Labour promise more power for fans

Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Football fans will be given a new right to representation on their club’s board and the chance to buy up to 10 per cent of its shares if Labour wins the general election.

Under the proposed new laws, supporters’ trusts would be able to appoint up to a quarter of their club’s board in an effort to ensure their voices are heard by owners.

The measures, which will be in Labour’s election manifesto, are aimed at forcing the owners and management of clubs in England and Wales to acknowledge the impact of their decisions on the fans who are the lifeblood of the game.

Under the new regime, fans who organise themselves into a recognised supporters’ trust would then be given the right to appoint and remove up to a quarter of the board, with a minimum of two board members.

Supporters Direct, the group which helps fans to set up co-operatives known as supporters’ trusts, has welcomed the announcement.

Fans will also be given a right to purchase up to 10 per cent of the shares whenever a stake of at least 30 per cent is put up for sale, capped at a maximum of 10 per cent of the total shareholding of the club.

Labour acknowledged that the plan would not give fans the power to block takeovers or change corporate strategy, but insisted that electing fans into the boardroom would make clubs more accountable.

Shadow sports minister Clive Efford said supporters had concerns around “tickets, shirt prices and the cost of football going up for individual fans and particularly families with children” and “too often fans are treated like an after-thought”.

He said: “There’s no way to legislate to deal with all that but one way that we can begin force clubs to take on board the consequences of those decisions is to give a strong form of representation to fans.

“That is why we believe that putting fans on the boards will mean that their voice is heard when those issues are being discussed.”

Efford said Labour were “absolutely certain” the two measures could be introduced, and that the sport’s European governing body UEFA was “very supportive” after informal discussions about the plans.

The move follows recent rows involving Cardiff City, whose owner Vincent Tan changed the colour of the team’s shirts from blue to red, and at Hull City where Assem Allam wants to rebrand the club as Hull Tigers.

Efford said: “I think if fans have got to be listened to when they are discussing and making decisions about the colour of the shirt, the name of the club, whether to move the club 30 miles down the road, whether to put a name on the shirt of a sponsor that the fans might be offended by, or to sell the naming rights to the football ground, I think if there is some dialogue there then at least the directors will be aware of how the fans feel about it when they make their decisions.

“That can only be a good thing.”

Pressed on whether having a quarter of the board and up to 10% of the shares would have given fans any influence over Tan’s decision at Cardiff, Efford said: “When the arguments were put to the fans it wasn’t absolutely clear where the fans were on that particular issue, so there was clearly a difference of opinion amongst the fans.

“So perhaps dialogue earlier on would have been a better thing for Vincent Tan and having fans there to listen to his arguments and put their own, maybe we would have avoided that confrontation.”

Further consultation will take place about the details of the proposals, but Labour insisted they would be implemented as an “early priority” in office.

Jon Cruddas, the head of Labour’s policy review, said: “The Premier League is a huge success. But football is more than a business. Football clubs are part of people’s identity and sense of belonging.

“Our plan is to give fans a stake in their club.”

A senior Labour source said the party expected resistance from some quarters, but said the move would have benefits both ways, with fans being better able to appreciate the reasons behind the decisions taken about their club.

Supporters Direct said: “The most important element of this proposal is the right for fit and proper supporters’ trusts to appoint and remove up to a quarter of a football club’s board of directors; this signals the establishment of the formal relationship between supporters’ trusts and their clubs, which we have sought for many years.”

Sports minister Helen Grant responded by saying the Government was “completely committed” to helping fans and is working with Supporters Direct and the football authorities to establish an expert working group.

She said: “Since 2010 we have worked closely with the football authorities on improving facilities and on governance and have seen toughened up ownership tests, improved financial transparency and stronger rules to ensure clubs are sustainably run.”

Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust, said: ” “MUST welcomes the Labour Party announcement on football governance today, which recognises that fans and, in particular, official supporters’ trusts, have the right to own a stake in their clubs.”

Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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