Earlier this week St Mirren Independent Supporters association surpassed their 1,000 member target and The Buddies will now become the seventh Scottish professional football club to become supporter owned, following in the footsteps of Clyde, East Stirlingshire, Stirling Albion, Dunfermline Athletic, Heart of Midlothian and most recently Motherwell. As more and more supporter groups seem to be considering takeover attempts, it begs question; is supporter ownership the way forward for Scottish football?
Lets have a look at how supporter ownership could benefit clubs. First, trust can be generated through increased transparency in terms of club finances. Supporter owned clubs must publish financial reports and details of the club accounts at the AGM. This identifies any financial problems and members can voice their concerns and ideas in an attempt to resolve any of these issues. Fan owned clubs also generate more interest from sponsors due to the higher attendance figures in comparison to clubs who are corporately owned. Most importantly, there is more of a democracy within a supporter owned club. Members votes mean more in the decision making process and the needs of the club are looked after rather than the needs of a businessman or consortium. Overall, the idea of a supporter owned club is to help create a stronger and more prosperous club, that can perform well on and off the pitch.
However, it does seem as though supporter owned clubs only come to pass when the club is in deep trouble financially. The positive is that most Scottish supporter owned clubs are now financially stable. Take Heart of Midlothian for example. In June 2013 they entered administration and were deducted 15 points before the season even began. As a result, the club were relegated and had a fight for survival on their hands. As of June 2016 and Hearts are now in a strong financial and footballing position, the club is now debt free and finished in 3rd position in their first season back in the Premier League. There is no doubt that their success is due to the formation of supporter group, The Foundation of Hearts and Director of the club, Ann Budge.
In my opinion, supporter ownership has masses of potential for clubs in Scotland and not only for clubs who are in financial turmoil. They should take a leaf out of the German’s book. The Bundesliga model for supporter ownership is the perfect example of how positive supporter ownership can be.
The general idea of the Bundesliga model is that a minimum of 51% of clubs must be owned by supporter group members. This means that supporters have a controlling share in the club but also leaves room for considerable investment from private consortiums or business owners. Board members are selected by the members which means that supporters have a full say on the every day running of their club. As a result, clubs are less likely to be mismanaged due to the fact that fans will usually make decisions in the best interests of their club.
If Scottish clubs were to be run in this fashion, there there may be a chance that Scottish football can develop financially and in turn become more of an attractive spectacle to viewers in other countries. It would mean that clubs will not only be able to survive year after year, but they will be able to strengthen their squads and make our leagues more competitive, something that Scottish football has been missing for decades. Maybe it is time to pass some sort of legislation that gives supporter groups the chance to have a bigger say in what happens at their club.