Wednesday, June 23, 2021

There are no easy answers to how football tackles its unloved billionaire owners

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Fans are right to protest but unless the game’s riches are better redistributed the super-rich benefactors are here to stay 

Whether you see in the demonstrations at Old Trafford last week an outrageous affront to law and decency or a legitimate mode of dissent, a public expression at last of long-held grievances, it is clear, perhaps for the first time in English football, that there is a real sense of militancy among fans. With the super-clubs in retreat, the possibility of change appears real – or at least more real than it has been for years. In which case fans should probably work out what they want. 

Already it is notable that the serious protests have been focused at the two super-clubs who have most reason to be frustrated with their owners. The mutinous mood of the past few weeks feels multi-layered. Manchester United and Arsenal fans both have specific issues with their American billionaire owners that go far beyond a lack of success on the pitch, feeding into a broader sense that football is being taken away from its roots and the people to whom it used to “belong”. This is happening in a country beginning to emerge from lockdown into intense financial uncertainty; there is a lot of pent-up energy which may dissipate as life returns to something like normal – or it may not, particularly if the economic situation worsens. 

Rows over procurement may be too abstract really to ignite public fury; the way football clubs, great unprotected social institutions, have been taken over by hedge funds, oligarchs and sheikhs is perhaps a more immediate example of modern capitalism. Football, suddenly, is an active political topic in a way it has not been in Britain for years – and that happens at a critical point, just as it seems domestic broadcast rights may have peaked. 

There has been a lot of talk about Germany’s 50+1 model, which guarantees the influence of fans. Nobody, surely, thinks greater fan representation would be a bad idea but that is only one part of the problem, demonstrated by Bayern’s domestic dominance. Fan representation is of limited importance without a new financial settlement. 

This is not straightforward . . . 

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