By Nick Harris
19 March 2010
With Manchester United set to host their fierce traditional rivals Liverpool this weekend amid disharmony among fans at both clubs because of American owners and their debts, new research shows fans at both clubs want control, with researchers claiming such control is affordable.
The detail of the survey also provides an intriguing insight into the value of co-operative ownership to the rivals. United fans would pay £600 each while Liverpool fans would pay £293 each. More United fans than Liverpool fans also felt their club would be in better hands if owned co-operatively.
The research was conducted by Co-operatives UK, the national member-owned and led organisation that promotes the interests of co-operatives, and polled 2,132 adults this week.
It found that 83 per cent of Manchester United fans and 72 per cent of Liverpool fans felt their clubs would be in better hands if owned co-operatively. Across the country, 56 per cent of all fans, who gave an opinion, feel the same way.
The survey authors claim proof that “for the first time [fans] would be willing to put their money where their mouth is and invest in the club to take it into co-operative ownership.”
Using (fanciful) fan figures from previous national polls, the surveyors calculated United’s fans (3.8m of them in the UK, apparently) could raise£2.34bn if they each put in the average sum deemed reasonable in the survey. That works out at £615 per head.
Liverpool’s fans (2.99m of them, apparently) could raise £875m, which works out at £293 per head. Arsenal’s fans (1.89m) could raise £818m (£432 per head). Whether this reflects earning levels in different areas, levels of unhappiness with club ownership or a mixture of both is not explored.
Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: “For less than the price of a Premier League season ticket, fans could share in ownership of their clubs and ensure that they are run in the long-term interests of sport. They really could be their team’s twelfth man.”
That conclusion is, on one level, utter nonsense. Clubs don’t have anywhere near those numbers of fans in terms of people who actually spend money on their fandom. Thinking for one moment that there are 3.8m United fans who will pay £615 each to own the club would be to believe a fairy tale.
But the underlying message is the momentum of the fan-ownership model, fledgling though it is.
Duncan Drasdo, the chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) said: “We know there’s a huge appetite out there to change the ownership at United – and this shows there’s the commitment and the will amongst supporters to play a significant role in any bid and new ownership structure. £600 as an average is a credible figure but obviously some will put in less and some will invest substantially more.”
Dave Boyle, the chief executive of Supporters Direct, the organisation that promotes the democratic ownership of football clubs, said: “Fans are realising that the choice is a simple one – pay someone else’s debts off and at the end, those people own it, or buy it yourself. These clubs should never have been allowed to be bought on the back of leveraged debt, but if the game’s authorities won’t act in the defence of our clubs, fans will have to.
“The only thing stopping these great clubs being owned by fans is the belief that these clubs are just too big to turn into British Barcelonas. But the bigger the club, the bigger the fan base and this survey shows if fans can be united, they can make this happen.”