English football – is the future co-operative?

Andy Burnham, minister for Culture, Media, and Sport in the British government, gave a speech to the Co-operative Party (which is affiliated to Labour) on the question of ownership of English football clubs.

I’ve always thought Burnham to be a New Labour clone, but credit where it’s due, he’s always held these views – though the timing of is dubious (party leadership bid? am I too cynical?). Good to see some debate on English sport, but how about politics – something on an English parliament?

The Politics for People blog reports on Burnham’s appearance at the Co-op Party conference:

Andy questioned whether the big money in football is having a positive effect and called for more fan ownership in football as well as rugby league and other sports.

Football grew out of community and workplace organisations, he reminded us, and that spirit needs to be retained and rebuilt. Of the rich owners now taking over the Premiership, Andy said, “We should not delude ourselves that the reason England is attracting so much interest is solely because of the quality of football. It is also because other countries, such as Germany and Spain, have football clubs which are mutually owned by their supporters, democratic and not for sale. I believe English football is at a crossroads and if it follows the same path in the next 10 years, there is a risk that it will lose touch with its core support.”

Recent protests by fans over the departure of manager Kevin Keegan from Newcastle United have led the club’s billionaire owner to announce he’s selling up.

Mike Ashley, whose empire includes JJB Sports (see here for the poor record on workers’ rights) is apparently going to offer fans the chance to buy out the club. The News of the World quotes a friend of Ashley:

“They say there are 400,000 Newcastle fans in the area. If they all put in £1,000 they can buy the club and run it themselves.

“They can have a website and vote for the manager. They can pick the team and choose the players they buy and sell. They can do it all.”

This is similar to an idea of fans who want to Share Liverpool FC, who have already been given some ministerial backing…

Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, Andy Burnham, endorsed the prospect of fans taking ownership of their clubs at a meeting to launch the next phase of ShareLiverpoolFC’s bid to takeover Liverpool FC.

The meeting took place before the second leg of Liverpool’s Champions League qualifier on Wednesday 27 August, at the Liverpool Lighthouse in Anfield with a high profile list of speakers, and was covered by local, national and international press, radio and TV.

Lifelong Everton fan and MP for Leigh, Mr Burnham put aside his personal allegiance to back a principle that he championed in his former role as Chairman of Supporters Direct.

Mr Burnham said: “I think it would be good for any football club. I think the principle is a good one, that the people who have built up these clubs over the generations and have invested millions of their money should control their future.”

The minister spoke passionately about how clubs belonged to their communities, and that the prospect of the Premiership becoming simply a financial league table of the world’s richest billionaires would render football a pointless and ultimately soulless exercise.

The minister gave encouragement to the audience, saying that over 140 Supporters Trusts had been set up since Supporters Direct was launched in 2000, and that 14 clubs, including Notts County, the oldest club in the league, were now run by their fans. “If we all believe, then this is achievable” he concluded.

Now it’s worth noting the money involved – a thousand quid being offered to each Newcastle fan for a share, five thousand for each Liverpool fan. This makes participation exclusive to those who are able to invest that kind of money at a time when money’s tight with rising food, fuel, and mortgages/rents.

So we could be looking at a kind of footie fan capitalism – but with the idealism perhaps trumping the profit motive.

But if anything comes of it, I am sure it will be an inspiration to working people that big clubs can be controlled by their supporters. And if big clubs, why not the biggest monopolies?

David Lindsay has a better idea for the Magpies:

With Newcastle United on the market, the owner of its sponsor, Northern Rock, should step in any buy it. In other words, nationalise it. And by no means only Newcastle United.

The nationalisation, leading to mutualisation and municipalisation as above, of these important focal points of local patriotism is incomparably preferable to their purchase by sovereign wealth funds, which are in fact foreign states. And it would set a very high-profile example, both of the new patterns of ownership and control in the post-capitalist world, and of the accompanying new regime of pay restraint at the very top.

A quick word on the Co-operative Party’s role – it is a sister party to Labour and also an affiliate to the bigger party. Recent motions to the Cooperative conference signal a shift away from New Labour.

I’ve no idea which of these motions passed and which didn’t, but here they are:

The attack on the Government’s foreign policy is led the Co-operative Group’s North London Party. A motion tabled by the party demands the removal of nuclear weapons from Britain; withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan; no war against Iran; an early solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and an enhanced role for the United Nations as the world’s peace-keepers.

The motion says US and British aggression has destabilised Iraq and claims that both countries are part of the problem and therefore cannot be part of the solution. On Afghanistan, the motion calls on conference to demand that UK troops be confined to barracks and withdrawn as quickly as possible.

In a separate motion on energy, Midlands Society Leicestershire Party urges conference to encourage more investment in renewable energy sources as opposed to the nuclear option, while an amendment tabled by the Co-op Group’s North West & North Wales Party urges the Co-operative Parliamentary Group to oppose the building of nuclear power stations.

A pithy 12-word motion from the Co-op Group Bristol Party calls for an end to the monarchy in its current form by asking conference to endorse the view that the next head of state should be elected (as opposed to the current hereditary principle which automatically hands the role to a member of the royal family).

An amendment to one of the motions on education tabled by Hertfordshire & Home Counties Co-op Party asks conference to press for the removal of the requirement for a daily act of worship in state schools and says the Government should consider phasing out faith schools.

Midlands Society Leicestershire Party has called on the Party’s NEC to conduct an inquiry into the NHS Foundation Trusts to establish how effectively co-operative values and principles are applied while a composite motion on the Northern Rock saga supported by four Party branches calls for the troubled Bank to be converted into an Industrial Provident Society once the organisation’s current position has stabilised.

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2 Responses to “English football – is the future co-operative?”

  1. Seán Says:

    I agree these are interesting developments and have been meaning to post on this for a while now. In the comment box to my post I’ve made a number of similar points and have the same reservations you point out.

    Good post.

    And Burnham is an Everton fan – this puts his participation in the Light House event in to an even more flattering light. Fair play to him.

  2. David Lindsay Says:

    Football and other major sports clubs could be as they are in, for example, Spain, proper clubs with the fans as their members who elect the board, and who can decline to re-elect it. And their grounds could be as in Italy, owned by their respective local councils.

    With Newcastle United on the market, the owner of its sponsor, Northern Rock, should step in any buy it. In other words, nationalise it. And by no means only Newcastle United.

    The nationalisation, leading to mutualisation and municipalisation as above, of these important focal points of local patriotism is incomparably preferable to their purchase by sovereign wealth funds, which are in fact foreign states.

    And it would set a very high-profile example, both of the new patterns of ownership and control in the post-capitalist world, and of the accompanying new regime of pay restraint at the very top.


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