Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughA terrible outrage gone unnoticed - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough A terrible outrage gone unnoticed - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

A terrible outrage gone unnoticed

The common consensus of the people is difficult to ascertain. It is the job which the mass media are assigned though often they shape rather than reflect this consensus. With this in mind, let us delve into the reaction to the cutting of Premier League funding to the Supporters Direct organisation.

For those who are not aware, Supporters Direct (set up in 2000) is the organisation that was formed as part of the Labour Government of 1997’s plan for better governance of football. Its job was to help (or indeed form) supporter’s trusts at football and rugby league clubs. They offered legal and financial advice often in circumstances where a club’s very existence was in threat and campaigned for greater fan involvement in club ownership.

With only 10 full time staff and £4m of funding in the 11 years of its existence, it has helped produce an estimated £26m worth of capital for clubs. It came into its own in the aftermath of the collapse of ITV Digital, helping supporter’s trusts keep their clubs running. These clubs include success stories like Exeter City (who are still fully fan owned), Swansea City (now in the Premier League with 20% fan ownership and a fan on the board) and the saving of numerous other clubs. They have played an active role in saving more than 50 clubs and setting up 180 trusts at football and rugby league clubs.

The organisation also helped supporters of the bigger clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle United when they wanted greater involvement against damaging ownership.

By one of those strange quirks of business and political dealings, the funding of Supporters Direct came from the Premier League via the funding it put into the Football Stadia Improvement Fund (FSIF). Clearly, the ultra-capitalist Premier League were somewhat at odds with the aims of Supporters Direct but the relationship seemed to work well enough with funding due to be renewed this Summer.

However, in the aftermath of AFC Wimbledon’s promotion (another club that owes much to Supporters Direct), the chairman of the organisation Dave Boyle, tweeted some celebratory remarks with swearing in them and the FSIF promptly released a statement saying they would cut funding to the organisation but the money would be available to the wider supporter’s trust movement. The FSIF statement highlighted its concerns about the governance of the organisation but the 15 months of positive negotiations of funding prior to the tweets suggest otherwise.

To get back to the point of this post (explained in the intro which seems an awful long time ago), the media’s reaction to this story (the ones that have bothered covering it but that’s a different issue) has been one of outrage with some very eloquent ‘up yours’ type pieces aimed at the Premier League and its chairman Richard Scudamore by Marina Hyde and David Conn. As Hyde puts it, it is another example of the fan becoming a consumer.

Whilst I agree entirely with the thrust of these pieces, I can’t help but wonder whether they reflect the majority of supporter’s views. Certainly at the lower levels of the game where the organisation has been instrumental in saving arguably Leagues One and Two, club’s fans should be grateful and outraged.

Similarly, sections of the support base of Premier League and Championship clubs will be in uproar at the treatment of Supporters Direct; most likely clubs with supporter’s trusts or a long history of fan unity and the power that this brings.

However, other sections of the fan base of these clubs may well be ambivalent towards the whole thing as apathy has set in with fans reluctantly accepting their role as consumers or not even being aware of the shift in dynamics of being a supporter.

At the very top of the game, the brief moment of fan power and unity that developed with the anti Hicks and Gillett movement at Liverpool and the ‘Green and Gold’ campaign at United at the forefront of it all has faded with the same old problems still being in place; rampant overspending. However, in the wake of relative success at both clubs, the militancy has gone.

Success blinds people to the dangers their clubs are still in with owners overspending and putting clubs at risk. With the loss of Supporters Direct, there is one less organisation to sweep up the pieces. It should be a sad day for English football but it’s happened with not a lot of attention paid to it or (metaphorical) blood split for it.


You can follow The Layman at!/Dan_Whiteway

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