Gordon Munro: Fan ownership model worthy of support

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Football fans have been in the news recently and for the right reasons. Fan ownership of football clubs is very firmly on the agenda at clubs, with Edinburgh’s two professional teams leading the way.

There are signs that it may even be a political football in the Westminster elections this year and the Scottish Government has set up a working group called Supporter Involvement in Football Clubs.

Fan forums thrive with lively talk about the pros and cons of supporter involvement and Heriot-Watt 
University recently held a public debate on the topic, Can fan ownership rescue Scottish football?

Hearts fans recently banded together to form Foundation of Hearts and in effect save their club. This show of solidarity moved Ann Budge to step in and act as a guarantor to enable Hearts to continue after the ignominious position the club had been put in by the previous owner.

The aim is to have the club fan-owned within five years. This position may change but given that more than 8000 fans have raised more than £1.75 million to date by standing order shows that it could be achieved within that time scale.

In Leith, it will be the Hibernian Way that will be taken. Leanne Dempster has been a breath of fresh air at Easter Road and her approach has been informed by her experience at Motherwell with their fan vehicle, The Well Society.

Building on work that had been started before her arrival at the club, Hibs are now in the midst of elections for two places for fans as non-
executive directors of the club. Fans have also been set the challenge of raising funds to give them a controlling stake of 51 per cent in the club. This includes owning both the ground and the training centre, providing a platform which most clubs would love to work from in the sport.

Down south, clubs from non-league FC United of Manchester to Swansea City have all followed the path blazed by AFC Wimbledon. AFC Wimbledon were set up in reaction to the relocation of the original Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes and their name being changed to MK Dons as if the club was a franchise like some sort of fast food outlet. Last week, AFC Wimbledon gave Liverpool a real game of it in the FA Cup, showing that the romance is still there in the game if the passion is still there as well.

The fan-ownership movement is growing with support from organisations such as Supporters Direct. There will be setbacks, successes and failures but it is clear from club boardrooms to government that the move by fans to have a stake and say in their club will not go away.

Edinburgh’s clubs are leading the way in Scotland and herald a new chapter in the people’s game which could see both clubs through the wreckage brought about by the Souness counter-revolution of the mid-1980s in the sport which threatens to take down one more time the club which used to be the mighty Rangers.

Gordon Munro is Labour city councillor for Leith