously care about the club helps with this.

    I feel that it could be difficult for many Premiership clubs to achieve this due to the fact this sense of community is not currently inherent in many of the (particularly larger) clubs and hence a supporters trust would never be able to attain the financial and business muscle to live within the club's present means.

    But yeah that's just what I think.

  • Comment number 23.

    Re: thefrogstar

    "Celtic and Rangers have seen the writing on the wall. Will there be one "big" Scottish club, or zero?"


    Neither. Ever. The rivalry between the old firm transends football and no amount of money will ever change this.

  • Comment number 24.

    The problem with is that why should members pick the team? or decide transfers? The worst bit about the whole thing was you paid £30 for the membership £10-£20 of that would go towards administration fees! A complete joke. It is a concept that would work but it would have to take more of the Barcelona direction by having a president and board in place rather than some random vote on a website where a majority of members don't even vote.

  • Comment number 25.

    football man is too advanced for you to do this now. here in liverpool man if we started a new club, nobody would follow them because we all love evrtin or livepoll, that is established now. i think what you could do is that if you maybe had to form a superclub that would join the teams. like have juventus and torino join, and do it goeographically so that each city has a club fellas. this would mean that we onluy had the same number of clubs as cities and maybe the satandards would rise because there is more compettition for fewer places. the reset we could split up like they do with college sports in america, which ares still well supported, but not as high er standars as the top league

  • Comment number 26.

    I think we're not far away from seeing a major club fail financially. Liverpool and Man U have both got a load of well publicised debt both at the club and with their respective owners. Arsenal, although shrewd in the transfer market, also walk a tight rope with their stadium debt. All three clubs have to measure precisley and carefully their debt and finances, and recieve a lot of loans based on future revenue from prize money, sponsorship and television money from being in the Champions League. If any of these teams fail to qualify for the Champions League, it would be a disaster for them. With Man City, Spurs and Villa, a top four spot isn't a guarantee this season, so I think we might see some shocking things at the end of the season.

  • Comment number 27.

    Morning all, thanks for reading/commenting. A few replies from me:

    Pompey_Canuck (1) - I hear you, sir, and I agree with your point about sporting sanctions for clubs in debt. It's financial doping and it queers the pitch for everybody else. That becomes even more unfair when those indebted clubs go bust - leaving local firms, banks, the tax-payer, non-playing staff etc seriously out of pocket - only to start again the following season with a clean slate. The Football League and Conference have already started to address this and Uefa is doing likewise. About time too.

    wycombeswanderer (4) - You make a good point about Real and Ronaldo et al. Interesting club, Real. Lots of similarities with Barca in terms of its ownership-structure, regional/historical significance and global popularity. But it would have gone belly up not that long ago without the cash it received (a tad controversially) from local government for some of its training pitches. And now you've got prominent banks extending the club an almost unlimited line of credit. Are Real the football equivalent of RBS, Lloyds TSB etc and simply too big to fail??

    Jack (8) - You also refer to Spanish football, in particular its shopping-list presidential elections. I think you're right: that's my point about fans on the board needing to satisfy the often entirely irrational demands of fans on the terrace. It can get you into a right mess. Which is what happened in Spain to the majority of fans-owned clubs...they went bust and the Spanish FA had to step in and change the rules. As a result, most Primera Liga clubs are privately-owned now. Only Barca, Real Madrid, Bilbao and Ossasuna are owned by the fans.

    As an aside to the above, there is a big decision looming in German football. Its 50+1% fan-ownership model is under threat from a few clubs who want to go down the Premier League route. The clubs vote on it next month.

    SR819 (9) - Intriguing idea there, Fidel, not sure how it would work in practice, though, or if there is much political will for that kind of thing anymore. Our left-leaning government didn't look that keen on nationalising the likes of Northern Rock, so I'm struggling to see how we can persuade the free-marketeers of the PL swallow that one.

    Collie21 (10) - Sorry, I have no idea what you're talking about. I think Jevan1987 (12) can help you, though.

