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Imagine Arsenal supporters walking away and setting up their own new club

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FC United of Manchester was formed in 2005 by supporters of the bankrupt Manchester United who were so opposed to the Glazer takeover, they wouldn’t even go to the games any more.

Three promotions later FC United are in the Unibond Premier Division.

There’s a similar story in Wimbledon where supporters of the original club who opposed the move to Milton Keynes set themselves up, got into the non-league structure, and are now in the Conference.

If you take a look at non-league tables you might just notice that the Conference South was won by about 200 points by Newport County – who were once in the First Division, went bust, took on the League of Wales in a legal fight over which league they should be in, went bust, formed a supporters’ trust, and are now on the way up again.

This year, Chester went bust, and supporters are trying to work their way back together (or decide if they want to be taken over by a group of Danish investors).  (Anyone who can unravel that one please do supply me with the data).

Notts County as we all know, were promised a journey into the EPL, if only the supporters’ trust would give all their shares away, which they did, only to find that they had been conned.   Amazingly despite everything they are Champions of the Fourth Division.

Now FC United have reached a deal with Manchester City Council to lease land for a new 5,000 capacity stadium – in Newton Heath which is rather nice.

Or if we turn another way, Wrexham’s former chairman, Mark Guterman, was recently disqualified from acting as a company director for seven years. For the purpose of agreeing to the disqualification, Guterman did not dispute that in 2002 he “exploited” Wrexham’s “property assets” – the club’s tenancy at the Racecourse Ground.

The freehold was transferred to a company owned by a pal and the club’s lease changed to allow them to be evicted on 12 months’ notice.



Lurking behind this jumpy monologue is a point – clubs are taken over and smashed apart by owners whether they are at Manchester United, Liverpool, Wrexham, Newport or anyone else.

But doesn’t mean the end of football when it happens.  Accrington Stanley were founders of the Football League, but only lasted a handful of seasons before going bust, then coming back for a while, then going bust again, and then coming back again.

But there’s another point.  Just because a club is owned by its fans, it doesn’t mean everything is ok.  The decision by Notts C trust to give away their club to a bunch of guys who had connections with North Korea might look to have come good this year with a trophy, but that does not vindicate their decision to throw away the club they had been given.

Bayern Munich are owned by their supporters and as far as I know that is a Good Thing. But so are Real Madrid and Barca also owned by their supporters, and both are insanely in debt with no chance of coming out of debt.

My point here is simple: ownership by fans, like any form of democracy, is on the face of it a good idea.  But as we know democracies can vote in dictators.  I am a total democrat, and will be casting my vote in the UK general election as I have in every single general, European, county council, district council and parish council election I have been entitled to vote in.  But I despair of the fact that so many of my fellow citizens vote as Mr Murdoch tells them, rather than by looking at policies.

But I don’t think that in football it ALWAYS delivers the best result.

I do think that some of the other models of ownership on display are to be avoided however. Liverpool’s lurch into insanity has meant that not only do they celebrate 20 years without winning the league this year, and not only do they mourn the 25th anniversary of Heysel (at least I trust they do), they also find themselves with a manager who has just said that he needs five more players, doesn’t know if he has a budget, and doesn’t know if he is wanted at the club any more.

(Actually I might be able to help out here – the RBS want their £100m first – after that you can go and buy anything you like with the small change Rafa).

Birmingham City were supposedly preparing to spend £40m this summer, but had problems paying £2m to their bank.  WHU have put everyone up for sale, and are on a suicide mission.  Man C have all the money in the world, and use it by buying players who a year later they decide they don’t want any more, and so have another switch around.

Hull have seen the open door marked Portsmouth and are heading towards it, and Fulham, while wildly celebrating their Europa Cup final, are £30m or more in debt to the owner.

Fortunately for Fulham the owner doesn’t charge them interest on the debt, which is more than can be said for the owners of Aston Villa, Everton, Blackburn and Bolton.

And although it does seem, to be fair, that the owner of Fulham is happy to put his millions into the club, the reality is that at Fulham, as at any other club with a single big time owner, it can all end in tears if he decides to call it a day, or if he gets arrested, run over by a bus, etc etc (and I mean no harm to anyone, and have no inside information).

