Massimo Cellino’s tenure as Leeds United owner has been overshadowed by managerial instability and two bans by the Football League, but looked set to come to an end last week – only it did not. Cellino has performed a dramatic U-turn over plans to sell his majority stake in the Elland Road club to the supporters with little explanation as to why.
It perfectly underlines the lack of openness that has characterised his time in charge and serves to illustrate why we should be pushing for fan ownership of our football clubs up and down the country, rather than have them run as little more than a business.
Foreign ownership is nothing new. Some may argue that it has had a positive impact on the game, expanding its global appeal and creating an international interest in English football. And they would be right. However, it seems alarming that clubs are being handed over to the control of foreign businessmen at the drop of a hat without the consultation of the most important part of a football club – the supporters. Fans can only sit anxiously and hope for the best.
There are times when intervention is necessary and beneficial; take Watford as an example. Prior to the Pozzo takeover in 2012, the club were on the brink of extinction and the Pozzo model which promotes stability and player progression, rather than financial recklessness, has reaped major dividends with the club promoted to the Premier League back in May for the first time since 2007.
We are seeing an increasing trend of supporters’ trusts buying stakes in their clubs and this is a massive positive for the stability and future of the game. There are just five clubs out of the 92 on the English football pyramid who are exclusively fan owned at present (Exeter City, Portsmouth, Wycombe Wanderers, AFC Wimbledon and Newport County in case you wondered) but this is just the start as the Leeds case shows us.
Quite frankly, why wouldn’t we want this pattern that has emerged to continue? Handing control back to the supporters can reconnect ties and reconcile those who have grown disillusioned with the direction football is headed in – many of them priced out by increased ticket prices, and the so called ‘corporate stamp’ that has made an indelible mark on football in the modern era.
If you were to examine the situation in non-league football it is even more common for supporters to own the club, while the takeover of Salford City by the ‘Class of ‘92’ has divided opinion in non-league circles with some viewing it as nothing more than an ex-professionals led intrusion.
Given the fact that the structure of football is so top-heavy and monopolised by the Premier League, it is little surprise that clubs in the Football League, like the aforementioned examples, will intervene.
Portsmouth are perhaps the biggest name on the list and the fact they even still exist is a miracle in itself, and testament to the largely overlooked work that has gone on behind the scenes at Fratton Park. Successive owners came and went, but now they are in the safest possible hands.
The Cellino case at Leeds, coupled with Northampton Town’s current winding up order show that no club, no matter how big or small is immune from financial peril. We should be championing the rise of supporter-owned clubs as the model on which clubs should be run.
The Premier League, littered with foreign ownerships, ought to wake up and realise that excessive spending under ownerships is unstable.
Clubs spend beyond their means to fight off the financial implications of relegation, which are widening, and it is has become a vicious cycle.
Image courtesy of Ingy The Wingy