Thursday, November 23, 2006

Barcelona - A Club Owned By Its Fans

When Roman Abramovich decided that his next plaything, to throw his oil money into, would be football he first looked at two of the largest and most supported teams in the world Barcelona and Real Madrid. He soon moved on when he realised that they were both member clubs (clubs owned by the fans) and thus extremely difficult, almost off limits, for him to buy. In complete contrast all the great names of English football are or have been easily available to be bought by the highest bidder with no thought to the fans or that club.

If we take Barcelona as our prime example for this article, they are a members club and have currently over 140,000 member fans. Barca, as its fans affectionately know it, was founded in 1899 by Hans Gamper and has since gone on to become one of the most successful clubs in the world. One of the club’s vice presidents states that “The club is truly owned by its fans. They control its destiny and can control the direction the club takes.”

Some say that Barca are hypocrites as they are a member of the G14 clubs and take an imbalanced stake of the Spanish TV money but this is probably a bit harsh. Yes they are an ambitious club and in the current climate if you are not then you will probably not be successful but they still represent a more inspirational identity of a football club than one run as some businessman’s plaything.

Until this season Barca were the only club in the world not to have shirt sponsorship and it was only in 2003 that its members voted to allow shirt sponsorship. Whilst you can sympathise with their predicament, they have tried to keep true to their values and decided not to accept sponsorship from some types of company/ industry (gambling firms for example); I’m not sure that a lot of clubs would do this perhaps preferring to accept highest bidder. As I just mentioned, this season Barca have decided to have their shirts sponsored but it’s a sponsorship with a difference as they are actual paying UNICEF to use their logo on the shirts!

Barca have just won La Liga twice in a row and in the summer they finally ended a long wait to re-claim the Champions League but the President who brought all this success couldn’t rest on his laurels as he then had to stand for re-election (a President can only serve a maximum of two terms in office) as his 4 year term in charge was at an end. The way Barca works is similar to a supporters trust in so far as it is a democratic one man one vote system that takes place. In short, if the members don’t like the people who are running the club they have the ability to vote them out, simple as that!

“It’s a challenge to remain member owned” adds the Barcelona vice president “we run other sporting clubs like Basketball and Handball, which operate at a loss, however, our charter states we must run these for the good of the people of Barcelona”. He also adds “we take pride in our values and history and our fans would feel alienated if we were run like some of the British clubs”.

The Catalans presence and success in today’s football world, dominated by over-commercialism and where the heart and soul of our beautiful game is being ripped out should serve as a reminder to us all that almost all British clubs started out as member organisations and the model of a club owned by the fans is not just a Utopian vision.

We are not saying that Manchester City Football Club can become like Barca, a club owned entirely by its fans, but a club that has its fans at its heart, who involve their fans in the major decision making of the club and are accountable to them could be a big positive step forward.

Keep the faith

Colin Howell


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