Monthly Archives: October 2008

Reclaim the game

What have NUFC and MUFC got in common? Clue: I am not talking about the contents of their trophy cabinets over the last fifty years. Sponsorship: Man United’s sponsor AIG the insurance giant were recently saved from bankruptcy by the US government in a £48 billion rescue package which is the biggest nationalisation in human history outside a communist country. So MUFC follow NUFC and Northern Rock and join us in a round about way as a state sponsored team.

The world wide credit crunch and bank runs have coincided with the mother of all crises at SJP making it difficult for Ashley to flog NUFC off at a handsome profit. What have we learnt from the last few weeks? We know that fan power works. Although we felt angry we also felt powerless as we saw the club we love being dragged through the mud. This has changed as supporters are starting to come together. The anger has turned to action and the new supporter’s group is a big positive leap into the future. Other Toon fans are taking a longer view and questioning the whole ownership structure of the club we love. Projects for a fan’s takeover of NUFC have been started and wheels are turning. However while most fans are sympathetic they do not feel it is realistic or possible. Official Tyneside opinion in the press poo-poos the idea and the speculation turns as usual on which billionaire is going to honour us with his presence at SJP next.

Now, as I was brought up never to ignore a poo-poo and I will endeavour to answer those who doubt a fan run club is possible at NUFC.

Poo poo Nº 1 ‘Fan ownership is not realistic in this day and age and we need a billionaire to invest in the club to compete with the best.’

Club owners including Ashley do not put their own money into clubs, despite what they say. They usually use their shareholder’s money.

The richest 20 clubs in Europe have a yearly income of almost £3 billion. Due to television money in football, even the side finishing bottom of the Premier League is guaranteed £60 million. The television deal means that many clubs could allow supporters into games for free and still make a huge profit. This football income is generated by us the fans. Club owners are in the game for what they can get. Ashley and the like do not ask what they can put into the game we love rather they are in it for what they can get out of it.

John Hall sold just 9.8% of his shares and made £16 million. Martin Edwards received £100 million on selling his shares to the Glazer family (his father bought them for £1 million) Ken Bates of Chelsea bought Chelsea and its debts for £1; he sold Chelsea along with its debts for £17 million. Even Peter Ridsdale while he was bankrupting Leeds United still managed to pay himself £645,000 in 2001.

The myth is that owners like Ashley are doing us the fans a favour by investing their money in clubs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Name one owner who has walked away from a football club a poorer man.

However it does not have to be this way. There is an alternative.

Real Madrid which is a not for profit sports club is regularly quoted as the richest club in the world. It simply is not necessary to have a rich backer for a football club to have enough financial resources to compete at the top level. A fan owned NUFC would still generate a massive income from season tickets, shirt sales and TV money. Sponsors would not run away from NUFC, they would be queuing up to have their product on our black and white shirts.

Athletic Bilbao which is a fan owned club does not bother with shirt sponsorship and Barça only allow the UNICEF logo on their tops.

In this day and age of credit crunches and institutions like AIG and Northern Rock collapsing a fan owned club with thousands of ‘socios’ would actually be on a sounder financial footing than those clubs who depend on the whims of passing here today and gone tomorrow billionaires. Better to have thousands and thousands of loyal shareholders / members / ‘socios’ than a dodgy fat cat just in it for themselves – surely?

Poo poo Nº 2 ‘It would be impossible to organize.’

Why? Are we saying Barça fans are more passionate or better organized than us? I do not. There is unlimited potential for a fan run NUFC due to the unique nature of our loyal support. How do Barça do it? What can we learn from them?

Barça is owned by its ever-growing membership of 156,366 members who pay Euros 150 each year. The members have representatives on the board.

The representatives have a major input on issues such as sponsorship, finances and sporting affairs. The president of the club is elected every four years in a poll of all members.

Barça are honour bound to try and play open, attractive and attacking football. Why? Putting it simply it is because the raison d’etre of the club is to play good football and win. They do not exist to make a profit for an owner who could take the money out of the club. Profits are indeed made but they are ploughed back into youth development and social projects. Also the people who run the club have over 150,000 members overseeing their stewardship. It’s an organic structure which works extremely well.

Patrick Barclay recently commented on Barça in the Telegraph:

‘Only members can buy season tickets, with membership fees contributing to the overall price of the ticket.

Fiscal rewards for membership include discounted tickets for the club’s various sports teams including football, basketball, handball and hockey as well as club magazines, e-mail updates, sporting and cultural activities and free entry to the Nou Camp tour and museum.

Ultimately, though, it is not the material rewards which make the Barça membership structure so prestigious.

In a modern game spoiled by disaffected supporters and unaccountable owners, it is FC Barcelona’s utopian democracy which justifies its famous slogan ‘More than a Club.’

Imagine how proud we would be of NUFC if we could take the Barça road?

Poo poo Nº 3 ‘Ok. That’s fine on the continent but it not going to happen here.’

Wrong. It is already happening.

In the 16 years of the Premier League over a third of all professional clubs have gone into administration or near bankruptcy. Nott’s County the oldest professional club in the world almost ceased to exist. Leeds United who at the start of the Premier League were a top three club have gone into administration twice and sank into the third tier of English football.

The Premiership boom is not as secure as it is portrayed. Bubbles can and do burst.

Since 1992 there have been 42 cases of insolvency proceedings, involving 37 clubs.

Supporters’ trusts have representatives on the board at over 25% of clubs in the third and fourth tier of English Football and almost 50% own a proportion of their clubs. This shows the desire of working class fans to own and control their clubs, unfortunately it is limited control, even at AFC Wimbledon which was set up when Wimbledon was moved against the wishes of the fans 50 miles away to Milton Keynes and became MK Dons.

Fans raised money and formed AFC Wimbledon the true inheritor of the history of Wimbledon, this club now gets crowds of 3,000 and is working its way back up the non League structures back to where they belong in the League. FC United of Manchester was formed by fans after the takeover by the Glazer family, they too get respectable crowds. The AFC movement reflects the massive opposition to franchise and corporate football.

I would just love it if NUFC became the first fan owned club in the premiership. This is about The Toon and the club we love but it is also about the game of football and its future.

To quote one of the greats from English football, Stanley Matthews, in an autobiography written shortly before his death: “The money that has arrived from television has definitely helped the game, but more at the top than the lower leagues… although those that market football tell us football is once more a ‘family game’ I think it is one of the biggest fibs currently being told. Football has rid itself of the hooligans, but how many ordinary working people can afford to take their family to a football match these days? Too many clubs having worked hard to rid their stadiums of racism and bigotry are now simply practising economic bigotry.”

Football was never purely a business. In the late nineteenth century players and fans came together to form FOOTBALL CLUBS not PLCs. Football came from the working class communities and that is why football fans feel their club belongs to them despite it being quoted on the stock market. We do not feel the same about Lloyds Bank or TESCOS. The Premiership ultra big business period has been a blip. It is time to return to the roots of football if we want it to continue as a sport. At Newcastle we have the opportunity to save our club by taking it over and in so doing showing the way to the rest and reclaiming the game for the fans.