    DieHardCanary (11) - Yep, a salutary lesson there of the follies of living the dream, poor accountability, total lack of democracy and ineffective regulation. I wish you both well....just not against Southend.

    frogstar (13) - Blimey, now we are getting into the nitty gritty. You raise so many interesting questions I'm going to have to dodge them now as I'm rushing for a train (true story). But I will just say this: comparisons with the US are not always as helpful as they might seem. Yes, nearly 150 fully professional football clubs seems like a remarkable number for a country of 60 million people, but we've just about sustained this number (or close to it) for about 100 years. How? God knows. But it would be a mistake to balance this number only against the 32 franchises in America's NFL. I think you need to add all the feeder/farm teams to the US side of that equation (and I would include the college system...of which there are literally dozens of franchises that operate at a professional level), the indoor leagues, the Canadian leagues and also the leagues of the three other main team sports (not to mention soccer, Nascar, women's basketball etc etc). A better comparison is between the NFL and the Premier League (and the Premier League, remember, is bolstered by its global reach).

    Haythnsar (16) and others - You're right to bring up Ebbsfleet and it will be interesting to return to that experiment at some point and see what we can learn. I'll get on to it!

    newMagicGunnermandy (17) - Yep. We keep hearing about clubs being "at the heart of their community" but does that actually mean anything? Do they try to source stuff from local firms, do they try to employ local people, do they give community projects/teams/schools/firms access to their facilities and expert staff (groundsmen, physios, nutrionists, fitness instructors, fund-raisers, health & safety specialists etc)? Do they care about their impact on local economy, environment, quality of life? I wonder.

    joffonon (18) - You've correctly identified the two biggest problems that everybody in Birmingham was talking about....particularly your second point about spreading the message. I think that is SD's biggest challenge in the coming years: how do you preach the gospel of sound finances and steady growth to a fan who just wants to see his/her team win? Good luck!

    And now I really must go. Sorry for not responding to the later comments (some really good ones there too). I'll try later.


  • Comment number 28.

    Brilliant article.

    I'm a Bournemouth fan and as such was around when we became the first community owned club. To this day I have no idea what that really means and to what extent if any 'the community' had a say in how the football club was run thereafter. I think it was just a financial bail out frankly, which is fine by me.

    You make an excellent point though Matt in that it's the supporter that generally forces these clubs to over spend through pressure applied from the Terraces and the forums online, they don't automatically become responsible and realistic if those same fans take over the club. Not sure what can be done, apart from rely on Natural selection, the weak must go to the ground - however sad that may be.

  • Comment number 29.

    What shoddy Journalism. What did you do ? Just reprint the Barça propaganda page ?
    1)170'000 members and 95,000 seats. You do the math. A member doesn't have the right to get a season ticket. You go on a list. It is estimated that 20% of the names of members are dead as people don't want to give up the card.
    2)1,500 supporters clubs or Peñas----Some of these have 2 or members in each one. It's a traditional Spanish thing that UK clubs don't really have.
    3) Run by the Supporters---in what sense ? they vote on the president every five years and what else ?
    4)They claim to be the Biggest club in the world,They are not even the biggest club in Spain.
    5)The Club has enormous debt and owes the taxman Between 30 and 60 million euros and a few years ago had to be bailed out by a bank.
    6)Barça made 200 million last year and gave approx 2 million to UNICEF. I applaud the idea but 1%. And what about the tax break they get for being involved with a Charity ? More than 2 Million ?

    This is a typical suck up to Barça media article. I expect better from the BBC.

  • Comment number 30.

    Jack McMac, Standing debt is less of a problem than the cashflow to back it up, Liverpool's owners have slightly overstretched the club's cashflow (which is quite an acheivement considering the size of the club) and now the club is having to cut back.

  • Comment number 31.

    Hold on a minute there, Jarque21, my train can wait a little longer!

