Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/566/6896
Football and big business
Reclaim the game
In the growing economic crisis, Bradford City (Bantams) fan Manny Dominguez assesses the prospects for building the football supporters' movement.
I was one of the 1,600 or so City fans to travel to Lincoln on Boxing Day, a fixture that I had been looking forward to for months. Despite the match being a frustrating affair I was disappointed at witnessing grown men in their 40s and 50s wanting to fight each other on Lincoln's high street before the game. Then at the game there was so much swearing and goading it was a bit depressing.
Tuning into Radio 4 on 13 January, Sir Herman Ousley was a guest in a discussion about how bad language, crime and the scapegoating of one section of society against another increases as the downturn in the economy inflicts its gloom on the population.
I agreed with his view that the misery of unemployment and job insecurity causes much stress and anger, filtering into the stands as football supporters let off steam.
'Kick it out'
The backdrop to the discussion was around the news that 11 people, including three teenagers, have been charged because of racist and homophobic chants towards Sol Campbell at a Portsmouth v Tottenham fixture last September. The arrests come as the Football Association have launched a new initiative to rid football of anti-gay sentiment and racism on and off the pitch as part of their 'Kick It Out' campaign.
Whatever 2009 has in store for English football, as economic crisis engulfs the world, it is unlikely to include another giddy round of takeovers. Premiership clubs with the biggest debt will become more unstable, with the possible financial collapse of one or more of them.
At the same time, research by Virgin Money says nearly one in four Premier League season ticket holders are considering cancelling their tickets and one in ten are planning to share the cost with friends.
Malcolm Clarke, Chair of the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) said: "Clubs will have to cut prices if they don't want to see banks of empty seats."
More clubs may follow Bradford City's lead. This season's ambitious 'buy one get one free' offer just fell short of its 9,000 target.
The FSF is an independent fans-based democratic organisation which campaigns for the interests of all football fans throughout England and Wales. With nearly 150,000 members, its campaigns include: 'No to Game 39'; about the greedy plans of Premier League clubs to play an extra game abroad and 'safestanding', supporting those who choose to stand to watch games.
Its current campaign: 'Watching football is not a crime' is about the way the police have been using section 27 orders on football fans and the implications it has on supporters' civil rights.
One of the most important factors of the Stand Up for the Bantams campaign on safestanding is that it shows that football supporter-based organisations can work together to good effect. The Supporters' Trust, an affiliated member of the FSF, has been working with the FSF alongside individual fans. The launch of an independent supporters' association for City would be a step forward.
As a socialist activist all my life, I always get comments when I'm trying to save this or stop that, like: "It's a good idea but you'll never get it".
There's no doubt that millions of people are turned off by politics. It's hardly surprising when the current crop of politicians might as well be living on another planet.
This is why it is urgent to build a party for all working people. It is the surest way of defending the interests of all football supporters, as it could include in its programme guaranteeing and protecting the existence of all football clubs.
Fred Jowett (1864-1944) of Bradford campaigned for an independent political party of Labour along with his small band of comrades in the socialist and trade union movement. But there was stiff resistance back in the late nineteenth century, as the unions were linked to the Liberal Party; a party tied to big business.
Sounds familiar? Jowett helped build the Independent Labour Party, formed in 1893 in Bradford and as a councillor and MP achieved much for workers in Bradford.
In 1987, socialist Pat Wall was elected for Labour as a workers' MP on a worker's wage for Bradford North, until his untimely tragic death in 1990. Allowing a socialist like Pat to stand as a Labour candidate would be unheard of now.
If big business did not control football, clubs could be community run and non-profit making. Supporters would not be involved in just turning up to watch. There could be a proper club structure where people would enrol in their club for a nominal fee.
Club members, through elected committees, could also be involved in the day-to-day running of their clubs. Players and staff would receive good wages. But players would not receive the inflated wages of those we see now in the Premiership.
The FSF's demands are modest yet far-reaching and could form a bridge to how football could be run under a genuine democratic socialist society.
- For special offers and concessions to be made available for visiting fans.
- For supporter involvement in initiatives to combat all forms of discriminatory abuse, chanting or harassment, including but not exclusively racism and homophobia on the field or in the stands.
- For a trial of at least one football ground in Divisions One and Two in England and Wales having a fully-funded safestanding area built into a stadium or stadium re-design. This could be similar to that at Werder Bremen and other stadiums in Germany. These have barriers along every row.
- For clubs each year to make available independently audited public accounts.
- To help reclaim the game: A new 'rule 34' equivalent - a practice of sharing gate and TV money between competing teams, aiming to restore a fairer distribution of wealth throughout all four divisions. Abandoning this rule in the mid 1980s has fostered gross inequalities between clubs.
To defend jobs in society as a whole it is necessary to be prepared to struggle and fight for your future, the same applies to the need for football fans to struggle to protect the existence of our clubs, making them accessible for future generations. The same class of people and the corporations who now own and control our teams and threaten their future existence also control our workplaces and decide whether or not they stay open.
We need to take this power out of their hands and run our football clubs under democratic public ownership and control.
In The Socialist 11 February 2009:
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Socialist Party campaigns
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