Usually when writing a piece like this, you’re careful to mount a balanced argument, not come down too heavily on one side or another, and try not to upset anyone by voicing too strong an opinion.
There’ll be a degree of that this time too – football is a game of two halves on a level playing field and all that – but up front it’s important to make clear that the proposals currently in the Scottish Parliament to give football fans ‘right-to-buy’ their clubs are unequivocally a Good Thing.
Qualifying as a Good Thing isn’t actually that difficult. The startling thing about most Good Things is that they seem so obvious no-one can really believe they weren’t already a thing before the whole process started.
So it is with the Scottish Parliament’s Community Empowerment Bill. Scottish Green party MSP Alison Johnstone tabled a successful amendment last week that extended powers originally intended to residents buyouts of Highland estates to include giving fan groups first refusal on buying a football club should it come up for sale – including where a club finds itself in financial difficulty and the administrators have been called in.
Hailing the amendment, which will now go to a full consultation to decide the exact shape of the regulations, Johnstone said: “Many Scottish clubs are well-run but everyone can name others which have been forced into administration, or worse. With this right, never again would fans be left watching on the touchline as their club goes bust.”
The process as envisaged by MSPs is that a supporters group would form, legally register an interest in a club, then, when the club’s current owner came to sell it, they would be unable to do so without the supporters group first having had the opportunity to buy their team at a price set by an independent valuer.
A messy process, perhaps, and one which is bound to upset existing owners – particularly that independent valuation – but no less messy than the status quo, which allows the chopping and changing of ownership on the whim of a well-heeled investor.
Fan ownership in Scottish football has been an issue simmering just below boiling point for some time now. There are currently four professional clubs under fan ownership – and both Hearts and Rangers have significant supporter groups with shareholdings. Hearts owner Ann Budge is in the process of handing the club over to supporter group Foundation of Hearts – we’re currently a little over a year into a five-year transition of ownership.
Politics, like football, is a funny old game, and in politics, like in football, the run of play can be very swift to change. The SNP obliterated Labour north of the border at May’s General Election, leaving Ian Murray in Edinburgh South as Scottish Labour’s only MP. Murray very much has the look of a man left back to defend as his teammates go up for a corner. The left in Scotland is feeling buoyant, a feeling it will carry into the Scottish Parliament elections next year, with this sort of policy likely to be a popular one.
Last year celebrity Raith Rovers fan and sometime-former-Prime-Minister Gordon Brown told the Scotsman newspaper that increased community involvement was something he’d like to see in football: “When there’s a club that’s at the centre of community life you want to see it get as much support as possible from the community. Attendances are far too low right now and we’ve to do something about that.”
Brown – ever the economist – rightly highlighted inflated ticket prices as the cause of these under-populated football grounds. Germany, where fan ownership is enshrined in law, does not suffer the same glut of empty seats, with the cheapest season ticket at Bayern Munich less than half the cost of the cheapest at Raith Rovers’s Stark’s Park.
And what of Holyrood’s Community Empowerment Bill? There is a certain amount of wishful thinking in a community right-to-buy initiative. It’s the sort of scheme that sounds very good in principle, but in practice, is about as likely to come off as a David Dunn rabona. (That was the aforementioned hedging of bets and balancing of arguments around the Good Thing.)
A separate amendment, which would’ve given government support in the form of loans to supporters groups, was voted down. Gathering a membership is the first hurdle, but failure to pool the required funds is the hurdle which often proves fatal to fail to clear.
Perhaps Ann Budge and Foundation of Hearts is the model to emulate. Budge stumped up the cash for the initial buy-out of Hearts, with the backing of the 8,000 supporters to whom she is now transferring ownership. Fans tend stick around, but don’t necessarily have the resources up front. Owners tend to have the resources upfront, but don’t necessarily stick around. When you’re working in a time of crisis, as consortia looking to stage a buy-out often are, hanging around a few years to raise the funds from fans hard-pressed for spare cash isn’t an option that’s available -the opportunity will have gone by then, the club gone bust or sold on.
The final proposals have to allow for this if they stand a chance of success. The regulations must contain the ability for a lead investor, like Budge, to buy a club on the condition they transfer ownership to the legally-recognised supporters group over a pre-agreed period.
That’s the only way this Good Thing becomes an Actual Thing.[separator type=”thin”]
Save up to £30 in @CampoRetro’s end of season SALE. Up to 65% OFF & prices from £15 http://bit.ly/1CSHHj7
Should Rangers ditch Graeme Murty for Steve Clarke?
Clarke has masterminded a revival at Kilmarnock.
Any lingering hopes Rangers had of winning the Scottish title this season was extinguished at the weekend as they fell to a 1-0 defeat at Ibrox against Kilmarnock. Following the loss to Celtic the week previous Rangers are now just in a battle to remain second. The man who masterminded the win at Ibrox was Steve Clarke.
Clarke has been a revelation since taking over at Kilmarnock. He has turned Killie into one of the better teams in Scotland with some excellent player recruitment and tactical foresight.
