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It was standing room only in the social club at Gigg Lane, Bury on Saturday lunchtime for the “Beyond The Debt” rally as a crowd of hundreds watched an impressive array of those in the know explain that the time for debate on the ownership of football clubs is coming to an end. We seem now to be entering a different time. A time when action is required. A time in which shrugging your shoulders and muttering that, “well, my club is alright” is no longer enough. When opening speaker and rally chair Andy Walsh from FC United of Manchester spoke, he talked of the rivalries between supporters of football clubs being an artificial construct which masked the true enemies of football supporters – the people that run the game itself.
Malcolm Clarke of the Football Supporters Federation was up next, offering a bleak insight into the world of the Football Association Council, an organisation in which two of the one hundred and fourteen members are women, two are from ethnic minorities and, astonishingly, just seven are under the age of fifty. Clarke spoken of his grandchildren and his desire for them to have football clubs to watch, something that coul have seemed unthinkable several years ago but is now something that is starting to raise its head as a possibility for the future. The fundamental issue that the game has to address is the sustainability of its financial model, which, currently, is practically non-existent.
Walsh had already made reference to a letter in the Guardian from a Portsmouth supporter stating that the spirit of Portsmouth Football Club will survive even if the worst happens to the current incarnation of the company that runs the club. Barry Dewy from Pompey Trust spoke of the madness that has engulfed his club over the last twelve months and of the action that is now required to ensure that, even if the worst happens to the current incarnation. They are still treating the ten per cent offered to them by Sulaiman Al-Fahim with a degree of suspicion, but the high take up rate for membership of the trust indicates that, no matter what happens in the future to Portsmouth FC, football in the city will continue, somehow and somewhere.
One occasional criticism of football supporters used to be that, while they criticised those that ran the game, they couldn’t offer an alternative to the status quo. When they did offer an alternative, it was claimed that this non-profit alternative couldn’t work at bigger clubs. The need to counter every argument that is put in the way of this movement remains, and Stuart Dykes, a fan worker from the German club Schalke 04, makes the argument that anybody that believes that supporter ownership of clubs can’t work should come to Germany to see clear evidence to the contrary. Clubs are owned under the “fifty plus one” rule, which means that fifty per cent of shares plus one vote for the club must always be held by the club itself. The net result of this is that German football is more competitive and with gate prices that would make supporters of Premier League clubs weep. Standing tickets at Schalke, he explains, cost €13 (£12).
Last up is Dave Boyle from Supporters Direct. Boyle makes the point that for as long as people within football continue to underestimate football supporters, the supporters will continue to beat them and that supporters should, in a general election year, put pressure on those standing for election to make a commitment to supporting our cause. We then wrap up with a Q&A session, during which one crowd member – not an FC United supporter – says quite plainly thaat he has been convinced of the potential power of the supporters trust movement. And why shouldn’t he have been? The arguments that have been put forward have been logical yet heartfelt.
The feeling that one comes away from a meeting like this is that it is now time for a tectonic shift in attitude. It is no longer good enough to say that there is a “debate” to be had about the merits of one model of football club ownership over another. The time for action has already come, and the protests at Manchester United and Chester City demonstrate that ordinary supporters, who want no more than to watch a football team that they can be proud of, have, quite simply, had enough. And with that, we head for the warmth of a bar to watch the second half of the match between Chelsea and Manchester City. Millions of people – possibly hundreds of millions of people – have tuned in to see whether Wayne Bridge will shake John Terry’s hand or not. It’s a circus. It flashes by on the screen and it looks like football, but something in the series of images that flash before me doesn’t compute. At the end of the match, it’s time to get out and into Gigg Lane for FC United’s match. There are flags everywhere, and constant singing throughout the entire ninety minutes. It’s time to decide whether you are going to be a part of the problem, or whether you are going to be a part of the solution.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
One of the saddest (pathetic even) incidents of the last two or three weeks was the day Portsmouth were at the High Court or Royal Courts of Justice, to maybe to shoved out of existence. As the live news was broken of a delay/reprieve, Sky Sports News were live outside Fratton Park and told it to the PRAT heading ‘SOS Portsmouth’ (for in this matter he acted like one). The guy (who had been on all morning ranting about ‘this is not the end, supporter solidarity’ etc) then responded to the interviewers comment of ‘now you’ve got a BIG match at the weekend in the cup’ (against local rivals Southampton) to which he responded, straight faced and seriously, with dismissive venom; ‘big match? against a third division outfit?’ Pah… and with that ALL my synpathy evaporated. He couldn’t see the irony that they are in that predicament for EXACTLY the reasons Pompey now are, and will doubtless follow them down. Moron! Likewise when asked to boycott what might have been Chester City’s last ever match, local rivals Wrexham instead sold out their entire allocation… without doubt most wishing to dance on the grave of their rivals (you all NOW it’s true – sadly, THAT is true football support attitude – platitudes in public, venomous inside or amongst likeminds). Thankfully the match was never played. As a Chester fan of 47yrs I was relieved for that small mercy – it’s about the only bit of goodness to come out of recent years at the Deva. As a kid we used to refer to the mentally challenged at divis from the Deva, referring to a local mental hospital of the time. It seems that the hospital never closed, merely morphed into a Lego-like football stadium in the early 90’s and has been controlled by The Crazies ever since. Good luck to your campaign.
[…] Beyond The Debt – Are You Going To Be A Part Of The Solution? “It was standing room only in the social club at Gigg Lane, Bury on Saturday lunchtime for the “Beyond The Debt” rally as a crowd of hundreds watched an impressive array of those in the know explain that the time for debate on the ownership of football clubs is coming to an end. We seem now to be entering a different time. A time when action is required. A time in which shrugging your shoulders and muttering that, “well, my club is alright” is no longer enough. When opening speaker and rally chair Andy Walsh from FC United of Manchester spoke, he talked of the rivalries between supporters of football clubs being an artificial construct which masked the true enemies of football supporters – the people that run the game itself.” (twohundredpercent) […]
You make a good argument regarding the Portsmouth supporter and then spoil it by having a childish dig at Wrexham fans.
Wrexham were only offered 1000 tickets in the first instance and they were always likely to sell out.
In fact many Wrexham fans chose to support the boycott,myself included, and I am aware of many Wrexham fans who have actually joined the CFU.
The Wrexham Supporters Trust is already working to put on a fundraiser for the CFU in the summer and nothing would make Wrexham fans happier than to see a team from Chester,that represents the people of Chester getting a traditional thrashing from Wrexham twice a year.
Until those days return I think you can be sure of support from all Wrexham fans who love the game.
RRRR, so how much did you care about my club’s League place being sold to Milton Keynes just to build a supermarket as your club was doing well and winning the Conference in 2005?
There is no future in that attitude.
Sadly all football fans are like this it seems. I wish football and its fans would just grow up.