    1) Where do I state that being a member gets you a seat? I don't. There are waiting lists for season tickets at lots of clubs. What's your point? As for your "estimate" that 20% of them are dead, well that's still 136,000 members, over 40,000 of whom can't get a seat. They must just really like being part of the Barca experience, no?
    2) Again, what's your point? I don't make any qualitative assessment of these fan clubs, I merely state a fact which you don't dispute. And who says we don't have fan clubs in the UK? Celtic, to name just one, have CSCs all over the world, I was a founder member of the one in Brussels.
    3) Well that's not a bad start, is it? I only get to vote on my local MP every 4 or 5 years too. The key thing is that it is a genuine vote with genuine choices. I think Joan Laporta's election in 2003 was such a vote/choice.
    4) Do they? OK. I didn't, though. According to their commercial director Lander Unzueta, who spoke at the SD conference, they've got 6m fans in Spain and 200m worldwide. Who knows how they're counting those (probably hits on their website) but I think we can both agree they're pretty popular.
    5) When Laporta took over they owed a 150m euros. If it's only 30-60m now, well done him, another victory for supporter-owned transparency. And if we were to compare this figure to the clubs Barca competes with - the Man Utds, Chelseas, Liverpools, and, oh, I don't know, Real Madrids of this world - it is a paragon of financial virtue.
    6) You're right, the Unicef deal is 0.7% of Barca's revenue. But I think you're missing the crucial point here. All of those clubs I mention above - the almost every other professional club in the world - MAKES money on its shirt sponsorship. Do you see the difference? Give v take?

  • Comment number 32.

    Erm, I think what happened at Leeds United was a good example of a "big club really failing Lehman Brothers style. They went from being in the top-4 of the Premier League to League 1 obscurity. However spectacular their fall from grace and number of attempted supporter club buy-outs, they never became a trust owned club. Was this not the sort of opportunity you were referring to?

    My personal oppinion is that the Barcelona situation in unique and would require a similar organisational structure in order for a uk based trust buy-out as well as a significant amount of supporter interest in order to inject the required capital. Lower league clubs simply don't have the fan base required for a successful buy-out and promotion campaign.

    Finally, the trust needs a coherent and experienced voice to control supporter expectation as well as control managers. Barcelona does this by selecting a President every couple of years who effectively runs the club as CEO. 170,000 owners; one voice.

  • Comment number 33.

    Interesting read. I may be wrong but I thought that the strength of Barcelona is because it is a sporting club. That is it incorporates other sports as well as football - athletics cycling basketball etc. As such it really is important to its community. Football is ill served by the people who own and run the clubs. They (not all) are in it for short term financial gain.

  • Comment number 34.

    Exeter City released this press release today:,,10436%7E1833619,00.html

    Gives an insight into the Trust at Exeter City. We are now the only Trust run club in the Football League...

  • Comment number 35.

    Plently of folks talking about the Ebbsfleet experiment, but they key differences between it and what Matt is talking about are firstly the fact that fans pick the team, decide transfers etc. It's much more than a club owned by the fans (where the fan-led board are essentially there to decide on budgets and hiring/firing staff. I don't know many fans who would truthfully claim to have more knowledge on training methods and players abilities than a half-decent league manager). Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the owners of Ebbsfleet are not fans of Ebbsfleet. They have no REAL deep-rooted emotional interest. Evidence for this is the number who dropped out following both the announcement of Ebbsfleet as the club of choice and then after the first season. I doubt you would get this rate of attrition amongst true fans and so the comparison is slightly flawed.
    What this article also doesn't acknowledge is that the reason for MK Dons and FCUnited (and indeed Barcas) success is that they were built from the ground up with no baggage in terms of large debts, poor pay structures/income streams etc. (if there was no debt and income exceeded expenditure then the fans trust wouldn't be there in the first place. Getting out of this hole takes REAL business acumen, time and expertise). The only top flight fan-owned club in existance is Barcelona, which runs many (successful) sports teams and stands in its community almost as a Catalan national team - a catchment with a passion which few other clubs in the world could replicate. And despite the democratic process and elections, they are effectively run by a chairman who was VERY successful and influential in his chosen career (law) before becoming president, much like many premier league chairmen. The only real difference is that he can be 'sacked' more easily that most. Perhaps, therefore, the answer is not fan-owned clubs, but simply making club owners and chairmen more accountable?

  • Comment number 36.

