Football fans are increasingly coming into conflict with the billionaire owners of the big clubs. Protests have taken place against the increasing commercialisation of the game and the dominance of vested interests. To save the game, we need fan-ownership and control of all clubs.
Football fans have continued to protest across the country against the ever increasing commercialisation of the game. Although the 2020/21 football season has come to an end, at a club level anyway, fans have signalled that the attempts by a rich elite to form a European Super League (ESL) will not be forgotten.
The protests against the ESL and corporate greed have alarmed the billionaire owners and their media co-conspirators, who were hoping that the entire scandal would be quickly brushed under the carpet once it had become unviable. Cringing apologies are not cutting it this time.
The loss of huge revenues due to the pandemic has forced many clubs to take out multi-million pound loans from the Bank of England and private insurers. These huge loans will need to be paid back eventually. However the cost of doing so will clearly not be paid out of the pockets of billionaire owners, but those of the fans.
With these protests, fans have shown their patience is now wearing thin over owners using their football clubs as cash cows. Owners can expect further fan protests next season against their insatiable greed.
Power of fan protests
It is clear that the reason for the collapse of the ESL proposals was the huge backlash from fans. Supporters’ groups had come out firmly against the plans, and protests were quickly organised at many grounds across the country.
Such protests correctly pointed out that the proposals were solely motivated by greed, and were an attempt to destroy football as a competitive sport. It should be no surprise that of the 12 teams in the ESL, nine of them are included in lists of the top 12 richest clubs in the world!
The success in forcing the club owners to back down has provided a lesson for many fans that large scale protests do work. They have proven to be the trigger for demands for wider changes to the game.
In the last month, fan protests have continued at one of the ESL clubs, Manchester United. These protests have gone beyond just protesting against the ESL, with fans demanding that the club owners, the hated Glazer family, leave.
The protestors even forced the postponement of a game against Liverpool by blocking the team buses from entering the ground. Some protestors also broke into the stadium to protest directly on the pitch.
The latest protests against the Glazers were triggered by the ESL proposals, although the potential for such a fierce backlash from fans has existed in football for a long time. The Glazers were just the most blatant of the leeches now sucking the money out of the game, in effect out of our pockets. They even had the cheek to load the cost of buying the club back onto the club itself before bringing in one money-grabbing measure after another. Such was the anger at the time over the treatment of fans, that some abandoned Man Utd altogether and helped set up the fan-backed FC United of Manchester.
The protests have not been limited to Man Utd, with both Arsenal and Liverpool fans also turning up the pressure on their owners. With fans now able to begin to return to stadiums after over a year away due to the pandemic, protests are unlikely to disappear.
In fact, at a recent protest by Arsenal supporters, fans held placards with slogans, “Kroenke Out, Fans In’ and ‘We care, you don’t’. Absolutely – fans should indeed own and run their clubs!
Arsenal fans demonstrating at the #KroenkeOut #FansIn protest ahead of #ARSBHA pic.twitter.com/ZSYew4Nvhv
— AP3 (@Ap3Journalism) May 23, 2021
UEFA and the other governing bodies have opportunistically attempted to claim that they are on the fans’ side against the ESL. We must be clear though that the only reason for their opposition to the ESL was to protect their own slice of the lucrative football financial pie. Already we have seen blatant attempts by UEFA to profiteer at the Champions League Final.
To prove this point, one only needs to look at the UEFA proposals for the Champions League, set to come into effect in possibly just a year’s time, which would ironically involve some teams qualifying automatically due to historical performance! Indeed it is hard in some places to see the difference between the ESL and the UEFA plans, other than it is the rich clubs and UEFA itself which will be getting the lion’s share of the cash.
The fight for fan ownership
Despite the posturing from club owners, many fans realise that it is not a case of good or bad owners, but the entire commercialisation of football that led to the ESL proposals. Indeed, the anger of working-class fans at being driven out of the game by constantly increasing ticket prices (and more) has been growing for some time.
Although the UK Government has set up a ‘fan-led’ review into football club governance, simply tinkering around the edges will not stem the insatiable greed of the billionaire club owners. In any case this review is packed with Tory cronies, so don’t expect much here.
These billionaires have been trying to squeeze fans to maximize club profits long before the pandemic hit us. No doubt this will intensify as the football industry and capitalism continues to lurch from one crisis to another. No part of society, including football, will be unaffected by the tumultuous events ahead.
To save “the beautiful game” from being destroyed, fan protests must go further and demand full fan ownership and control of clubs. Furthermore, the governing bodies must be controlled by, and accountable to, players, fans and communities. Supporters groups must be revived and start pushing for real change.
Only in this way can we ensure that football clubs are genuinely run in the interests of fans, and not as profit-making machines for billionaire capitalists.