Among all the football nations of Europe, Scotland presently remains the only one not to have a fully independent fans’ body, actively drawing together people across the game we all love (and pay for regularly).
That is about to change. The 9th April sees the launch of the Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA) – a new, not for profit, members’ body open to everyone, whether they are individuals, supporters groups of all shapes and sizes, or affiliates.
The aim of the new grassroots alliance is to 'reclaim the game' for ordinary people and communities – to give Scottish football a real 'democratic moment'. This is important culturally and politically, not just for those who like sport. Community ownership and engagement is a core part of the new organisation's purpose.
SFSA already has pledges of support from Scottish fans’ groups at club level comprising some 40,000 people.
It’s an impressive start, and the aim is to reach 100,000 or more very soon. In other words, to become the largest and most comprehensive gathering of fans ever seen in Scottish football – a body capable of being heard in a new way by government, the football authorities, the media, owners, and all who have a stake in the game and its future.
The idea behind the initiative, which will be unveiled in April, is not to produce “another organisation”, but rather to galvanise and bring together a genuine, democratic movement for change within the game.
The SFSA’s agenda will be developed and extended through ‘crowdsourcing’ –gatherings where supporters themselves define a vision of the game and hammer out what needs to change and what the priorities are for bringing about that change.
With huge media buy-in, marketing and PR support, and innovative ideas to transform Scottish football, the people kick-starting SFSA believe that now is the time to build effective grassroots democracy across the game.
The recently published Morrow report, ‘Supporter Involvement in Scottish Football’ (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0046/00469245.pdf), set out proposals for reform which are welcome but still modest, given current constraints. The question now is: how can we get what is on offer implemented and take things even further?
Without an independent supporters’ movement, new energy, new hope and the development of real capacity for participation among fans, the momentum to go further is likely to stall again. Change is ground-up, not top-down.
Calling Scottish football ‘broken’ is a negative prescription – but the cracks are there for all to see, and without major reforms, including the largely untouched parts of the McLeish Report and much more, the lifeblood will continue to seep away.
Part of the issue is recovering a real sense of belief that football in Scotland can be made viable and (above all) inspiring to people once again. Do the people currently ‘at the top’ really believe that?
A few years ago the crisis which saw several ‘big clubs’ fall or stall produced much talk of reform on the one hand and apocalypse on the other.
For a short moment there was an upswing of anger and concern among fans. But the surge of interest in fundamentally reshaping Scottish football in the interests of ordinary people had no vehicle to carry it forward. What could have been a huge ‘democratic moment’ was lost.
The Scottish Football Supporters Association wants to make sure that next time there is a potential tipping point – and we believe the time could be coming again soon, not least through our own action – the movement of fans countrywide is large and organised enough to really make a difference.
Football in Scotland continues to lack visibility and fair finance. Fan and community ownership has increased, but needs to go much further. The governing bodies of the game need a major overhaul with fans at the heart of them, not begging for ‘consultation’ or non-voting seats at a few tables.
Scottish football, led by fans with deep roots in our communities, also has to bring new people and resources into its circle, and to stop defining itself in terms of the aspirations of the wealthy elite that dominate at the highest level in England and across the globe.
The SFSA policy of being open to everyone applies not only to Scottish clubs — the Tartan Army and its members are also welcome to join. This means that the SFSA can engage with the widest variety of fans, from all over the country, ensuring that all viewpoints are heard.
Above all, the SFSA will be run from Scotland by Scottish supporters and have direct access to the European Fans network which is currently denied to us.
The Scottish Football Supporters Association is getting ready to make change happen with the fans of all clubs. It is free to join for all members and will be managed on a voluntary basis initially.
However, through donations, commercial activity, grants and eventually securing contributions to costs through a levy system, as is the case throughout the rest of Europe, the idea is to match ideas and campaigning with capacity and sustiability as rapidly as possible.
“Scottish football deserves better. Scottish fans deserve better. Change is possible. It’s our game; let’s take it back and make it better.” That is the core message of SFSA and its #reclaimthegame pitch.
You can already follow the Scottish Football Supporters Association on Twitter @scottishfsa, and you will also find us on Facebook where you can ‘like’ us and start to get involved.
© Simon Barrow is a joint launch coordinator for the Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA). He lives in Leith, is co-director of Ekklesia think-tank, and has been a Dumbarton fan and supporter of Scottish football for over 45 years.