So my point is, there is no simple solution, no ideal approach that gives us a football club that behaves how we want.  But I must say, as long as they don’t give their club away to a bunch of North Korean apologists in the meanwhile, I do offer my best wishes to FC United, Wimbledon, Newport County and all the other trusts that are working as trusts, and succeeding, often against all the odds.

Tony Attwood

10 comments to Imagine Arsenal supporters walking away and setting up their own new club

  • ryan

    tony maybe i’m mistaken but was it not you who talked about one party definately not getting your vote because of simple football politics?

    i might be wrong here, but i’m pretty sure it was you. you talk of democracies voting in tyrants and i can’t imagine a much less significant reason to vote or not to vote for a party than football politics. maybe when you said it you were joking (it looked genuine at least). i just felt obliged to say that because if people are going to vote in tyrants it’s because they prioritise the wrong things too highly and this is a fine example (if you were serious).

    if arsenal get saddled with debt i don’t know what i will do, but if there is a supporter’s club formed then i will most definately suport them whole-heartedly. the worrying thing is surely the possibility of the exact same thing eventually happening to that club when they get bigger. the sad truth is that everyone has a price and nobody in business has a great deal of backbone. principles will soon be forgotten when the right offer comes along. that’s my experience anyway. just like the arsenal board. when the right offers are made people sell up, the shareholders at this club don’t care about arsenal, at leats not that much. they are simply business men and women and all have a price.

  • better form there on club for there future becoz some suporters have sufering hateban others hang them self becoz of wenger.

  • If I did say that then it was a sort of post-modernist ironic statement. I know who I am voting for next week, and I am voting for that party very much because of its policies in relation to what I consider key issues – such as the economy, education, and stringing up the bankers and letting them rot… (ooops what a giveaway).

    I do have a secret admiration for the Monster Raving Loony Party (not standing in my constituency) who advocate that the interest on bank loans should be paid by the banks.

  • Marc

    Wasn’t it Churchill who said that the best argument against democracy was a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.

  • ak47

    @ryan. i know this world is bustin at the seems with evil. but to say all business man hav a price is a tad cynical and more or less an assumtion based on more than enuf evidence,so fair enuf. but i like to hav as much faith in the board as in wenger. would wenger stil be there otherwise? surely ther are ppl livin comfortable enuf 2 value morals over self gain. would you as a millionaire trade the way you would be viewed after you’ve passed for a billion? I wouldn’t. so i truely believe there stil are 1 or 2 out ther in a position of power that act responsibly. differently tho, i hav no faith in politics and wont be voting. yes some will argue thats why we get who we get cos ppl like me dont vote. well brown got in without a vote after messing up the economy like it was some kind of reward for doin so. His surname sums him up perfectly. actually scratch tht. he didnt mess up the economy, he merely kept the pattern goin from decades past and got a promotion 4it. their parties for a reason. I’ve watched them a couple of times havin them debates in parlour-ment and i might as wel watch stenders. thier actors with qualifications. some of em anyway. how does society choose leaders when after all the freebies they took from them, the most important one was left alone. keep it in the fam, it always was and will be. god bless arsene wenger.

  • Rhys Jaggar

    Interesting article.

    For what it’s worth, my take is that, if the club is formed as a company with shares, then it’s not so much who owns it but what the Articles of Association say which determines the financial situation.

    Of course, Articles of Association can be changed at special AGMs, so if you are in single ownership then the Articles can be changed when the owner wants to change them. Which is, per se, one good reason for a 25.1% blocking stake by fan groups. Because then, if the fans see something which isn’t in their interest, they can block it.

    As far as finances go, fan ownership won’t be better or worse than, say, the Arsenal model unless the fans decide on the bounds of acceptable financial arrangements. I think FC Utd of Manchester actually state within their Constitution certain things about this, so it’s possible to put in financial controls with fan ownership, but it probably needs to be done right at the start. Both AFC Wimbledon and FC Utd of Manchester did precisely that.

    I guess it’s also an interesting thing to wonder who is responsible ultimately for debts at a fan-owned club. Do the fans put the shares of the Club up as collateral? Or are warranties required by shareholders?? I don’t know. But if I as a fan/shareholder were told that I had to put up a bond for £10,000, I’d think twice before agreeing to buy some 16 year old from Outer Mongolia who the scout had seen on YouTube.

