Lothian football fans: £1 million land reform fund

The Scottish Greens today proposed an extension of land reform and the community right to buy to cover Scotland’s football clubs, so fans would have first refusal when their club comes up for sale. The Greens also identified two sources of money to back fan buy-outs: first, from the £1m last week allocated to sponsor the Scottish League Cup from the Proceeds of Crime Act, and secondly through a levy on the broadcast fees received by the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Association.

The Scottish game continues to be beset by financial insecurity, uncertainty about ownership and structures. These measures are designed to start a long-term shift towards fan ownership of their clubs, work promoted across the UK by organisations like Supporters Direct. Last year saw the successful £300,000 takeover of Stirling Albion by its fans, yet other Scottish clubs – including Dundee and Motherwell – remain in financial difficulty while supporters’ trusts work to take control of them.

Alison Johnstone, the Greens’ top candidate for the Lothian Region, said:

“You don’t need to follow football to know how central the clubs are to their communities, as we’ve seen in recent years in West Lothian with the LIVIforLIFE Supporters Trust at Livingstone. This Green move would be a great boost to supporter efforts at Livingstone and would encourage others too, putting supporters first in the queue if a club comes up for sale, and putting them in the best possible place to take over and run it with an eye to the long term. Fan-owned clubs thrive elsewhere, and I’m sure they would do so in Lothian as well.”

Patrick Harvie, Greens’ co-convenor, said:

“When people think of land reform, they tend to think of crofting estates in the Highlands and Islands, not Scotland’s football clubs. But there are some surprising similarities. Important community assets are all too often the property of remote owners who undervalue them and treat them as trophies. The move we’re proposing today would give fans first refusal when their club comes up for sale, and provide grants and loans to support these buy-outs.

“Alex Salmond last week announced that £1 million from the proceeds of crime would go to sponsor the Scottish League Cup. We believe money from this pot would bring more long-term benefits if it were used instead to help give fans control over the destiny of their clubs. Beyond that, there’s no reason why football itself couldn’t contribute a small percentage of the TV money secured by the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Association, money that could be matched by the Scottish Government.

“Scottish football is in a mess. We have chronic financial indiscipline in football management, and a concentration of wealth and power in the clubs at the top of the game. Fan-owned clubs, on the other hand, are a model that works well elsewhere – not just for Barcelona and Real Madrid, but also for every substantial club in both Sweden and Germany. In the long term, clubs large and small will only thrive on and off the pitch when they are rooted in their communities, and that means giving loyal supporters both the right to buy their clubs and the money to do so.”

Dave Boyle, chief executive of Supporters Direct, the organisation which works with fans’ trusts in the UK, was quoted by the Press Association as saying:

“Community ownership is commonplace on the continent and is increasingly seen as the remedy for the poor governance and finances of clubs and poor relationship between clubs and their fans and communities.

“The two biggest problem fans face to make community ownership a reality are the right to be seen as a legitimate bidder by current owners and the cash flow to make the purchase.

“These radical proposals from the Scottish Green Party address those problems and we will look with great interest at the proposals from other parties in the weeks ahead. The most recent UK election featured proposals from all parties on how they’d reform football, and these proposals really kick the debate off in the Scottish Parliament elections.”