    19. At 08:58am on 22 Oct 2009, mpjacko wrote:
    I find it incredible how teams like yours which owe 300k to the tax man are going (being forced) into admistration when teams like united and liverpool owe £1billion (with no sign of paying any of it off)


    Thats because the money is owed to the IR they are no respecter of who owes the money. Liverpool and Man Utd owe banks and they will keep bankrolling in the hope of getting back, plus all the free tickets and marketing that the banks enjoy as a perk.

  • Comment number 37.

    Barcelona is often touted as the democratic FC, but is that really true? Every 4 years or so there is an election to name the new President and the winner is always the mega rich sugar daddy who has said that he will put more Euros in than the others and will buy half a dozen world class players and name some of them too. I see no difference between that system and the one where a chap buys the club and pours his cash in..... apart that is that once he's spent it he can be votd out and wont get his cash back.

    As for the Man U and Liverpool quote, Yes, they do have combined debt of more than £1Bn but why is that? It is not, as some have posted on here, because they have spent daft amounts on players (although they have done that too) but because when their current American owners decided to buy them, they (the Americans) borrowed hundreds of millions in order to buy the shares. Once they had control of the clubs they simply transferred the debt to the club. Last season Liverpool made a loss of some 30 odd million, their first loss since Pontius was a Pilot. The reason was the 60 odd million interest on the debt the owners ran up buying the club. IMO if you want to buy a club with borowed money then the debt is YOURS not the clubs and it should be that way. The Glaziers and Gillets of this world shouldnt be allowed to transfer their debt to the club.

    Money (or the lack of it) is the cause of the problems in football today and the game ceased to be a sport long ago. It is pure big business today. Let's get back to it being a sport. Level the playing field. Adopt the Dutch way worldwide. Clubs have to provide a believable budget at the start of a season. If they go into debt, the plan for the following season has to include details of how they are going to eradicate the debt within 3 or so years. failure to convince the KNVB that the figures add up means you dont get a licence to play in the League. If Pool, ManU, Real Madrid and Barca were in Holland they would not be playing professional football.

  • Comment number 38.

    12. At 00:16am on 22 Oct 2009, jevans1987 wrote:

    collie21 wrote:

    Last season some guy was raving on 606 about dirty money in Barca and that they were hypocrites for wearing the UN stuff on their shirts! What was that about... I am not sure what your point about Barca is, it's clearly NOT run by the fans.


    I'm a member of the club and get my vote at all the elections. Whatever the story about dirty money is clearly rubbish (probably written by some jealous Real fan). And why on earth do you say it is not run by the fans? The president is elected democratically and can be removed from office as well if enough fans protest (as nearly happened to Laporta in the summer). If you are gonna post something ridiculous at least provide some concrete evidence and reasoning...

    The point about Barcelona is the club cannot be hijacked by rich Americans trying to profit from the club and helping to run it into huge debt. Clubs owned by the fans, run by a president have to answer to the board and therefore debt is kept more in check and you don't get the same debt levels. Real are obviously taking another punt on Perez and believe that the money he has spent will be recuperated through commercial rights etc...
    The point, and I did do my research thanks very much, is that the article refers to the boards of fan run clubs not being strong enough to say no to the manager. The idea of the club being a democracy and run by the fans is an illusion fed by the fact you have a vote. If you don't like the team selection next weekend you can nothing about it. The article above doesn't highlight how it works at Barcelona. You have a vote in who is going to Run the Club. But then it's run by who you vote for. Saying the club is run by Fans is like saying England is run by the people and Not Gordon Brown... come off it. Did you get a vote as to which players were sold and bought during the summer?
    Lets get it right here, Barcelona football Club is one thing, But Barcelona the businness with Shareholders....that is nothing new and it's still run by the Board.

  • Comment number 39.

    #35 - I hope you meant AFC Wimbledon as opposed to MK Franchise?

    Just wanted to give a quick mention to my own team Clydebank FC - the only 100% Trust owned team in Scotland.

  • Comment number 40.

