THE BLOG

Can Fans Own Football Clubs?

28/04/2014 17:40 BST | Updated 28/06/2014 10:59 BST

It was 17 May 2008 and Portsmouth were celebrating. Stood on the concourse at Wembley their players held aloft the FA Cup as jubilant scenes unfolded amongst their fans.

Little did those fans know what was to occur at Fratton Park in the years that followed. Burdened by debts that were estimated to be in the region of £135million, the club became the embodiment of every fans worst fear as they were the first Premier League club to enter administration.

"Going down with pride" was the fans riposte, emblazoned on t-shirts. Continuing down into the fourth tier of English football for the first time since 1978, the club even skirted close to extinction. Yet finally, it seems a ray of hope has sprung from the club and it's all thanks to the Pompey Supporters Trust.

"By the fans for the fans" read a banner that hung behind the assorted trust members. A day short of six years on from their Wembley final, the Supporters Trust will collect a Civic Award on 16 May, commending their work in turning club's fortunes around. Now beginning to establish a firm foundation for the club to build on, Portsmouth's relative success has opened a much wider question - is football fans owning clubs the future?

In Germany it is already happening. The top 36 Bundesliga and second tier clubs all operate under fan ownership (referred to as the 50+1 model) with only two exceptions - Bayer Leverkusen and VfL Wolfsburg, which have always been owned by chemical giant Bayer and Volkswagen respectively.

Supporters or 'members' are given a significant say in the decision making of clubs. Even in instances in which they do not own the football club - such as Hoffenheim, where Dietmar Hopp owns 96% of the club's shares - decisions are still made by those on the terraces. Presidents can subsequently be voted out, in a system that demands accountability of those at the top - something that often seems to escape English football.

However the system is not without its difficulties, as current Fulham boss Felix Magath found out while coaching Schalke 04. The club's constitution stated that any player costing over £300,000 had to gain the approval of the supervisory board.

Magath sought to have the clause removed from the club's constitution - a decision that was unsurprisingly rejected. As England casts an envious eye towards Germany, it is hard not to be impressed by the displays of unity.

In 2010 Dortmund fans boycotted a game at Schalke over what they perceived to be an unfair hike in ticket prices: "This protest is not aimed towards Schalke but against the price hike which basically every club here in Germany is part of," Stephan Uersfeld, of the German fanzine Schwatzgelb, told BBC Sport in 2010.

Given that fans were outraged at tickets surpassing the €20 mark, the situation represents a stark contrast when compared to the much higher sums fans in England are expected to shell out in order to see Premier League football and the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

As Uersfeld explained however, fans had become undervalued: "We are part of the game, part of the business, but people do not take us seriously. What happens if the fans don't show up? Can they be replaced by another audience?"

In Portsmouth's case, the audience has also served as the saviour. Speaking on the Pompey Supporters Trust website, Ashley Brown said of their Civic award: "This is recognition of the efforts of not just the PST board members past and present, but all shareholders both individual and syndicates, our members and of course our Presidents who continue to work so closely with us to ensure PFC is here for many years to come."

Whether that will subsequently see the ushering in of yet more fan owned football clubs remains to be seen, but with Portsmouth, the signs are there that it does remain not only a viable option but a beneficial one for English football.