Football needs democracy to survive its first recession

David Boyle (photo Jens Astrup/Play the Game)

AMBITION AND Finance have to coincide for a successful football club, as football faces its first recession according to the Chief Executive of Supporters Direct, David Boyle, writes Marc Johnson.

The final speaker of the first day at the Play the Game world sport conference spoke of the fleeting sustainability in English football, claiming “the game will struggle” because of two factors: ownership structure and the failure to regulate.

Earlier today, CB Holdings – a private assets management company – announced it had bought West Ham and in the process saved the London club from administration. The new owners signalled they would make a clear distinction between the financial aspects of the club and the football.

Boyle said the Gillette’s and the Ambramovic’s of this world see football clubs more as “Piggy banks” and “Trophy assets”, ignoring the tradition and emotion the fans invest.

When speaking about football, Boyle said: “It’s nothing to do with business but a register of emotion,” and that without a proper licensing system a balance between passion and greed can’t happen.

Supporters Direct (SD) strives to bring more democratic representation and accountability within clubs giving the fans a stake in the future of their club, but according to Boyle: “If you want a really good football team, don’t be good at controlling the finances.”

Democracy and structures can make a successful team a profitable team, but the ambition of the fans and the viability of the club as a business have to align if this is to succeed. Boyle pointed out that 50% of SD members have high-class degrees, but by working in the public sector, are unable to influence the running of their club.

With Setanta struggling to stave off administration, Boyle was quizzed on the future of football on TV with the internet offering the content for free:

“There’s no way you can produce a product and not expect it to be pirated,” he said, “I’ll be astonished if the next TV deal will be as good as the current one.”

He deemed that the media’s inability to understand the Internet would be ultimately what’s going to defeat it. Boyle ended the first day of the Play the Game conference with this sentiment: “Bring the people who really matter – the supporters into the equation.”

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