Is ‘Fan Control’ really the way forward?

Uefa president Michel Platini has supported the planned government proposals to allow supporters to buy stakes in their clubs. Labour is formulating plans to allow fan trusts to own up to 25 per cent of their teams, and also introduce a clause that would give the groups a window in which to buy out their clubs. And now Platini has had his say after he confirmed last week that he will be staying on as president for another four years to see out the Financial Fair Play reforms that he has played a big part in drafting.

Platini said: “Personally, I think it is a great idea that the supporters invest in a club because they at the end of the day defend the club’s identity. They are always there. They are always watching the games.”

He went on to add that he likes what happens in the Spanish game where clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona are owned by fan groups known as ‘socios’. But could such a situation ever really work in this country? It is obviously great in principal, with the chance for supporters to have their views and input, but surely it would all get very messy eventually? It could only work if all fans had the same sized stake, otherwise there would be endless battles for power. And if the sums of money got larger, the fans would want increasing control and I’m not sure this would be feasible. Platini went on to add his thoughts about how clubs are losing their identity but the one remaining constant is the supporters and for this reason he believes they should be allowed this opportunity.

He said: “There are clubs now where the president is not a national of the country, the coach is not a national of the country and the players are not nationals of the country. The only ones to have any kind of identity are the supporters.”

And the prospect of fans running a club in England may not be that far around the corner if the group of wealthy Manchester United fans at the helm of the ‘Red Knight’ movement have their way and take control at Old Trafford.

A statement from the Red Knights recently said: “For such a proposal to be viable, it would require the involvement and support of Manchester United supporters worldwide. The Red Knights have been liaising with the Manchester United Supporters Trust and their representatives attended yesterday’s meeting. Any new ownership model would aim not only to put the club on a sound financial footing, but would also aim to put the supporters at the heart of everything the club does.”

It all sounds rather wonderful when put like that, doesn’t it? But how many fans are really given a say? And would these wealthy owners really want to put a sizeable amount of their hard earned funds in and then allow other, not so well-off fans their input? And if the richest of the group members decided they didn’t need other fans’ support the situation could all change rather quickly. It is not just Man United that has been debated as a potential fans’ club of the future. Liverpool and Newcastle have also had such discussions surrounding them. Last year, when takeover talk was rife in the North East, Neil Mitchell – the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust Chairman – told of the plans for a fans’ consortium at St James Park.

He said: “We are setting an agenda to include fans on the inside track of the club. The overriding aim of the Trust is to buy into the club and make sure fans have a voice in the corridors of power.”

I’m afraid the idea of fan power just doesn’t sit too easily with me. In an ideal world supporters would run the clubs as they wanted, and it would all work out brilliantly. But I have strong suspicions that this wouldn’t happen. There would be supremacy struggles and fall-outs and all other sorts of problems associated with large consortiums taking charge. Many fans are very unhappy with the way their clubs are being run at this present time, but I feel this will likely always be the case and I don’t see the suggestions by Labour as the way forward at all.

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