Another week in football, another turbulent and troubling week for clubs protesting against their owners. Charlton, Blackpool, Coventry are all desperately flagging and needing a new direction, which unites the fans.
There is a strange perception, certainly when Portsmouth were trying to regain ownership of their club back in 2013, that fans owning their club was a ludicrous, not even viable, idea. Often fans were pilloried for their lack of business acumen, a slapdash approach to any decision making, but what makes private ownership superior to fan ownership?
In an ideal world, a successful private ownership would be similar to Southampton. A successful billionaire comes in, knows he doesn’t have the expertise and knowledge to run a football club on his own; but appoints a structured executive team, in the form of Nicola Cortese, a former executive at the sports business desk Credit Suisse , who overshadows the footballing side, appointed a senior management side with a clear philosophy on football, whilst the owner remains in the background having set the structured budgets for the team to work in.
However, more likely than not, many clubs are being treated as a fourth, fifth, or even a sixth business when it comes to many businessmen. In the case of Charlton, they are being treated as just another club in Europe with no desire to connect with their fans, no hierarchy listening to their concerns and feeling utterly detached from their football club.
The stigma towards fan ownership is one of snobbery; ‘you can’t let 15,000 deciding the team line-up and if you let a fan buy a stake a club, they also buy a stake into the Saturday line-up’. It’s a lazy, mis-informed stereotype used to dismiss fan ownership. Portsmouth Supporters Trust rallied 2,500 fans to buy a £1,000 share in the club, then outsourced to local businessmen in Portsmouth who could invest from £50k-£500k to help boost the bid and convince the administrator and Football League the business plan and funding was in place for a successful takeover.
Similarly, to the successful private ownership of Southampton, Portsmouth Supporters Trust realised football is a completely different business to anything they had worked in. The club brought in Mark Catlin, a former chief executive at Bury, to run the day to day business side of the club with the Trust setting wage and transfers budgets Catlin had to adhere to. Anything the manager wanted, perhaps a player on higher wages or a transfer fee which would help the club, Catlin would then go to the board of directors and propose the idea. However, any acceptance of a deal would only happen if the finances were right for the club, for example, were the club performing better than budgeted? Higher attendances, an unexpected cup run or more investment from the Trust.
To date, Portsmouth are a debt free club, turned over £6million last year and operating at a profit of £125,000, with average attendances of 16,000, whilst being competitive. Charlton, Coventry, Blackpool, keep the faith; there is light at the end of the tunnel.