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Very few things raise a nation’s spirit like watching the national football team doing well in the World Cup. This summer, the record-breaking, game-changing, history-making Lionesses reaching the finals of the World Cup has bought the country together and reminded us of the power of the beautiful game.

Whether it’s in the euphoria of success, the heartbreak of what might have been, or experiencing those special moments with the ones we love – the emotions that football brings shows that the game truly belongs to the fans.

However over recent years, the relationship between fans and football has come under strain – with clubs at all levels becoming more distant, and the communities they serve ultimately paying the price.

We only have to cast our minds back to a mere two years ago when a handful of Europe’s most powerful clubs threatened the foundation of football by joining the quickly abandoned “European Super League” – going against the tradition of fairness and meritocracy that football should be built on.

And this isn’t just a problem exclusively affecting the big clubs. At the other end, too many smaller clubs in lower leagues are struggling for survival. Scandals in recent years at Blackpool, Bury and Bolton amongst others have devastated the local communities and businesses which rely on these institutions.

And this shouldn’t just be a priority for men’s game. This must also extend to women’s football as well. The extraordinary success of the Lionesses in not only this World Cup but also as the winners of last year’s Euros has already sparked a revolution in interest in the women’s game. But if we’re not careful, it could fall casualty to the same challenges currently facing men’s football.

That’s why at every club, fans should be provided with the chance to gain a financial stake in their club and a real say in the way it is governed, with a presence on boards or the ability to appoint and remove directors.

We know that fan ownership can revolutionise the game from the ground up: this year, it was fan-owned Lewes that made headlines by becoming the first football team in the world to pay its men’s and women’s teams an equal wage. When fans are in control, the values of fairness that should be at the heart of football are allowed to flourish. It couldn’t make for a starker contrast with the clubs that are focused on revenues rather than values.

Community ownership for too long has been regarded as a ‘nice to have’, but fan-owned football should be welcomed by the Football Association and governing authorities as a necessary means to safeguarding clubs and ensuring the survival of our beloved teams.

And we know it works. Many of the clubs who’ve been best placed to ride out the financial difficulty of the crisis have been fan-owned. Exeter, owned by a fans’ trust since its near-collapse in 2003, have credited their strong financial position despite the crisis to the careful investment decisions made by their fan-owners.

The pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis has threatened the future of many clubs across the country, large and small. It’s time fans have proper stake and say in how their clubs are run, and give those clubs the best chance of overcoming the many challenges they face in the here and now. Only then can football really come home.