This week, the sad news broke that Hereford United were expelled from the Conference on account of what has been deemed 'financial irregularities' relating to their failure to pay wages and bills. It is never nice to see a football club in financial struggle but the decision to expel Hereford United is once again an apt demonstration of how the whims and failings of private investors can have a disastrous impact on football clubs.
Football clubs are local institutions and, as such, belong to the community. In the UK there is a laissez-faire approach to operating football clubs, with the 'fit and proper person' test proven to be, time and time again, nothing more than an unenforceable joke.
From changing shirt colours (Cardiff City) to changing stadium names (Newcastle United), from forcing the club out of their home (Coventry City) to downright running the club into the ground (Portsmouth), private ownership has over and over again proven to be the antithesis of what football clubs mean to the community and those who live within it.
At a time when the eyes of the world are on the glitz and glamour of the World Cup, there are rumblings and growing discontent about the transparency and integrity of the world's favourite sport. Sepp Blatter is the embodiment of how grubby and corrupt the game has become. Money means more to men like these than the passion of the fans and now we have a game where the interests of businessmen with deep pockets are catered to more than the fans who make the very existence of football a possibility.
While it is easy to become disheartened with the situation we as fans of English football may find ourselves in, there is reason to be optimistic. One need only look at the model of football governance employed by our good rivals Germany to see that fan ownership is not only a workable possibility, but also a method of seeing our football clubs flourish.
In the German model of football governance, the fans must own at least 51% of their clubs according to German law. This works in a number of different ways according to the specific clubs but the 51% is non-negotiable (save for company owned teams such as Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen). One could be forgiven for thinking that with the continued successes of German clubs such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, as well as competitive performances from the likes of Schalke in Europe's top competition, that there must be wealthy benefactors bank-rolling their clubs. The reality is that there is a wealthy benefactor bank-rolling these clubs; the fans. By coming together and effectively being investors in their football club rather than simply 'customers' of the 'product', the fans are directly contributing to the continued success of their club.
There is a connection and a level of accountability between the clubs and their fans that simply does not exist in the English game. This is something that must be rectified, and soon. Through the hard work of national organisations such as the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) and Supporters Direct - who give guidance and support to Supporters Trusts up and down the country - we may see change in the near future. These organisations represent the interests of the fans and Supporters Direct in particular, promote the concept of fan ownership by liaising closely with the fans.
What we can all do as fans, whether you be a fan of Arsenal or Aldershot, Everton or Ebbsfleet, Liverpool or Lincoln, is to join our club's Supporters Trust. If your club does not have a Supporters Trust then make it your duty to establish one. Work with Supporters Direct, they will give you all the help and guidance you need. It is only by empowering ourselves, and working closely with our trusts for the best interests of our club and the wider fan-base can we ever expect to see change in our national game.
Let these small steps become a full-blown march on FA headquarters. If they will not govern our game, then let us lobby our politicians for change. People affect change, not legislation. That will only come when the call for change becomes impossible to ignore.
Let us push for change, not as fans of individual football club, but as a united front of football supporters. Put football clubs in the hands of the fans where it belongs and let us ensure that there will never be another private investor responsible for the demise of our football clubs.
The time for change is now, and not a moment too soon.Suggest a correction