The recommendations within the Crouch review will be, quite simply, a symphony to many sports fans up and down the country. But they are just that… recommendations. So just how can real-world examples of fans holding authority in sport push what are currently ideals into actions.
Long have sports clubs been toys for owners: left in their original wrapping at first but eventually sold, given away or discarded.
Owners may be at peace with that but it’s the fans who can be left in tatters, like many clubs. Bury is a depressing reminder of that. A town north of Manchester with a once long history of Bury FC – the beating heart of the community. That vision is no more.
The football club racked up huge levels of debt and became the first club since Maidstone in 1992 to drop out of the English football system in 2019.
Would fans ever have let that happen if they were involved from the start?
Financial chaos and an unscrupulous head honcho were tangling Wrexham in metaphorical hell.
In 2011, however, the club was taken over by the fans, a supporters trust, and the club soon found its financial footing before it was sold in 2020 to Hollywood stars Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds – a true fairytale.
The fans were oh so passionate about their club and simply wouldn’t let it go – a lesson in care and desperation.
It would be selfish to argue that fans deserve a controlling stake in any given club for a reduced price or out of sympathy. Sport is a business after all.
But in Wrexham, AFC Wimbledon and Exeter City, we have seen how it could work.
For the others, though, whose owners are passionate, caring and deserving, they mustn’t have their investments simply wiped out.
Cardiff Rugby, who play in the United Rugby Championship, announced their intention to appoint a Supporter Advisor to attend Board meetings. This role closed its application process last week and will see a supporter attend Board meetings as an observer with full speaking rights.
A compromise, right? A fan can attend to prove or disprove club transparency while allowing them to maintain it’s business and profit-led approach to governance.
Furthermore, the scheme at least allows fans to believe they have a pathway to the very peak of the club.
On the continent, too, they have their own measures against radical owners making rash decisions. The 50+1 system in the German Bundesliga essentially denies clubs a place in the top flight if commercial investors have a higher stake, combined, than 49 per cent. The league also has a clause whereby exceptions can be made on the foundation of trust.
Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg qualify for those exceptions because their investors have been, well, invested in the club for over 20 years.
The system was challenged in 2009 by Hannover’s then president but 32 of the 35 clubs voted against him. The other three abstained.
Fan ownership in sport has been shown to work in limited examples, and it is not something that would benefit all. But in some fan involvement, at least, sport can have the moral fact checker most would agree it needs.