Supporter shareholding could be enshrined in law as soon as next year
With an election on the horizon, the major political parties have started looking at football reform as part of their plans and manifestos. MUST has been clear in all conversations that it wants to see viable, researched, practical measures rather than grandstanding and presentation of ideas which, in reality, won't ever happen.
While MUST is not at all party political, and we are open to engaging with any party who has something to offer football supporters, it has been the Labour Party which in the last year has listened to us the most. This is not a criticism of other parties - after all, it was the current Government that assisted with MUST's successful application to protect Old Trafford as an asset of community value.
As you may have seen across the media in the last few days, the Labour Party has now published its 2015 plans for football reform, and had significant engagement with MUST ahead of the announcement. These plans have been researched for a year, including sign off by UK and Brussels lawyers, as measures were not wanted which football authorities could halt later on with a legal challenge.
The MUST Chairman, Gerald Shamash, has been a key figure in the development of these policies as acknowledged by the Shadow Sports Minister at the policy launch in Manchester on Friday where Gerald chaired the meeting and introduced Clive Efford MP.
MUST Chairman Gerald Shamash with shadow Sports' Minister Clive Efford MP at the National Football Museum launch in Manchester
Highly significant for MUST in the proposals is that a trust would have the option to purchase up to 10% of the shares when there is a potential change of control defined as a sale/transfer of 30% or more of the shares. The law would then require the qualifying supporters' trust would be offered the option to buy up to a tenth of the shares changing hands. This option would remain open for 240 days following the deal.
This is a huge opportunity for MUST - we have not been able to force a change of ownership but now there is a real possibility we will be given the legal right to acquire a significant holding in the club.
In addition, and perhaps more significant in the short term, the law would also require that supporters were given a minimum of two seats on the football club board. It is hard to disagree with the Labour statement that this would be "the biggest legislative shake-up in the governance of English and Welsh football clubs since the advent of the game".
L to R: Ian Stirling, Gerald Shamash, Clive Efford, Duncan Drasdo, Sean Bones
Of course it is easy to say that these proposals don't go far enough. However proposing more aggressive policies now would likely result in major resistance and legal challenges which could hold things up so while this is very welcome we see it as a major first step which we intend to build on.
In response to the plans, MUST issued the following statement which you may have seen included in some of the recent media coverage:
"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.
Football supporters have been promised a lot by successive governments but, in reality, have seen nothing of significance change. We hope today is the start of each political party laying out its clear vision for football beyond 2015 and how it will protect the rights of supporters.
Today's proposals are specific, workable plans rather than vague principles, which could be clearly measured in the future by supporters up and down the country.
MUST does not object to commercial activity in football but has ongoing concerns around where those revenues go and who benefits from them. Within a commercial framework, the rights of supporters need to be further safeguarded. These proposals seek to assist supporters to obtain equity in their clubs - something fundamentally important to MUST - without interfering in the current ownership."
- MUST successfully lobbied for football governance proposals in the three main political party manifestos in 2010, and also helped secure the pledge to 'further enable the cooperative ownership of football clubs' in the coalition government agreement post election
- MUST previously held a shareholding in Manchester United and was essentially forced to give up this shareholding when the club was purchased by the Glazers and taken off the open market in 2005
- MUST believes that no one individual should own the majority of shares in Manchester United and believes today's proposals would be the starting point for MUST to re-establish its shareholding as part of a long term plan to build up equity
Extract from Labour statement:
The plan, which has been drawn up in consultation with 95 football supporters’ organisations, would require supporters to come together to form a single accredited trust in return for the right to:
appoint and remove up to a quarter and not less than two of a football club’s board of directors;
purchase up to 10 per cent of the shares when a club changes ownership, if they so wish.
Supporters have told us that this is the only way to ensure those running clubs share information, power and responsibility with them. Labour's proposals mean fans could hold the owners of their club to account on all issues on and off the field including ticket prices, shirt sponsorship, ground naming rights, and changing the colour of the strip or the name.
Labour will now consult further on the detail of these proposals with supporters.
Clive Efford MP, Shadow Sports Minister said:
"Too often fans are treated like an after-thought as ticket prices are hiked-up, grounds re-located and clubs burdened with debt or the threat of bankruptcy. Only this week, the BBC’s Price of football survey showed how average prices have risen at almost twice the rate of the cost of living since 2011. We have reached a tipping point in the way football is run.
"The Labour Party has listened to the views of fans about changing the way football is run in England and Wales. And we want to ensure they are heard by the owners of the clubs too. We will now consult further on proposals to enshrine on the statute books the idea that football have a special place in people’s hearts – and should be the heart of our communities."
Jon Cruddas MP, 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 clubs. Labour believes in sharing power and responsibility with people, and giving football fans a voice is part of our plan to change our country by devolving power to our cities, towns and communities. We believe in a society that gives power to people."