Fans gaining a voice as Premier League clubs crumble

By Michael Owen
manchester united fans

Manchester United fans outside Old Trafford

Many supporters will complain about modern-day football. Fans of clubs up and down the country express their concerns about the way their club is run, the importance of money in football and the price of a match tickets. But now, fans are taking the issues that concern them to the highest levels of world football, and it is something that has to be applauded.

Financial insecurity and crippling debts have been the story of the last few years for many Premier League clubs, from lowly Portsmouth and their battle to survive in the face of extinction to Manchester United and Liverpool whose future as two of the most dominant sides in England is at risk due to their combined debt being close to £1 billion.

It is these issues that have brought fans together in a way not seen in football before. The idea of a supporters group is by no means a new concept, but the popularity of such organisations has increased at a rapid rate as more and more fans become concerned at the way modern football clubs are being run by businessmen trying to cash in on the Premier League riches.

A prime example of supporters raising their concerns in the public domain is the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) and partners the Manchester United Supporters Trust. IMUSA was founded in 1995 and up until this year was unheard of by most United supporters from outside of the city. Now, thanks to increased media coverage, both groups are growing in numbers rapidly — as of March 2010 MUST had over 123,000 members — all dedicated to getting the current owners out of the club.

Down the M62 on Merseyside, Liverpool fans are also making their voices heard through Spirit of Shankly — The Liverpool Supporters Union. Starting off as a meeting by distressed fans in The Sandon pub near Anfield, Spirit of Shankly has grown into one of the biggest supporters groups in the country, battling to get Tom Hicks and George Gillett out of Liverpool Football Club.

And it is not just ownership issues that concern the Liverpool Supporters Union. Spirit of Shankly also runs a considerable number of community programs, from attempts to regenerate the Anfield area to setting up football training camps for young kids from less-privileged areas.

Porstmouth supporters also have their own supporters trust, although their battle may be seen as an unwinnable one. Still the fans keep battling down on the south Coast, hoping to save the club they love from going out of business altogether. Although it may not seem like it they’re having an impact at the moment, imagine what position Portsmouth could be in now if it wasn’t for the relentless and loyal support of their dedicated fan base.

It is groups like these and the many others around the country that deserve to have their voices heard. Real fans with real opinions about the way their football club should be run in order to ensure its long-term future. It isn’t about living in the past and reminiscing about what happened in the 70’s and 80’s, it’s about looking at what is going on in football today and taking into account what could happen to English football in the future.

In an ideal world these groups would have a bigger say in the way their club is run, whether that be a position on the board of directors or a stake in the club. Some groups have even suggested full fan ownership as a realistic option to get their club back on the right track. It’s a relatively experimental idea in the UK but it has worked on the continent for clubs like Barcelona, so surely it’s worth a try?

Slowly but surely, supporters are beginning to get a say at the clubs they love, and hopefully this will continue for the sake of the future of English football.

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