The Green MSPs have today announced plans to find ways to ensure football fans are first in line when their club comes up for sale. The party believes giving supporters the right of first refusal would help put the Scottish game onto a sound financial footing, as well as starting to end the tradition for clubs to be as much an extension of their owners' egos as representatives of their communities..
The party will look to bring forward an amendment to the Scottish Government's forthcoming Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill in the autumn in order to deliver on this objective. (1) The right-to-buy method was first used in rural land reform, and Scottish Ministers already plan to extend that right to urban land with this legislation.
Greens argue that this approach works all across Europe, with over a third of Europe’s top clubs run by supporters’ associations, from Barcelona and Real Madrid to Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Closer to home, Stirling Albion and Dundee have been taken over by fans' trusts in recent years. Just this week it was agreed that fans' group Pars United will take over Dunfermline Athletic, and also that Old Trafford, Manchester United's stadium, would be treated as an "asset of community value". (2)
Alison Johnstone MSP said:
"Scottish football continues to be beset by financial and organisational problems. Just since the last election, three iconic Scottish teams have found themselves in trouble: Rangers, Dunfermline and Hearts. Long-suffering fans deserve responsible owners, and it's increasingly understood that fans themselves are the best stewards of their own clubs. It's time to give a red card to the mismanagement from the people who've been running our national game. It's time for a new team to take control in the game - the supporters who are the game's lifeblood.
"It won't be easy to find the money, especially for bigger clubs, but just knowing they'll be first in line would make supporters' trusts much more important in the eyes of the ordinary fans as they’d be able to position themselves as the next owners of the club. In the long term, clubs of all sizes will only thrive on and off the pitch when they are firmly rooted in their communities.
"Once the fans start to take control, it'll be the beginning of the end for outdated models of ownership. There are a lot of practicalities and details still to be resolved, but we will consult widely and we will work closely with fans themselves through their supporters trusts as well as organisations like Supporters Direct to make sure our final proposals are the best way to protect the sport and put the fans first."
The push within Holyrood was welcomed by Supporters Direct, the organisation that works with fans who want to get involved in the ownership of their clubs.
David Lampitt, Chief Executive of Supporters Direct, said:
"Fans are more and more involved in bidding for clubs but too often they are the last resort when a club has hit rock bottom and is insolvent. Fans should have the right to buy their club before the wheels come off. We've successfully argued that the right to bid for a ground - as Manchester United Supporters Trust secured this week - is an important step, but the club itself is even more important as a community asset and should be protected."
1. For the latest on the Bill, see: