Land reform fund mooted for Scottish football community ownership

By staff writers
April 2, 2011

Supporters Direct, the network of 'trusts' (co-ops) involved with football clubs, has welcomed a £1 million community ownership and land reform proposal to help transform the game in Scotland.

The policy idea has been put forward by the Scottish Green Party, and is expected to encourage Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives - who are together contesting the 5 May Scottish Parliamentary elections - to give fresh attention to a sport which has been described as "a core part of Scotland's cultural fabric".

The Greens are proposing an extension of land reform and the community right to buy to cover Scotland's football clubs, so that supporters would have first refusal when their club comes up for sale.

Two sources of money have been identified to back fan buy-outs: first, the £1 million recently allocated to sponsor the Scottish League Cup from the Proceeds of Crime Act (which recovers money from convicted criminals and puts it to community use), and secondly a levy on the broadcast fees received by the Scottish Premier League (SPL) and the Scottish Football Association.

Scottish football continues to be beset by financial insecurity, uncertainty about ownership and structures - with the SPL indicating that its own controversial plans for 'restructuring' the leagues will go to a vote later in April or early in May 2011.

The Greens say their measures are designed to start a long-term shift towards fan ownership of their clubs, work promoted across the UK by organisations like Supporters Direct.

In 2010 there was a successful £300,000 takeover of Stirling Albion by its fans, and Clyde - and more recently St Mirren - have moved to becoming Community Interest Companies (CICs).

However, other Scottish clubs, including Dundee and Motherwell, remain in financial difficulty, while supporters' trusts work to take control of them.

Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, explained: "When people think of land reform, they tend to think of crofting estates in the Highlands and Islands, not Scotland's football clubs. But there are some surprising similarities. Important community assets are all too often the property of remote owners who undervalue them and treat them as trophies. The move we're proposing today would give fans first refusal when their club comes up for sale, and provide grants and loans to support these buy-outs.

"Alex Salmond has announced that £1 million from the proceeds of crime would go to sponsor the Scottish League Cup. We believe money from this pot would bring more long-term benefits if it were used instead to help give fans control over the destiny of their clubs. Beyond that, there's no reason why football itself couldn't contribute a small percentage of the TV money secured by the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Association, money that could be matched by the Scottish Government," he added.

Dave Boyle, chief executive of Supporters Direct, said: "Community ownership is commonplace on the continent and is increasingly seen as the remedy for the poor governance and finances of clubs and poor relationship between clubs and their fans and communities."

Boyle continued: "The two biggest problems fans face to make community ownership a reality are the right to be seen as a legitimate bidder by current owners and the cash flow to make the purchase."

He concluded: "These radical proposals from the Scottish Green party address those problems and we look with great interest at the proposals from other parties in the weeks ahead. The most recent UK election featured proposals from all parties on how they'd reform football, and these proposals really kick the debate off in the Scottish Parliament elections."

Patrick Harvie of the Greens declared: "Scottish football is in a mess. We have chronic financial indiscipline in football management, and a concentration of wealth and power in the clubs at the top of the game. Fan-owned clubs, on the other hand, are a model that works well elsewhere - not just for Barcelona and Real Madrid, but also for every substantial club in both Sweden and Germany. In the long term, clubs large and small will only thrive on and off the pitch when they are rooted in their communities, and that means giving loyal supporters both the right to buy their clubs and the money to do so."

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