Making fan ownership a reality in Scotland

By putting fans in charge, football clubs can make a real difference to the communities they serve

Patricia Ferguson


I was pleased to take part in a recent debate on fan ownership of football clubs. As a member of the Co-operative Party, I fully endorse the approach that has been adopted by an increasing number of fans and communities, where they back the ownership of football clubs by supporters’ trusts. Indeed, it is often a point of some pride to those of us in the co-operative movement that one of the most successful football clubs in the world, Barcelona, is in fact a co-operative—that does not seem to have done it any harm.

I welcome very much the most recent manifestation of fans acting collectively to take control of what should be a community asset—the Edinburgh-based Foundation of Hearts. As a Partick Thistle and Glasgow City supporter, I wish the foundation all the best and recognise the hard work and commitment that have got it to this point.

A long time ago now, I was proud to be part of the Labour-led Government that supported the establishment of Supporters’ Direct Scotland in 2002—an organisation that was set up with the express aim of
“promoting sustainable spectator sports clubs based on supporters’ involvement and community ownership.”

During the 12 years of its existence, Supporters Direct Scotland has worked with fans across the country to establish more than 30 supporters’ trusts, 18 of which have a director on the board of their club and five of which have majority control or own their club outright. I believe that, given the significant challenges that are faced by many clubs in the present time, the course set by Supporters’ Direct Scotland will be seen as increasingly attractive.

I would like to draw attention to one of the ways in which clubs that have taken a community-orientated approach can co-operate imaginatively with other agencies to support people who live in their neighbourhoods. Citizens Advice Scotland’s campaign on payday, high street and doorstep lending works closely with a number of football clubs. Supporters and their families are encouraged to seek help and advice with debt and other financial issues. The initiative is built on the belief that football clubs, like citizens advice bureaux, are rooted in their local communities.

At the moment, both Dumfries and Galloway Citizens Advice Service and Nairn Citizens Advice Bureau have partnered with their local football clubs, Annan Athletic and Nairn County. I believe that several more such partnerships are in the pipeline and will be announced throughout 2014.

Annan Athletic is moving towards community ownership. The club puts the community at the heart of its operation, from exercise and social clubs for senior citizens to free pitch access for young people. The club launched its community project at a recent fixture with Peterhead, at which 500 themed fliers directing supporters to their local CAB for advice were distributed to fans and a pop-up advice hall was set up in the club’s bar. Additionally, television, web and newspaper coverage of the day was widespread. The partnership between the club and the CAB will, I am certain, endure, with future link-ups already planned.
Similarly, Nairn County and Nairn CAB have targeted the 25 to 35-year-old male audience, which CABx sometimes struggle to capture and which ironically is the demographic most likely to face issues after taking out a payday loan.

Those imaginative initiatives show clearly that football clubs that are community centres can relate to the needs and aspirations of their locality much more readily than those that are based on a traditional model. I commend such initiatives and I very much look forward to fans having an increasing say in and control over their club’s future as they go forward.

The Scottish Labour and Co-operative led Scottish Executive paved the way for fan ownership by supporting Supporters’ Direct in Scotland. The Scottish Government has announced a working group on fan ownership of football clubs I know that co-operators and the Scottish Co-operative Party will have some very interesting things to say about this. We need to move on to the next level and make fan ownership a reality in more and more football clubs in Scotland.