Labour Backs Fan Control Of Football Clubs

Paul Kelso, Sports Correspondent
Labour Backs Fan Control Of Football Clubs

The Labour Party will introduce new laws allowing football supporters to appoint or remove two club directors and buy shares when the club changes hands if it wins the election.

The pledge, first made last year by shadow sports minister Clive Efford, was included in the Labour manifesto launched by Ed Miliband in Manchester .

If enacted, it would require clubs such as Manchester United, owned and run by the Glazer family, to make room for two supporter appointees on its board, or even face two of its directors - all siblings - being removed. Fans groups would also be given the chance to buy shares should the club be sold.

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The promise was one of just four measures relating to sport set out in a 188-word, four paragraph section of the 86-page document that sets out the party's pitch for government.

The manifesto also restates Labour's promise to provide two hours of organised sport in school; to review fan ownership in other sports; and to "ensure" the Premier League invests 5% of its broadcast revenue in grassroots funding.

The pledge to make supporter representation a legal requirement builds on previous commitments to address concerns that fans have insufficient say in the running of their clubs.

The party says it will introduce the legislation to ensure that supporters have an "effective means” of influencing the management of their club.

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It reads: "Football clubs are an important part of many people's identity and sense of belonging.

"They are more than just businesses. But despite their importance in the lives of their members and supporters, too often there are no effective means for fans to have a say in how their clubs are run.

"Labour will provide the means for supporters to be a genuine part of their clubs. We will introduce legislation to enable accredited supporters trusts to appoint and remove at least two of the directors of a football club and to purchase shares when the club changes hands."

The manifesto contains no detail on the nature of the legislation required, but requiring private companies to directorships to a stakeholder group may be unprecedented in UK business law.

It is likely to be resisted by many professional clubs, particularly those in the Premier League, half of which are under overseas ownership.

The practice is common in Europe, where supporters have a controlling stake of "50% plus one" enshrined in law.

Labour has long been an advocate of the supporters trust model, and in government helped fund the establishment of Supporters Direct, which promotes fan ownership. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, is a former chairman.

There is little else in the manifesto to hearten advocates of the benefits of sport in building an active, healthy population.

The commitment to two hours of school sport is the only mention of policy beyond football, which will disappoint those who believe the UK is in danger of squandering the London 2012 legacy.

By its own measures Coalition policy is failing, with participation in grassroots sports falling, placing the Olympic promise to "inspire a generation" in danger.

Labour's plans were welcomed by the Football Supporters' Federation.

It said: "The Football Supporters' Federation welcomes any proposals from political parties that aim to strengthen the voice of football fans.

"Whether its ticket prices, ownership, diversity, or safe standing, supporters must be involved in reform of the game. Football fans should have a voice in the boardroom."