Fans or financiers: who should own football?

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:


Steve Bloomfield
foreign editor, Monocle Magazine; author, Africa United

Dave Boyle
chief executive, Supporters Direct; author, Barça: fan ownership and the future of football

Mick Hume
editor-at-large, online magazine spiked; author, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?

Karl-Erik Norrman
founder and secretary-general, European Cultural Parliament; former Swedish ambassador; author, The Gala Concert, Verdi/Wagner 200 years

Jo Phillips
award-winning journalist; former press secretary to Paddy Ashdown; co-author, Why Vote?

Geoff Kidder
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

Produced by
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
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