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April 11, 2012
On 23 March 2012, I made the trip to Nantes in order to attend an event on Supporters’ ownership of football clubs. The public conference was organised by À la Nantaise, an organisation (association) which works on maintaining what they see as the fundamental values of the Football Club de Nantes. One of the ways to achieve this target is to raise money from supporters in order to create a supporters’ fund investing in club shares.
The conference had therefore invited Antonia Hagemann of Supporters’ Direct and the general secretary of the Norwich City’s supporters trust Mike Reynolds together with a couple of academics (Emmanuel Lelore from INSEP, Nicolas Hourcade from Centrale Lyon), a former French International (Vikash Dhorasoo, promoting his manifesto for a new football, Tatane) and, in true French style, a flurry of local politicians, far too numerous to mention. The afternoon also benefited from the presence of journalists from French glossy-but-trashy magazine So Foot and members of the think-tank Sport et Citoyenneté.
The afternoon was overall interesting. The enthusiasm of all supporters for their club is always very nice to witness; their dedication to investing in their club is also very impressive. Yet, it remains difficult to see how supporters’ ownership is a viable proposition.
Firstly, as Emmanuel Lelore explained very clearly, the situation of supporters varies hugely across Europe, if not within one country. A single model is unlikely to emerge.
Secondly, can football supporters really have their say in the running of their club? The examples of Barça and Real Madrid (the most famous of all supporters owned clubs) tend to show that power is held by supporters when there is an election, then immediately confiscated by the elected president. It is doubtful that in wealthy clubs where supporters struggle to lay their hands on more than one share (out of thousands) their voice will ever be heard! (I have analysed the case of Arsenal elsewhere.)
Thirdly, and more fundamentally, Vikash Dhorasoo and Nicolas Hourcade pointed to the same question: what is the role of the supporter? Can it be fulfilled, if the supporter becomes a shareholder? Shouldn’t supporters focus first on supporting the club and the players, even when things go awry? Would they even be able to manage the club?
All in all, the afternoon proved again that the idea of clubs owned and managed by their supporters is as eminently likeable as it is unrealistic in the current context.