    Good article Matt. I'm not sure why the SD's original mantra of having supporter involvement on the board of the club seems to have transformed in to fan ownership or nothing. To me, having fans involvement combined with a board who have good business credentials is actually a good thing for both sides. Fans get a say in what goes on and the owners keep their customers happy. I appreciate that football is far from a typical customer/supplier relationship but having both parties working to the same ends based on realistic expectations and communication has to be the way forward.

    I, probably like most football fans, want my club to be around for my kids and grandkids to go and watch. My club may never reach the premier league but it will have other successes to shout about if it is being run properly (which mine is, thankfully), and I want to relish those successes for a long time to come.

  • Comment number 41.

    I thinkw wanting a club to fail may have more than the expected consequences and I hope that does not happen because the fans may fail to 'rise'.

    But I agree having a club like Barca would be good in English football but this has to be built upon over time and cannot achieved overnight.

    Full time analysis

  • Comment number 42.

    Benfica are the biggest club in the world in terms of members (200,000+). Fact and a Guinness world record!

    But of course teams like Barça and other European elites will have more fans in terms of non-members...

    Just wanted to point this out that's all. :)

  • Comment number 43.

    # 21 "How can it be that the clubs in the English football leagues can't snap up players like this"

    Wigan Athletic have done this for the past couple of seasons...

    Wilson Palacios signed for £750k sold to Spurs for £12m
    Luis Antonio Valencia signed for £2.5m sold to Man Utd for £17m

    Steve Bruce (when he was still manager) came out last season and he sells the club to foreign players as "being a stepping stone" - they can come, gain experience and get the move to a "big club" they all want...

    It won't last forever though as other clubs start scouting the same markets as us and those markets start demanding more money initially for their players when they realise the massive profits on transfers we are making when we sell them on...

  • Comment number 44.


    Yeah but it remains the exception rather than the rule. What I mean is the clubs in the upper half of the PL that (like ManU) just buy in players for ridiculous sums (they should have identified Ribery before Bayern, wasn't difficult).
    This buying the finished article has a threefold effect, firstly; it pushes up the transfer fees, secondly; it raises the chance of bankrupting the club significantly, thirdly; if an expensive player gets injured, the club either has to solider on with a weakness in one of the positions or buy another expensive replacement.

  • Comment number 45.

    1)my point is other clubs,especially in The UK don't count people on waiting lists or sport affiliated To The Club when talking about Football.
    2) Barça are the only club that claim their importance in terms of supporters clubs.A hell of a lot of those clubs are in Catalonia too,What does that prove ?
    3) As someone else pointed out,You have a choice between Millionaires and Cruyff's puppet,Not exactly Citizen Smith ,is it?
    4) Let's do the math.. Spain population 46 million, probably half don't follow Football. So let's say 24 millon Football supporters for the sake of easy calculations.. 1 in 4 support Barça,do me a favour. Tuesday night 55,000. and you did use info given to you by a bloke whose job is to make Barça look good,
    5) If Barça owe between 30/60 million to the taxman are you seriously telling me they have no other debts ?
    6) While i agree with you other clubs should give money my point is how many readers believe that all the money from Shirt sales goes to Unicef ?

    Matt- My argument with your article is that is not balanced. Barça are as dodgy as every other club where such great sums of money are involved.
    Your article comes off as a tribute to the Barça way without explaining how these things are achieved.

  • Comment number 46.

    @ 44

    I agree but Latics have shown it can be done.

    It might be the exception at the minute but once other clubs/greedy chairmen start to realise that it can be done they might adopt the same approach.

    The likes of Man Utds/Chelskis etc aren't going to follow it, the exception to the rule for the big 4 would be Arsenal.

    Signing players when they are younger and looking to bring them through like Wenger has tried is commendable, but more recently how much of that is due to the cash needing to be used to pay off the cost of the stadium?

    Whether this is ever done because it is the desired way or because it is driven by money is the unanswered question I think...

  • Comment number 47.

