Sunday 1 October 2023

Time for fans to take back football

 I have two great loves (outside of my family). These are music and football. Both are under threat as never before. Today I want to talk about the challenges facing football and how the fans are the most important factor, but also the ones who are least considered. 

I am a season ticket holder of Hadley FC, who are in the Isthmian first division. That is the eighth tier of English football. Yesterday, I watched Hadley collect their first three points of the season, beating Dunstable. I guess there were about 150 people in the crowd. After a terrible start to the season, compounded by the passing of manager Tony Clark's young son from cancer, it was a huge relief. I'd designated yesterday a non drinking day, one of my four a week, so I celebrated with a can of Sprite. But it was great to go back to the clubhouse and know we were no longer bottom of the league. I've supported Hadley for five years, since my nephew dragged me along to a game. I love the club. I used to support Barnet FC, but felt the club lost its soul when it moved to the Hive. I am also a supporter of Manchester City, treble winning champions. Until March this year, I played five a side football every week at Powerleague. I had to give up, aged sixty, due to a long term ankle injury. I miss it dearly.

I spent a decade watching my son play for Watling Youth FC from age 6-16. Watling was, at one point, the premiere local youth team. It was based on the Watling estate and had its own clubhouse, where local lads played table tennis, learned boxing and kept out of trouble. Lifelong friendships were forged, but sadly Matt's was the last team to go through from 6-16. The team folded. The council took the clubhouse for development. In recent months and years, we've seen terrible things occurring in the area. I cannot help but think that had the club still been there, thriving, providing constructive activities for young people, maybe things would be better. In fairness, Barnet Council has built a new youth centre in Montrose Park, but the support networks, built over generations, with willing volunteers built over generations, scattered to the wind. I was speaking to a friend at Hadley yesterday. He was telling me of a local football academy, where players are charged £170 a year in subs. I asked about the kids who's parents couldn't afford it. He said that he wasn't sure. To well off, middle class parents, such as mine, that is a small amount. However the kids that need it most, it is a huge amount. We had a few such kids at Watling and we waived the fees. What appalled me was that it fell on the parents to sort this out. The billions in football, never trickled down to support the kids in the parks who it would make a difference to.

I try and get to see City at The Etihad half a dozen times a season. The cost? About £45 for a matchday ticket, £8 for a pie and a pint. I love the experience, but the stadium does not have the working classes of Manchester packing the terraces, for next to nothing, as they did the first time I went in 1975. Games are announced, then moved, to fit TV schedules. Last year, I bought tickets for the derby against Man Utd. It was listed as 3pm on a Saturday. I snapped them up, only for the match to be moved to 4pm on a Sunday. Whilst this didn't really impact most fans (its two local teams), sometimes they do this to fans, leaving horrendous journetys. Whenever Newcastle fans are made to travel away on a Monday night, they are guaranteed a very late night. No consideration is given to fans at all. In the stadium, we know VAR decisions are being reviewed, but don't know why. Despite paying more than anyone to watch the game, we are left clueless. I usually only find out when I get to the car to drive home, or read the review on the train. We are not allowed to take beers onto the terraces. We are treated like infants. I understand that there were issues in the 80's, but I cannot see a justification for the rules in a segregated, seated stadium.  I'd allow beers to be taken to seats before kick off and at half time. With banning orders, there is a remedy for idiots.

The cost of satellite TV is prohibitive for those at the bottom of the pile. I am always irritated by those who scream to defund the BBC, but are happy for satellite channels to monopolise broadcasting and exclude the poorest. I'd have it written into contracts that every team must be shown live, home and away, once a season of free to view TV. I believe this would be good for everyone, even the pay per view channels, as it would open new audiences.

The Premier League has, for decades, been the global financial powerhouse league. This now appears to be under threat by the 'money no object' Saudi league. The best players are being tempted with ridiculous amounts of money. I find it hard to comprehend, why someone on £300,000 a week would treble that and miss out on playing in the Champions League, but I don't suppose I can blame them. I've left good jobs, for ones I didn't enjoy, to get more money. Having said that, I've always lived to regret it. As a fan of a team in the EPL, I want to watch the best players. I won't be watching Saudi football, just as I never watch Spanish League football. It may be good, but I simply am not invested in the teams.

At Hadley FC the fans feel part of the club. I have taken a small shareholding in the club. Fans act as stewards, step in behind the bar, etc. I helped lay the car park. I have thought long and hard about the state of football in the UK. My view is that, from a business point of view, Manchester City are the best run club in the world. The owners are hands off and have recruited a world class team. I am not blind to the issues with the owners. Much as fans of City (and Chelsea previously) decry City's ownership, few would not have jumped at the chance to have such owners. That doesn't make it right. 

In truth, the biggest problem in football is the ownership of premiership clubs and the practices associated with their business methods. I believe it is time for fans to have a statuatory role in the way football is run. I'd like each club to have a fans council that has several powers. 

1) The right to veto ground developments and sales.

2) The right to properly inspect accounts and refer them to the FA if there appears to be irregularities.

3) The right to challenge and veto excessive share dividend payouts from clubs

4) The right to veto schemes that saddle clubs with debts.

I would also like to see a 10% levy on all clubs profits, with the income being channelled into grassroots football. Clubs should be allowed to set up their own charitable schemes to support local clubs. There should be funds to support kit and subs for young people from low income families.

And finally, The False Dots have made a video, with guest sax from Lee Thompson of Madness and Allen Ashley on vocals, celebrating the dreaming of fans of football clubs at all levels.

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