Sunday 31 October, 9.45am until 10.30am, Lecture Theatre 2 Breakfast Banter
Football clubs have always been status symbols for businessmen and the wealthy. Owning a football club is not often financially rewarding, but traditionally carries prestige and signals success and a connection with the local community. But have things now changed irreversibly? Many of the top Premier League clubs in England have foreign owners, and some of these have treated the club as a business rather than a trophy to treasure. Some of our most successful clubs, including Manchester United and Liverpool, have racked up a mountain of debt. Fans often welcome the injection of cash that comes with a new owner, like Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, but there are always worries about what might be lost. Controversies over the sale of naming rights to stadiums whose old names evoke past glories reflect a fear of clubs selling their souls.
The hatred for the Glazers at Manchester United, with regular protests against the family that owns the club, is the most high profile example of the disconnect between the clubs and their fans. Is the revival of green and gold scarves at Old Trafford, in memory of Manchester United’s origins in those colours at Newton Heath, a sign of supporters trying to reclaim their clubs from greedy businessmen with no passion for the club? Or do such gestures reveal a misplaced nostalgia for a golden age which probably never existed? After all, have fans and club owners ever sung from the same hymn sheet, and were tradtional owners always ‘fit and proper’ pillars of the community?
Should the fans put up and pay their money as in other forms of entertainment, or can there be a revolution in fan ownership, and a sea change in the relation of supporters to the clubs? Many see Barcelona, which is owned by a consortium of fans, as a model for the top English clubs. More profoundly, at a time when people in the UK are largely passive observers in the world of politics, is it significant that football can raise such passions? Is football becoming the arena in which public life is contested and played out today?
Listen to session audio:
foreign editor, Monocle Magazine; author, Africa United
chief executive, Supporters Direct; author, Barça: fan ownership and the future of football
editor-at-large, online magazine spiked; author, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?
founder and secretary-general, European Cultural Parliament; former Swedish ambassador; author, The Gala Concert, Verdi/Wagner 200 years
award-winning journalist; former press secretary to Paddy Ashdown; co-author, Why Vote?
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
This United fan says Wayne Rooney is neither a traitor nor a symbol of moral decay – he’s just another passing pro, grasping for gold and gloryMick Hume, spiked, 22 October 2010
Fans of FC United - Manchester United's breakaway club - are being urged to invest in its future so it can build its own £3.5m ground.BBC News, 22 September 2010
Two historic matches take place in the industrial heartlands of England and Germany this Sunday that throw into focus just how little Premier League fans have been able to influence boardroom change.John Sinnot, BBC, 18 September 2010
The way to improve football in the UK, now the World Cup is over, is to follow the approach of leading Spanish clubs and hand them over to their fans. This report - written by Dave Boyle and launched by Co-operatives UK and Supporters Direct - details how.Dave Boyle, Cooperatives UK, 2010
As the football season unfolds, will Manchester United’s fans topple its US owners and set a pattern for returning English clubs to their communities?Sam Knight, Prospect, 25 August 2010
Arsenal's groundbreaking new scheme for ordinary supporters to become part-owners of the club has been hailed by Uefa as a progressive step that should be encouraged across the Premier League.Jeremy Wilson, Daily Telegraph, 20 August 2010
Football still has vast social value despite financial crises. Do we need more supporter-owned clubs to restore its rightful place at the heart of communities?David Conn, Guardian, 19 August 2010
Commentators are outraged that China might buy Liverpool, but fans don’t care so long as Beijing shows us the money.Rob Lyons, spiked, 13 August 2010
Football inspires competition and inflames passions nowhere as strongly as in Africa. Travelling across thirteen countries, from Cairo to the Cap, Steve Bloomfield meets players and fans, politicians and rebel leaders, and discovers the role that football has played in shaping the continent.
Steve Bloomfield, Canongate Books, 20 May 2010
One financial analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, believes the model that the fans are pursuing is viable. “But it needs a sugar daddy and there are not too many of them out there,” he added.Hugh MacDonald, Herald, 30 March 2010
Still the Opium of the Masses
"Of all the political and cultural festivals, none beats the Battle of Ideas for its eclecticism and willingness to invite controversial and absorbing debate."
John Kampfner, Chief executive, Index on Censorship; former editor, New Statesman