By Nick Harris
20 October 2010
As the British chancellor George Osborne took his axe to public spending today and announced savage cuts the like of which haven’t been in 50 years, Parliament did witness one glimmer of optimism, and it was related to football, as the Prime Minister publicly backed a supporters’ group wanting to take control of their club.
Ilkeston Town played in the Conference North, at least until 8 September, when they were wound-up and their assets – including the stadium – passed into the hands of the liquidator for disposal. A group of fans will be submitting a bid to the liquidator and to Erewash Council to reform the club as a co-operative owned by its community.
Erewash MP Jessica Lee asked PM David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions today whether he backed their bid, saying: “If successful, that will be the first supporter-owned football club under the new coalition government, and a real asset for us in Erewash”.
To which the PM replied: “I think the Honourable Lady makes a good point. Many of the Honourable Members will have football clubs in their constituencies that sometimes do struggle financially, and I think seeing one owned by its supporters is a very positive move.”
The Labour and Tory parties both made manifesto commitments about fan-owned football clubs. And the Coalition Agreement of the Cameron-Clegg / Tory-LibDem Government states: “We will encourage the reform of football governance rules to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters.”
The Ilkeston fans are being advised by Supporters Direct, whose chief executive, Dave Boyle, said: “The PM’s support is no surprise given the Coalition’s pledge in their agreement to help fans run clubs via co-operatives. In many ways, a football club being run by a mix of volunteers and professionals through a community co-operative is the Big Society in action.”
Bids for Ilkeston must be submitted to the liquidator by 29 October. Supporters Direct works to promote sustainable spectator sports clubs through community ownership and supporter involvement.
At a slightly higher level of the game, the Manchester United Supporters Trust at United and the Spirit of Shankly group at Liverpool are the most high-profile seekers of fan ownership and / or involvement in their clubs in the Premier League.