Fans taking control at their clubs has become an emerging trend in the last decade here in the UK. Ebbsfleet United, AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and higher up in the football pyramid League One Exeter City are all owned by their most loyal supporters.
The background for fans taking the reins varies. FC United were famously born from the backlash of the Glazer’s takeover at Manchester United, Ebbsfleet from website MyFootballClub whilst the Exeter City Supporters Trust saved the club after its relegation to the Conference in 2003, carrying several million pounds worth of debt at the time.
Exeter’s story offers a blueprint on how fans can run a club. After battling to keep the club in existence (helped by a FA Cup run which brought two ties against Manchester United), shrewd management both on and off the field saw them return to the Football League in 2008 and gain promotion to League One at the first time of asking. But not all clubs can boast Exeter’s success.
When MyFootballClub bought Ebbsfleet in 2008, the 27,000 members who had put £35 in to take over the club voted on staff, transfers and team selection in a revolutionary concept. A year on members numbers had dwindles to 9,000 and is around 3,500 to date. The club has stated that 15,000 are needed.
Whilst it carries all the romance of football and most of the time, the best interests of the club, fans ownership needs expertise and know how, passion alone is no tonic for success.
But there are enough clubs out there who have set about building from the ground up to offer encouragement for the future. And unlike many Premier League clubs, they have a business model in place that looks to grow the club organically, without staggering investment or wreck less borrowing.
And whilst we are some way from seeing a fan owned side grace the Premier League, seeing fans take any kind of grip back on the football business they keep afloat can only be greeted with optimism.