Chelsea recently finally achieved Champions League success and realised an ambition that was bankrolled by their wealthy owner Roman Abramovich , and Manchester City are currently trying to emulate that feat with the help of some wealthy backers with very deep pockets.
To many professional football clubs, especially those that operate in the lower leagues, this is a fantasy land that is a million miles away from the harsh financial reality that they have to contend with on a daily basis. Portsmouth FC tried to live the dream and have paid a heavy financial price that has brought the club to near extinction. A deal has recently been announced that a supporters trust will start to raise money to buy the club by offering fans the chance to buy an equity share, so is people power the way out of the financial mire for some clubs and a way forward for the future?
The wealthy owners that pumped money into Pompey that helped them achieve a dream by winning promotion to the Premier League and also the FA Cup have long since gone and these are desperate times for Portsmouth FC and a number of clubs in a similar position. Supporters Trusts are not a new phenomenon as such, with clubs such as Darlington, Exeter and Wycombe Wanderers all operating with the help of cash generated from a Supporters Trust that has been set up for the benefit of their football club.
The clubs that are owned or part-owned by their supporters tend to be lower league or non-league and that is most likely as a result of economies of scale. Raising enough money to bail out or re-finance a club that plays football in front of less than 5,000 people in League Two is an entirely different proposition to finding enough investors to prop up or rescue a club the size of Liverpool or Manchester United, although that is hypothetical as these clubs raise money through the stock market rather than directly from supporters.
Do Supporters Trusts Work?
All the ingredients for a successful relationship are there, as the people investing their cash in the club are supporters and therefore have an emotional as well as a financial attachment. Every club has a slightly different scenario and some were in worse financial straits than others, so the decision to ask fans for cash could be based on a desperate and immediate need or a desire to fund further expansion at the football club. Ebsfleet United was a different proposition as it set out to attract money from investors through MyFootballClub and many people who hold shares currently are not actually supporters who turn up regularly to games. The general consensus is that a Supporters Trust is a good way of saving a club or raising money, so you can say that on balance they do work well.
Is People Power the Way Forward?
Whilst the English league has seen only smaller scale shared ownership, it should be remembered that two of the greatest clubs sides in the world, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are owned by Socios , which is the term to describe fan-members who have owned and operated the club since inception. You probably could not get a greater example of people power than the fans of those two Spanish giants and does prompt the question of how differently teams like Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City would be run were they to be owned by our own version of Socios.
Portsmouth FC are no doubt just relieved that they are still able to exist as a football club at this point in time due to the generosity of their fans, but it would certainly be interesting to see a high profile Premier League club give itself up to the supporters and see what difference that made, but dont hold your breath on that one waiting for an announcement.