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New government initiative aiming to strengthen “fan power” at football clubs

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The coalition government has launched a new initiative aiming to ensure football fans have more say in the running of their clubs.

The Supporter Ownership and Engagement Expert Group will include representatives from government, the English Premier League, The Football Association, the Football League, Supporters Direct and the legal profession. The group will also include insolvency and tax experts and representatives from clubs that are ran by supporters – such as Portsmouth FC, AFC Wimbledon and Wrexham.

Areas that the group will look at include seeing what more can be done to help supporters groups have stronger links with the executives and owners running clubs.

Ownership of clubs will also be high on the group’s agenda. The group will look at removing barriers to clubs becoming community-owned assets, when “opportunities arise for that to be a sustainable and viable option”.

Currently, there are only four fan-owned clubs in the top four divisions of English football (Exeter, Portsmouth, Wimbledon and Wycombe) – and none higher than the fourth tier.

In stark contrast, some of Europe’s most successful clubs are owned either directly by fans or by co-operatives or associations that include fans.

These include Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona as well as German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

While their European, fan-owned counterparts seem to be immune to financial trouble (despite demanding much lower ticket prices from fans), an astonishing number of English clubs have suffered from mismanagement and reckless financial governance over the past 30 years.

Since 1984, there have been 64 cases of a professional football club in England entering administration, with some clubs suffering the fate more than once.

In a recent survey (August 2014) by Supporters Direct, 41 per cent of football fans were unhappy with the way their club was run, with a clear majority (71 per cent) wanting formal consultation on changes relating to their club. Only 18 per cent of those who took the poll, conducted by ICM Research, believed that clubs were well run financially.

Supporters Direct chief executive Robin Osterley said: “It’s very gratifying to see the government addressing the problems that prevent an increase in supporter ownership.”

Launching the new group, minister for sport, Helen Grant, added: “Football fans are the lifeblood of the club they support.

“Owners, executives and managers may come and go but it is the fans that are the constant, loyally following their clubs through thick and thin. We want to see what more we can do to give fans a stronger voice in how their club is run as well as looking at ways in which we can help remove some of the barriers to supporter ownership.”

The group will be chaired by Joanna Manning-Cooper who is a member of the Portsmouth Supporters Trust, a community shareholder in Portsmouth Football Club – the biggest supporter owned club in the country.

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The coalition government has launched a new initiative aiming to ensure football fans have more say in the running of their clubs.
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Minister for sport Helen Grant launched the initiative this week
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