By Nick Harris
21 May 2010
The award-winning film director and activist Ken Loach is to give the keynote address at a Supporters Direct (SD) conference next month where football fans will discuss proposals that could allow wider fan ownership and more fan influence in the running of clubs.
Loach, 73, whose new film ‘Route Irish’ – about the Iraq war – had its premiere as an entry in the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday, is a passionate fan of, and shareholder in, Bath City football club.
“I like non-league football,” he said in an interview in 2001. “Those clubs are part of the fabric of their communities. They’re at the opposite of the spectrum from the big clubs, which are like PLCs.”
Loach, a disaffected former member of the Labour Party, said in the same interview that the establishment of SD by the Labour government was “about the one good thing New Labour have done.”
SD works with football fans groups to help them acquire shares and influence at their clubs.
The conference will be staged in London on 12 and 13 June and is being organised, SD says, “on the back of a growing political consensus about the potential for football fans to buy out their clubs by setting up co-operatives, similar to those that already own and run clubs like FC Barcelona and Hamburg SV.”
Both the Conservative Party and Labour Party pledged to support this form of community ownership in their manifestos, and this week the ‘Coalition: our programme for goverment’ document, published by the new Tory-Liberal government, specified: “We will encourage the reform of football governance rules to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters.”
Supporters Direct represents more than 160 supporters’ trusts in the UK, and the conference, themed ‘A Better Vision for Football’, will give football fans the chance find out more about the proposals under consideration.
It will also allow fans to speak directly with politicians, club chairmen, bloggers and writers, as well as representatives of football clubs already owned by supporters’ trusts. “There’s a sense now, with all political parties engaging, that we really are beginning to feel the winds of change on this issue,” an SD spokesman said.
Some of Loach’s extraordinary body of work has already focused on football. He made the 2009 instant cult classic, Looking for Eric, featuring Eric Cantona and exploring what football offers fans.
As Loach said in an interview with the Socialist Review last year: “We wanted to make a film that was enjoying the idea of what you and I would call solidarity, but what others would call support for your friends really, and the old idea that we are stronger as a team than we are as individuals.”
Loach has also made a recent documentary about the response of football fans to their sense of alienation from the game.
On the first day of the conference, Supporters Direct will unveil the key findings of a two-year research programme, examining the social and community value of football.
Dave Boyle, the chief executive of Supporters Direct – and a sportingintelligence columnist – says: “We know all about the problems faced by fans and clubs, but now its time for a big push to bring some solutions. This conference is a rally for change in football – change in the way fans influence their clubs and change in the way the game is regulated.
“In the last season, the efforts of a fans at Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle built on the work done up and down the country by supporters trusts, and as a result politicians of all parties said they were concerned about the issues of fan involvement. The process of turning that concern into action starts now, and this conference is the first step.”
Oliver Houston, the deputy chief executive of MUST, who will also be speaking at the conference, said: “Regardless of the level of football, clubs are in financial turmoil and fans are being bypassed in decisions that have a life-or-death effect on their clubs. The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust, like all supporters trusts, offers us all a way of making sure that we can be heard, and ultimately determine the future of our clubs.”
The first day of the conference coincides with England’s first group match at the World Cup, against the USA on 12 June. The game will be shown live in the evening, at 8.30pm, on a giant screen at the conference venue.
More details on the conference at Supporters Direct