In the past 20 years there have been 68 cases of insolvency involving non-league clubs. Many would put this down to poor management, with careless spending and a lack of regular income being important factors. It is quite often the case that a wealthy benefactor will come in and throw money at a club in order to force success. This is of course only sustainable if the money doesn’t stop coming, and the majority of the time it does stop – usually when the owner realises that they are never going to get back anywhere close to what they’ve put in to the club. The risks of this are particularly high in lower-league football because the conveyor belt of foreign billionaires doesn’t exist for smaller clubs like it does for those in the top flight.
Without fans, football could not exist, and there is no better example of this than Wrexham Football Club: In 2005, the North Wales club became the first ever to be deducted points by the Football League after entering administration. Just like their bitter rivals Chester City and many others, they fell victim to a Chairman who didn’t have the club’s best interests at heart. However, after raising £250,000 in one morning to secure a place in the Football League, the fans now own the club and have complete control over the running of it. The fans-owned model of course comes with numerous risks but there are many examples across the world of the success and security that it can bring.
Germany can without doubt claim one of the best leagues in the world – a league that has been built with a huge presence of fan ownership. Their financial philosophy is completely different to that in the UK, with significantly cheaper ticket prices and lower wages for players. There is a rule in place in Germany called ‘the 50+1 rule’ – this basically means that the supporters’ association must have a controlling stake in each club. There are only two exceptions to this rule; Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen, which were officially founded as sporting clubs for the companies Volkswagen and Bayer respectively. Of course, because the clubs are owned mostly by fans there is much less investment in German clubs, meaning that sponsorship is much more important. However, in a league as big as the Bundesliga, this is relatively easy to come by, and the German game is significantly more financially sustainable than British football.
With other footballing giants like Real Madrid and Barcelona also being managed under similar models, there is clearly financial stability to be found with supporters in the boardroom. As you will hear under the terraces of the few fan-owned clubs in Britain – “If it’s good enough for Barcelona, It’s good enough for us!”
Can this really be the future of the British game? I think so.
By Matt Bircham - @