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AVST Join Parliamentary Debate on Empowering Fans and Football Governance

At the start of July the AVST was invited  along with other club supporters trusts and groups to meet the Shadow Minister for Sport, Clive Efford MP at Parliament.

Essentially it was a brainstorming session to access the changes needed to help increase supporter involvement in the governance of their clubs and to safeguard supporter interests in the club. The meeting would “help formulate Labour’s policies ahead of the 2015 Election”.

The agenda was as follows:

1. Fan Groups and Football Authorities

a) Transparency

b) Grievance procedures

c) Football Authorities communication with fans

d) Are fans listened to enough over major decisions?

2. Fans involvement with Clubs

a) Should rules require clubs consultation on major issues (Ticket prices, Club identity and sponsorship)

b) What form should fans involvement with clubs take?

c) Open meetings to question boards (How often?)

d) Fans and boards

e) Right to acquire shares

3. Labour’s policy to protect football stadiums

a) Presumption under palnning use to remain as stadiums

b) Recognised fan groups can register as a consultee on any changes of use

c) Development may be permitted where it meets local priorities and there is like-for-like replacement

d) Partial development to improve what remains

4. Other issues

AVST Survey Example

If you want a example of why such concern is being shown by politicians about football, look no further than the detailed survey of Villa fans undergone by the Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust (full results to be published soon), which indicated that only 16% answered ‘yes’ to the question: ‘Do you believe the club listens to its fan’s views and takes their interests into account when making decisions?’ (59% answered ‘no’, with 25% ‘undecided’).

The feeling of the disconnect between supporters and the Villa board was also shown with 79% of Villa supporters stating there should be a supporter-elected director on the board (like Swansea has). Only 8% disagreed.

In terms of the bigger picture, 72% of fans thought there should be some form of mechanism to allow supporter involvement in the ownership structure of AVFC (11% said no, with 17% undecided).

Such sentiment pretty much reflects the nationwide supporter discontentment that is boiling up; take the recent battles Cardiff City and Hull City supporters have engaged in to protect their club’s basic identity and heritage. Or, the recent battles our neighbours Birmingham City and Coventry City have had to contend with in terms of their owners behavior.

The Discussion

Fundamental Safeguards

Using the above agenda as a rough guideline in the meeting, the practicalities of football governance was discussed, although supporter influence on that level in the top-flight at least, seems a long way away in terms of being regulated. Certain legal protections to basic heritage – whether it be the club’s name, colours, stadium – also seemed to be in the forefront of Labour’s thinking. In other words a basic set of laws to protect a club’s historical identity is to be considered.

Supporter Empowerment and Solidarity

The notion of empowering supporters was also proposed.  When you have numbers, people listen and football supporters are one of the biggest consumer groups there is. The organisation of those numbers to represent themselves more effectively is of paramount importance to increasing football supporter’s standing in their own game.

Supporter solidarity also is a necessity and Villa fan have started to get involved in that as our participation in the two Football Supporter Federation marches in London has shown.

SLO

Another key to an increased supporter voice is the formalisation of the role of Supporter Liaison Officers (SLO) at football clubs, that if undertaken properly could potentially lead to much improved communication links between clubs and their fans. And importantly, communication on an equal footing.

The role of the SLO seemed to be news to the Shadow Minister and is very much still in its infancy at clubs.

German Success

The German success story of supporter ownership and influence in their clubs through the ’50 + 1′ rule in DFB and DFL statutes that means supporter ownership (or majority control) is enshrined in German football, was also mentioned throughout the discussion in Parliament. As was the unlikelihood of a full overhaul of English game and  football governance to  get to the level of supporter influence that German fans enjoy.

For more insight and thoughts on the matter check out an extended article on My Old Man Said