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Voices of Scotland The fat cats v the fans

After a period of financial chaos in Scottish football, the model of fan ownership is spreading, giving fans huge bonuses and preserving the identity and values of the communities the teams represent, writes GARY STEELE

IN SCOTLAND we have seen a great surge in wealth in football followed by catastrophic turmoil, which has come from overspending by crooked chairmen with huge egos.

In the early 2000s we saw a surge in spending from teams such as Livingston, Motherwell, Dundee and Rangers.

This brought short-term happiness in success but long-term misery for the supporters as the teams faced administration due to the poor management of their previous owners.

These clubs were close to going to the wall, but all have bounced back in time.

Out of those four clubs who suffered, only Motherwell have taken up fan ownership which was led by fan campaign group the Well Society.

The Well Society bought out the former controlling shareholder Les Hutchinson’s shares and now the supporters own over 70 per cent of the club.

Another two top-flight Scottish clubs, Hearts and St Mirren, have followed the fan ownership route.

Hearts are the largest fan-owned club in Britain with the supporters owning over 75 per cent of the shares.

This is a massive step in the right direction for Scottish football, because if you looked at where Hearts were heading 10 years ago under the ownership of Vladimir Romanov, you would place a bet on them being liquidated.

Getting the club into over £30 million of debt, all for his vanity project to fall flat on its face, is criminal.

In Paisley, St Mirren have taken their first steps toward fan ownership with the controlling shareholders being the St Mirren Independent Supporters Association with a 51 per cent share. Just over the threshold but a step in the right direction.

St Mirren’s local rivals have also taken the route of fan ownership. Greenock Morton are based in the Scottish second tier and they are the newest team to adopt this model — staggeringly, the Morton Club Together group owns just under 90 per cent of shares — the highest percentage of fan ownership by some distance.

Hopefully most of the other Scottish teams will follow suit because it’s the best model for the fans themselves — for example, Motherwell gave all their season ticket holders from the 2020-21 season a free season ticket for the upcoming 2022 season.

This hasn't been seen at the boards of the richest clubs in the country with Celtic and Rangers: the big business clubs have held on to their supporters’ money for the 2020-21 season which had closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Working-class fans paid to watch their team in a stadium, only to get an online stream without any refund on their season ticket — a truly scandalous act by those clubs against their supporters.

Football clubs south of the border have accumulated so much wealth from TV deals from BT, Sky Sports and other sponsorships, the English Premiership and even the Championship have astronomical wealth in comparison to the Scottish game.

This is seen as something that Scottish fans should be jealous of, but most of these clubs have lost their identity in their towns and cities.

For instance, Newcastle United’s previous owner and current owners are not something to be admired. The previous owner Mike Ashley is a retail tycoon famous for his ill-treatment of his workers at Sports Direct — horrendous working conditions, zero-hours contracts and poverty wages.

Then you look at their new owners, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF). The PIF have direct links to the Saudi state, which is guilty of hideous human rights abuses against their people and especially women.

Is this what Scottish football fans shouldn’t be envious of?

English football, for all the wealth it has, has regularly sold out it’s fans to accept dirty money.

Football is more than just a competition to be won at any cost, it’s the community of that region coming together to share the highs of winning a cup and even the lows of fighting a relegation battle: the fans should always come before money.

Gary Steele is a Motherwell supporter and a member of the Young Communist League.

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