    As an Exeter City fan and one who therefore helps to " run the club " ( though clearly on a very very limited basis )I can' t think of much worse than a big benefactor coming along and ploughing loads of money into the club and totally changing the club's ethos and feel. When all is said and done, football teams break down into a handful of different categories : Those who will always be long-term successful ( Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool ), those who HAVE been transformed by serious amounts of money ( Chelsea and possibly Man City ), those who had short -term , one-off success ( Blackburn ) , those who have disastrously overreached themslves ( Leeds,Southampton ) and those who will never amount to anything ( the vast majority of clubs in England, including Exeter ). I would much rather they stay in this category than move up into the only other category that is even remotely realistic ( Leeds etc. )A couple of seasons of over-achieving that will all end in tears? No thanks.

  • Comment number 48.

    Let's be honest, Barca is the city upon a hill. It didn't just acquire 170,000 members, 1,500 supporters' clubs and 200m fans worldwide because a group of fans got together to buy the club. No, the Catalonian giants are "mes que un club" for fairly unique historical reasons.

    - hmmm. Weren't many English teams originally worker's cooperatives, isn't that what the term 'united' in teams such as Oxford United means? (not a rhetorical question).

    I live in Japan and the J-League has seen an amazing transformation in recent years as teams. Teams have shed their corporate identities and embraced their local areas. The champions Kashima are now run in much the same way as barcelona.

    It can happen, it simply takes a brave board to make the right decision.

  • Comment number 49.

    Wasn't it Madrid - the King's team - who were controversially bailed out?

    Barca - as far as I am aware - paid off their 60 million debt with the massive amount of money the won last season with the league title, champs league and kings cup. If it wasnt all the debt, it was at least the loan they had on their stadium. How many UK clubs can claim they own their stadium 100% ?

  • Comment number 50.

    @ 49. Wigan Athletic own their stadium 100%

  • Comment number 51.

    Any team that can wear that mix of colours on their shirt and make it work get my vote.

  • Comment number 52.

    I agree that football fans are stupid as they will chase trophies and glory without thinking about the consequences, which is why so many UK clubs are in debt. Barca are a special case but then again in Spain and Germany the fan owned club is not unusual. Barca has a particular political angle to it which cannot be replicated in the UK unless we have a military coup and they ban mancunian or scouse then the Utd's ot liverpools might emerge lol.

    I love Barcelona because its pays UNICEF to allow its name on its shirt, I repeat it pays UNICEF, which I believe is the most unselfish act from any football club.I have every intention of donating an educational product free to UNICEF in the near future for them to use.

    FC United are the closest to the Barca model and it's a good club which is well run but it is viewed with suspicion by the owner run clubs. It can be done but it will take time for the other clubs saying NO to managers and fans and perhaps giving the reasons why would help fans understand. It's called communication and the way some clubs operate you'd think they were freemasons!!

  • Comment number 53.

    #13 The frogstar: "I suspect that, despite the "Jerusalem" of Barcelona, extinction is the medium/long term fate for most "professional" clubs anyway.
    In American-"throwball" I think there are (about) 30 "big" teams for a nation of about 300 million people."

    You are mixing apples and oranges when you use American professional sport as an example. Over here, professional sports is an entirely closed market; the various leagues decide which markets they will allow franchises to operate. To call our professional teams "clubs" is not the same as football, rugby, cricket, etc., where the clubs join leagues. The American model is therefore far more controlled, particularly in economic terms. The NFL has been described as "capitalistic communism" in that the league totally controls such things as television rights, marketing, internet, etc. The second largest media market in the US (Los Angeles) has had no hometown league franchise since the Rams moved to St. Louis. Both "New York" teams play in New Jersey. The NFL has consistenly threatened San Diego (Chargers) that the team will be moved if local authorities don't build a new stadium. The same policies govern Major League Baseball (except for a salary cap and local broadcast rights), National Basketball Association (except local broadcast rights, National Hockey League (see the saga of the Phoenix Coyotes) and Major League Soccer, which takes the central control theory one step further with single entity ownership. There is only one publicly owned major professional sports franchise in the US, the Green Bay Packers, which is owned by the City of Green Bay.

    I believe that one of the wealthy Americans are buying into the Premier League because they want much more control of their investments. Note that all of them (Glazer, Hicks and until recently Gillett, Lerner and potentially Kronke) all own American professional sport franchises.

