The greatest challenge for co-operative football clubs is gaining the ability to compete on a level playing field with the other clubs, according to the Chair of Supporters Direct.
Brian Burgess said it is difficult for clubs owned by supporters’ trusts to compete in financial terms while maintaining a sustainable policy. He said: “We have seen a lot of dreadful examples of clubs got into financial trouble, taking on unsustainable debt.”
Mr Burgess explained how it is difficult for clubs to invest because of the history of debt, while other clubs had owners that were still trying to behave in a way that chased short-term debt. “That makes it very hard for clubs who are trying to live within their means to compete," he said.
Some clubs struggle to compete after they have been taken over by trusts particularly because of their debt legacy. “The only answer to that is fairer regulation,” said the Chair of Supporters Direct. He added that new regulations in League One and League Two are beginning to level the playing field.
Supporters from across Europe assessed the future of fan ownership at the Summit. Delegates agreed that football needed more community-owned clubs to address the growing imbalance between the Premier League and the rest of the clubs.
Simon Barrow, a member of the Dumbarton Supporters Trust in Scotland said another challenge is the fact that community ownership is often regarded as a last resort, rather than as a sustainable model.
Ken Malley, a member of the executive board of FSF and Portsmouth Supporters Trust, said the greatest challenge for the club could be the supporters’ expectations: “We are here because we believe in fan ownership. Our club got into severe financial trouble and eventually it reached the stage where nobody was prepared for buying it except for us, the supporters. A lot of the supporters will expect immediate result. We need a few years to stabilise things."
In spite of the challenges faced, delegates agreed that fan ownership is the way forward to secure a sustainable future for football. Andrew Miller, member of Kilmarnock Supporters’ Trust, said fans would always be there for their clubs. “They have an emotional commitment to a football club. Transitioning from single ownership model to community ownership model is a great challenge for us, it’s the most difficult thing to do,” he said.
With two co-op football clubs in the Champions League final, supporter ownership is the way forward for football, said Steve McCarthy, Chairman of Birmingham City Supporters Trust. “Germany proved it they can have that success together with embracing the fun culture and the community owned culture,” he said.
Des Lynch, board member of FC United said the German model could provide a good example: “The fact that German football clubs can be taken over by law in Germany is surely the way in which football should go across the world and be less of a business and more of a sport that it used to be.”