    As for the election: doesn’t matter too much who you choose. Darling has spelt it out: from, 2011, cuts are coming. He’s the trustworthy one in terms of predictions, he got it all right when all around said he was wrong. If you think the DT is a newspaper, then the Tories will call in the IMF on Monday week if they win to be sure that there’s still some dosh there before the rest of Europe comes calling. I think it’s scaremongering myself. But I might be wrong…….

    This time you’re really choosing ‘as we are with minor tweaks’ or you’re choosing UKIP, the Greens or, if you are susceptible to Norman Tebbitt’s scaremongering, the BNP (as he thinks there are 4 million plus closet racists out there – 60 BNP MPs if Clegg brings in PR). You can pay more in NI if you earn quite a bit or you can man the soup kitchens for the Whitehall unemployed if not. Takes your choice. When 50% of the economy is the State and the State’s going bust, it’s not a good lookout I’m afraid……….

    Whether we’re choosing an EPL break-away if one party wins I don’t know. They all abandon England, sell the stadia to Tescos et al and take the EPL to the USA, bankrupting all the clubs here and saying ‘READ MY LIPS: No Special Relationship’. Don’t think so. But you’d not be surprised based on reading articles here, mate! Support Gordon Brown if you fear it, I would say.

    As for West Ham and ‘suicide mission’, I’m not so sure. I think what G+S are saying is: ‘the club was geared up for better things which didn’t happen. So we need to retrench and start again.’ So they see that they’re like a Bolton for a couple of seasons. Sure with far bigger upside potential. But needing to bring down the debts. If you had £110m in debts, wouldn’t you want to get £50m in transfer fees, cut wages in half and tell the manager to scrap for a season or two before building for the future post 2012? Their key balance is working out what risk of relegation they can tolerate….they’d take 17th next season if the debt was £50m in summer 2011, I reckon……

  • well-endowed gooner

    Wouldn’t some degree of financial regulation in the Premier League prevent most of these problems?

  • walter

    Imagine some of the fans on LeGrove running away with a new club…. 😉

  • Paul C.

    Just finished watching Villa-City and anyone who says the quality of the PL is declining is crazy. That was a top quality match between 5th and 6th in the League. I dont think you’d get the same quality at that level in other Leagues in Europe (as confirmed by Fulham as well). Yes, Chelsea and Utd have both dropped back slightly. However the rest of the top clubs are all in extremely good health, certainly as far as playing resources are concerned. I think the best thing you can say is that whoever made it into that final spot, Spurs, City, Liverpool and Villa, they will have deserved it this season.

    The big question this summer is Chelsea. Maybe Abramovich is serious about reducing wages and breaking even at Chelsea. If so, then those 5 youth players they are promoting into the 1st team squad might be all they do this summer, except let people at the end of their contracts go. Surely not? We know City will spend, Spurs always seem to find money from somewhere to spend, and we will spend. Can Chelsea afford not to spend?

  • Paiget

    Hi Tony, I’m new to your site but I love the carefully researched opinion here. I too love Arsene’s Arsenal years but the smell of success attracts money and this inevitably attracts all manners of profiteers. I think even Wenger bought the line that to continue to succeed; making more money was the answer. However monetising Highbury was akin to selling the past to fund the future. This is sailing the same seas as MU and Chelski and exposes Arsenal to the same risks. This scheme can only have been possible if the banks saw substantial profit and believed in Wenger’s way. The Board may have been trying to ensure that Arsenal have the funds to compete with the moneybags of the world albeit in a more sustainable way. However in doing so this club now has a price on its head and is being targeted to be exploited in the same way as many of those clubs you criticise. Dictators, pimps, agents form an orderly line? Wenger builds according to sound values but he is no softie. For example, he picked Campbell to return for footballing reasons. He trusts only those who are like-minded like his scouts who are long-time and loyal friends. They continue to unearth real gems of players who go on to make a good living from football and add to Arsenal’s coffers. It is therefore regrettable to hear calls for Wenger’s ousting from some quarters. Ironically, the best hope for this great club to be attractive to the right kind of investor with similar values as Wenger and interest in the long-term well being of AFC. That and hopefully the new legislations will work to force clubs to live within their means.