Can supporters really run football clubs successfully? Germany says “yes we can”

Following the ‘green and gold’ protest by Manchester United fans at the League Cup Final at the weekend and Portsmouth being the first Premier League club to go into administration, the issue of fan power is firmly back on the agenda.

On Saturday, I attended a “Beyond the Debt” rally at Bury’s Gigg Lane organised by FC United of Manchester, the fans’-run and owned club formed in 2005 in the wake of the Glazer take-over of Manchester United. Over 300 supporters of various teams packed into the Bury supporters social club to hear a range of speakers arguing the case for fans’-run clubs.

No debt here: Fans at FC United of Manchester own and run their club.

I was particularly struck by a Schalke 04 representative who spoke about the membership and governance structure at his club. All German Bundesliga clubs are membership organisations; sporting clubs where the fans feel a part of what happens because they are members and involved in the decision-making process. As a result, ticket prices are generally much lower in Germany and a wider social mix is able to afford to attend matches. The cost of a standing ticket at Schalke is just 13 Euro.

Funny how we don’t hear about the success of fans’ involvement in Germany in the media over here. To listen to our TV and press, you’d be forgiven if you thought that the ownership and governance choice for football clubs was between rival sets of businessmen, usually from overseas. Well, it isn’t. There is a better model.

As the German example shows, football supporters can run their clubs – and very successfully too.

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