Harvey’s comments illustrate need for government intervention in football TSS October 17, 2014 Leeds United 13 Comments You’re probably bored of hearing how the German model for football ownership is the right model, I know I am, but it’s an argument which continues to be made because it stands up to scrutiny. Profitable clubs, thriving league, fair pricing and most importantly of all, happy fans. The Germans don’t spend their time arguing about colourful owners and their motives because teams – for the most part, at least – are partly owned by fans and inclusive of them, the finances are transparent and decisions are made with fans instead of for, or in spite of, them. It’s not just Germany either. Real Madrid are effectively fan owned insofar as the club is held by an association which fans can become a member of and exercise voting rights. Outside financing isn’t allowed, instead they must raise money through the business of the club itself, precluding any danger of them becoming bankrolled and reliant on a wealthy individual. What we see in these examples, particularly Real Madrid’s association model and the German 50+1 rule, is football shielding itself from the Darwinian nature of capitalism and the ego and whim of billionaires. It’s taken England a long time to catch on to the reality that football cannot be run as a normal business because to do so ignores the community aspect. Football isn’t a normal business because businesses have customers, not fans. Some will argue that Apple devotees or the console wars demonstrate fan-like behaviour towards a business, and to an extent, they do. But if Apple release iPhone 7 and it’s spectacularly bad, Apple fans will go and buy a different phone. Loyalty to Apple is therefore based upon an expectation of quality, but in football, no such expectation exists. Football fans would buy the inferior product over and over, year after year, decade after decade because they’re rooted to the community, they’re a part of that community and experience the highs and lows together, as a community. They hope for success but loyalty to the community isn’t dependant upon it. Communities do exist around products, but like the fashion of the product itself, they’re temporary; too fleeting to become an identifying feature of oneself. No father takes his son for a first trip to the iStore for his 10th birthday, signs the contract on a new phone and then, while proudly passing the shiny new iPhone 7 to his son, watches as his face lights up in awe, before wiping the single tear of joy from his cheek and proclaiming “son, we… we are Apple…” Being a football fan is part of who we are, it’s closer to religious belief than consumerism. No one would describe themselves as simply Apple or Microsoft or Sony, but people do describe themselves as Leeds or Norwich or Arsenal, just like people describe themselves as Buddhist or Catholic or Jewish. Yet English football clubs are traded in the same way as any other business, there’s no protection in place to ensure the community can determine, or at least effect, its own fate. An announcement today from the Labour party is a genuine step in the right direction. It may never come to pass as it hinges on election in 2015 (and a prospective government delivering on promises made while campaigning for election), but it demonstrates how government can legally force their way into the governance of English football and enact change. The proposal includes mandatory inclusion of supporters trust representation on the board of every club as well as the right for a fans’ trust to purchase 10% of a club in the event of takeover. It’s a long overdue intervention. Football has time and time again proved itself incapable of effective self-governance, constantly chasing more money while ignoring a community which has suffered the consequences of an ever-increasing financial divide. Ticket prices soar, the financial health of clubs remains wildly volatile, fans have no input into the characters running their clubs and the powers that be are loathed to do anything about it because they benefit from a system where cash is king and care naught for the communities it effects. The Football League exemplified the dichotomy of football fan and football governance when they appointed Shaun Harvey, a man who’s been involved in three administrations in football, as their chief executive. It’s no surprise to read Harvey’s response warning against Labour’s proposals because Harvey is a man who genuinely believes people like himself and Ken Bates are better suited to ensuring the best interests of football clubs are being served. And herein lies the need for government intervention. Shaun Harvey was party to the most outrageous scam of football club ownership ever seen in the English game when Ken Bates placed the club into administration before forcing creditors to sell it back to them, he was part of a regime which isolated fans, hiked ticket prices to obscene levels while attendances dwindled and recklessly spent millions of pounds on pointless vanity projects to “improve” a stadium the club doesn’t even own. None of those decisions best served the interest of Leeds United and none were agreed upon by Leeds United’s fans. It was, without question, the most depressing era I’ve experienced as a Leeds United fan, created by people who truly believe fans are simply cash registers too stupid to be allowed input. And if the appointment of one those responsible to Chief Executive of the league’s governing body doesn’t demonstrate the desperate need for intervention, I don’t know what does. Those running the game look after themselves, not football clubs and certainly not football fans. The success of German football in recent years puts to bed any debate over fan ownership, its definitive proof that there is an inclusive system which works to the best interests of clubs and supporters. Labour’s proposal would be a step in the right direction.