Exclusive: Brits back football fans having more control over clubs, poll finds

Elliot Chappell

The British public supports football fans having greater control over how their clubs are run through a number of bold reforms, exclusive polling conducted by Savanta ComRes for LabourList can reveal.

The research shows 43% of British adults believe that football fans should be given more of a say over how the club they support is run, while just 8% said they should be offered less of a say.

It also indicates that 52% back supporters’ trusts being able to buy shares in their clubs – a policy first proposed by Labour in its 2010 general election manifesto – while just 7% say they oppose the measure.

The introduction of a ’50 plus one’ rule, whereby a majority of voting rights are with fans as commercial investors cannot hold more than a 49% stake in clubs, received the backing of 44% and the disapproval of 10%.

This rule was introduced to the German Football League in 1999. Helping to keep debts and wages under control, it means clubs cannot play in the Bundesliga – Germany’s primary football competition – if they are majority-owned by commercial investors.

The new Savanta poll shows 42% say supporters’ trusts should be able to appoint and remove directors of their club, with 10% opposing the move. Labour’s 2019 manifesto promised legislation for trusts to be able remove at least two directors.

Debate was sparked over the control of English football clubs after six teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – announced that they would join a new ‘super league’ earlier this year.

The plan proposed that 12 European clubs be permanent members and never face relegation. Critics said it could supplant the existing Champions League and disrupt the current football ‘pyramid’ that sees teams rise or fall on merit.

Keir Starmer described the proposal as a “money-grabbing endeavour” at the time, and called on the government to intervene and stop English clubs from joining. Boris Johnson said the government would legislate to block its formation.

Facing widespread opposition and a backlash from fans, all six of the English teams that had said they would join the new competition confirmed their withdrawal.

But the Labour leader argued during a Zoom meeting with supporters’ group representatives that the move to launch the league had not come as a “bolt from the blue” and the sport “absolutely needs an independent regulator”.

“The Conservatives have been in power for 11 years, so they’ve had the opportunity to do something about it. Nothing has been done, yet. They’ve promised a fan-led review in their last manifesto,” he said. “Now is the time for action.”

Labour’s Alison McGovern said: “Whatever else happens now in the coming hours, weeks and months, we must turn that anger into action. I have been banging on with others in parliament about changing football governance for far too long.”

The shadow sports minister added: “Far too little has happened. Well, if this is what it takes to change the way that football is governed in this country, then fine. Let’s crack on with it.”

Government minister Oliver Dowden announced a review this year to “explore ways of improving the governance, ownership and financial sustainability of clubs in English football, building on the strengths of the football pyramid”.

Labour sports spokesperson McGovern said the review could provide an opportunity to give fans more of a say, and urged “all those who care about football to join us in organising to put supporters back at the heart of the game”.

Below are the results of the polling by Savanta ComRes in full.

To what extent do you support or oppose each of the following?

Football supporters’ trusts being able to buy shares in their club

Strongly support – 24%
Somewhat support – 29%
Neither support nor oppose – 26%
Somewhat oppose – 5%
Strongly oppose – 2%
Don’t know – 15%

Commercial investors unable to hold more than a 49% stake in football clubs

Strongly support – 23%
Somewhat support – 21%
Neither support nor oppose – 29%
Somewhat oppose – 7%
Strongly oppose – 4%
Don’t know – 16%

Football supporters’ trusts being able to appoint and remove directors of their club

Strongly support – 17%
Somewhat support – 25%
Neither support nor oppose – 32%
Somewhat oppose – 7%
Strongly oppose – 3%
Don’t know – 16%

To what extent do you think football fans should be given more or less say in how the club they support is ran?

Much more – 16%
A little more – 27%
The same as currently – 31%
A little less – 5%
Much less – 3%
Don’t know – 18%

To what extent is it important or unimportant to you that the UK’s political leaders are football fans?

Very important – 7%
Quite important – 16%
Not very important – 24%
Not at all important – 45%
Don’t know – 7%

To what extent would you say the standard of political leadership in the UK has been good or bad over the last two years?

Very good – 9%
Quite good – 23%
Neither good nor bad – 28%
Quite bad – 16%
Very bad – 20%
Don’t know – 4%

To what extent would you say that Gareth Southgate, England men’s national football team manager, is a good or bad leader?

Very good – 37%
Quite good – 27%
Neither good nor bad – 18%
Quite bad – 3%
Very bad – 2%
Don’t know – 12%

Polling by Savanta: ComRes for LabourList. Fieldwork conducted 9th-11th July 2021. Poll of 2,137 adults in the UK.

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