    Can there be another club like Barca? I believe there can be, but only if that club truly understands why Barca is successful.

  • Comment number 54.

    You are missing the point if you are trying to compare Barcelona with a supporters trust.

    The members of Barca do not really own the club, they put money in year on year to buy a vote to elect the officials who will run the club, the club effectively owns itself.

    They have no more a say in teh actual running of the club than we do in the day to day workings of westminister, scotland yard or MI5.

  • Comment number 55.

    answer me, i made a cracking point

  • Comment number 56.

    Well, as you've asked, tomefccam, I suppose I can't refuse....

    You seem to be suggesting (#25) we amalgamate teams to form city-based franchises: a true "United" for Liverpool, London, Manchester etc. And any clubs not brought together would be organised into smaller leagues based on geography? Is this right?

    If yes, I'm not sure it would work or be particularly desirable for lots and lots of different reasons.

    Do you think the fans of Everton and Liverpool are going to want this? Aren't great intra-city rivalries one of the best things about English/European football? Do we really need to shrink the league so drastically (with all that entails in terms of jobs on and most importantly off the pitch)? How many cities would get franchises? Would you keep promotion/relegation? What would you do to stop London beating Lincoln every time? Is the rest of Europe going to follow suit? How would you phase this in?

    I'm not ruling out a move to a more NFL-style model, it just won't be easy and will need a lot of thought to make it fit our history/traditions/expectations of sport.

    Anyway, have you lot seen today's most important news? It seems I underestimated the amount we owe the great British public.

  • Comment number 57.

    all fair points, i'm unsure of how it would be done, that's for the people who get paid the money to do these things ;)

    But yes, I feel the only was to curb the plight of clubs like southend would be to introduce such measures. if they were part of a football club that represented Essex for example then all the investment could be centred around this franchise, with the constituent clubs making up a competetive but less prevelant intercounty league structure.

    Relegation and promotion - certainly within the league structures beneath, with the overall prize (winning the league below the "superleague") being that each playerin that team will be placed into a priority draft, meaning that they all have to be drafted before any other player outside of this can be.

    There would be more focus on cup competitions, ie, the Constituent clubs would be involved in an open cup competition akin to the FA cup. Imagine The constituent side from Gateshead beating the mighty London in a Cup could happen.

    Also a CL format competition between constitiuent clubs and the franchises, with the franchises joining in the latter stages to where the "better" constituents have made it to.

    Yes this could work, but as you say, it would need to be a European standard, to enable European competitions to exist.

    Would the fans go for it? Probably not, but if it pans out that this country can no longer sustain 92 professional clubs then we may have no better option.

    your thoughts?

  • Comment number 58.

    Hold on a minute, Leeds are nothing like Lehman Brothers, they still exist and could easily be back in the premier league in two years time. They are the HBOS at most (if HBOS had been bought back by their own management for tuppence ha'penny from a credulous administrator). The idea that a few years not in the top division equals extinction is outrageously blinkered.

    What we need is for a premier league club to entirely cease to exist and start again as supporter-owned at the bottom which, in my opinion, would have been a much better fate for Leeds. They'd have had 3 years of winning every game (they'd never have restarted lower than unibond prem) and be only one div lower than they currently are and without Mr Bates and his friends having anything to do with the club...

  • Comment number 59.

    Hopefully, something good will come out of something bad for Southend.

    If administration means clearing debt and the points penalty means a drop to league 2 and this is what it takes to get back to a sound financial footing then it may be best to accept it.

    All clubs should always pay up what they owe to HM Revenue, which should be handed over or kept to one side as soon as the money rolls through the tills. Any other group that is owed money will often have little incentive to wind you up due to getting nothing as most clubs are not really holding lots of valuable assets to sell, but alas HM Revenue have to keep their eye on the wider position which means ruining one club to make it clear to other clubs not to owe them money.

    Anyway, as an Exeter fan, I'm now off to view the Clydbank FC site, as I now finally have a reason to pick a Scots team! Fingers crossed you play in red and white too!

  • Comment number 60.

    They do play in red 'n white - I have a Scottish team!


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