After the game v Rangers many of the Ibrox faithful were left wondering one thing, is Clarke the man to take Rangers forward?
Graeme Murty is currently in charge in Glasgow. He has done a good job as caretaker since taking over from the woeful Pedro Caixinha era. But the last two games may have cost him his chance of taking over at Ibrox on a permanent basis.
Not many Rangers fans would be upset if Clarke was given the role. The work he has done at Kilmarnock has reminded fans just what a good coach he really is. During his career he has coached at big clubs such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa. Expectation is something Clarke can deal with.
His time in charge at West Brom was mostly successful and not many fans were happy to see him go when given the sack.
Most importantly, Clarke knows how to win big games. In Scottish football, where the league winners tend to lose only a handful of fixtures, that is a massive trait to have.
Given the player’s he has managed to tempt to Rugby Park he would also be able to pull in some top talent to Ibrox if given the job.
Rangers face a big decision in the summer. Stick with Murty? Or twist with someone new? If Rangers decide to go with the latter then not many men are better suited for the Glasgow job than Clarke.
Celtic move for Angus Gunn would be perfect for club and player
The Manchester City youngster has been in fine form during a loan spell at Manchester City.
Celtic are being linked with a move for Manchester City goalkeeper Angus Gunn this summer.
The Sun report that both Celtic and Stoke City are interested in signing the young stopper.
Gunn, son of legendary Norwich City goalkeeper Bryan Gunn, has been forging his own reputation at Carrow road this season.
The 22-year-old is wanted on loan by Celtic for next season, with a view to a potential permanent move.
Considering Gunn has to find his way past Ederson to be City’s number one, a summer exit certainly seems likely.
For Gunn and for Celtic this would be a tremendous move, as Rodgers starts planning for life after Craig Gordon. The Scotland international is currently out of action with an injury.
Scott Bain arrived on loan from Dundee whilst Dorus de Vries is also present, but neither player is as talented as the City man.
Celtic, of course, have a good working relationship with City.
The likes of Jason Denayer and Patrick Roberts have previously joined the club on loan from the Etihad and Gunn would simply be following in their footsteps.
For the young stopper, it would represent an opportunity to play regular football at a high level. Not only would he be featuring in the Scottish top-flight, but also the Champions League.
Gunn is a young keeper with absolute bags of potential. But, to be honest, a future career at City just does not look plausible for the stopper.
A move to Celtic could easily become permanent, leaving Gunn potentially playing for one of the most historic clubs in Europe.
If Celtic come calling this summer, which they should do, Gunn must be on his way to Parkhead.
Sam Byram would be perfect Celtic target for summer
The right-back was linked with a move to Liverpool whilst a Leeds United player.
It would be fair to say that Sam Byram has not exactly enjoyed a good time at West Ham United.
Since his move from Leeds United in January 2016, he has struggled to find anything like his best form. Injuries have not helped matters either.
All in all, Byram has played just 36 times for the Hammers in the past two and a half season.
So, should Celtic offer him a way out this summer?
First of all, Brendan Rodgers is supposedly a fan. Back in April 2015, it was reported by the Daily Star that Byram was being tracked by Rodgers when Liverpool manager.
An £8 million deal for the player was mooted but nothing ever happened.
It would not be a surprise if Liverpool were interested. Byram was one of the hottest prospects in the Championship. West Ham won the battle for his signature a few months later, with Everton beaten into second. By this time, Rodgers was out of work. He had been sacked, with Jurgen Klopp the new Liverpool boss.
Now, Rodgers is at Celtic and the Bhoys need to sign a new right-back in the summer. Swedish defender Mikael Lustig has endured a tough season. His drop in form has certainly been one of the more alarming aspects of Celtic’s campaign.
In back-up, Celtic have Cristian Gamboa, who in all honesty cannot buy a game at Parkhead. After the Costa Rican, there is Anthony Ralston, one for the future at 19-years-old he is currently on loan at Dundee United.
Come the summer a new right-back recruit will be needed and Byram could be perfect.
The 24-year-old still has plenty to offer in his career and moving north of the border could be the perfect kickstart he has been looking for.
With Celtic needing a right-back, the pursuit of Byram would certainly make sense this summer.
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
Sessegnon or Bale? Past or future? Spurs must make right move this summer
Jack Wilshere’s Everton arrival would surely spell the end for Morgan Schneiderlin?
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
Everton signing Rodrigo at £35m would undermine Cenk Tosun position
Tottenham Hotspur3 weeks ago
Tottenham Hotspur must push Toby Alderweireld toward Barcelona
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Jurgen Klopp’s brave January decision is playing off thanks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Liverpool4 weeks ago
Mohamed Salah: Is Liverpool’s Egyptian star the best player in the world right now?
Brentford4 weeks ago
Romaine Sawyers – Blossoming in the Championship with play-off contenders Brentford
English Premier League3 weeks ago
Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle United: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain growing into role under Jurgen Klopp
Chelsea4 days ago
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold finds himself at the centre of Jurgen Klopp’s plans
Arsenal4 weeks ago
Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City: Three talking points from Wembley