If you’ve ever read any of my books, you’ll know that I have very strong views on the issue of fan involvement in football and in particular the failure of the various fan groups to secure any significant presence at club level. And so, with Liverpool FC having bowed to pressure from its supporters and scrapped the idea of a £77 ticket, I thought it might be a good idea to publish an extract from my book, Barmy Army which outlines an idea which continues to excite people.
The fact it was first published 16 years ago yet is as relevant now as it was back then is a shameful reflection not just on the sport we follow, but on ourselves. For the professional game without us is nothing. We know that, they know that.
So why do we continue to let them take the piss? Read on.
Extract from Barmy Army (2000)
The difficulty here is how you involve the rank-and- file fans in the first place. For in the current climate, most football supporters feel a greater sense of alienation than ever before. Very few of us have any kind of coherent representation at our clubs and none of us have a voice at either the FA or within government, despite the fact that the game is totally reliant on us for its very survival.
We cannot rely on either the clubs or the FA to change their position with regard to customer relations of their own accord, and therefore pressure must be put on them to do so. We have two very powerful weapons at our disposal, but one of them we will never use and the other, for the moment at least, we cannot.
The first thing we could do is to hit the clubs where it hurts and boycott games. We could do that, but we never will. Like all addicts, we need our fix and to miss out on that, even on a point of principle, doesn’t bear thinking about. The alternative to boycotting the games altogether is to boycott the catering or even to get ourselves organised and follow the lead of the various Ultra groups in Italy, which we discussed earlier. That would send a clear message to the clubs that we were unhappy. If it went on for long enough, they might even be forced into action to resolve it – ‘might’ being the operative word. For football is a stubborn beast and even if a club’s supporters were able to organise themselves, there is no guarantee that the directors would listen. Indeed, judging by some of the examples we have seen in recent years, at the first sign of supporter solidarity the average board simply digs in and does nothing.
So if we are to force action, then it must be done in a way which the clubs are unable to ignore. And in this country, every football fan over the age of 18 has something which those in authority have to take notice of. It’s called a vote.
A few years ago, I suggested the formation of a single issue political lobby group called the Football Party. Initially, the suggestion was that people would stand for their local council to give fans a say in issues that directly affected their local club. It was an approach that proved astonishingly successful in 1990 when supporters of Charlton Athletic FC formed The Valley Party in an ultimately successful campaign to get the club back to their spiritual home.
Such was the response, it quickly became apparent that many supporters believed that this local angle was an idea worth developing. But many people wrote to me and said we had to think big and aim higher. The more I thought about that, the more plausible the whole thing sounded. What finally convinced me that the concept of a national Football Party was a sound one was when I realised that the average local election generates a turnout of less that 40 per cent and that while over 12 million people voted for the Tories in the 1992 general election, approximately 25 million watched the England v Germany semi-final in Italia ’90. What this proved to me once and for all was that if you went canvassing around every pub, club, house and factory, and told the electorate that you were standing to give them a say within the football world, there’d undoubtedly be good support, and as soon as the established parties saw there were votes in it, their policies and actions would change so as to give football a kick up the arse.
As a result, I sat down and wrote out a manifesto, one aimed not just at local councils but also at general and European elections. It included four main points. First, the formation of an independent, credible and properly funded body to represent the views and opinions of football supporters from every level of the game; second, the appointment of supporters’ representatives to the committees of both the Football Association and the Football Trust; third, the appointment of an elected supporters’ representative to the board of every professional football club; and finally, the appointment of an ombudsman or regulator to oversee the activities of the Football Association, the Football Trust, the Premier League and its members, the Football League and its members and supporters’ groups.
In August 1998, when it was first released to the press and various supporters’ groups, the response was amazing. Yet sadly, the people I wanted to react, the football authorities and the government, paid it little heed. Undaunted, I carried on. More support poured in and the manifesto began to appear all over the Internet. I had enquiries about it from all over Europe and as far afield as Australia. It had certainly captured the imagination of supporters. However, the campaign eventually began to take its toll on me, both in terms of time and finances and I was forced to put it onto the back burner. But the idea is still very much alive and the very fact that so many people continue to respond to it proves that it is sound. It sure would rock the boat were it ever to come off.
The mere idea that football fans throughout the country could even consider voting for a fat git like me proves how desperate they are to be involved in the game they love. Every supporter has a role to play in the future of the game, and that doesn’t just apply to the hooligan issue but to every single aspect of football. Every major political party recognises that fact – which is, after all, why Tony Blair does so many stupid photo-calls – but still they do nothing about it. That is not good enough. If football will not provide us with a properly funded platform through which we can be heard and demand answers, then the government must make sure they do. And if they don’t, that’s when we should use our vote, because that is the one thing all politicians are truly scared of. All we need to do is to get organised; but how we actually do that is anyone’s guess.
Yet it has to happen. For only by wielding the immense power we as football fans have at our disposal will we ever see an end to the problems facing football, from the hooliganism issue and the asset-stripping to the financial incompetence, greed and sheer hypocrisy of those who supposedly run our game on our behalf. For too long now they have got away with shafting us. They have placed us in danger, sold our very game from under our feet and in far too many cases to note here, have walked away with bank accounts bursting at the seams with money that came out of our pockets. It’s not right and the time has come to do something about it.
Two additional plugs, I’m currently giving away ebooks versions two of my best-selling books The Crew and Everywhere We Go. Further details can be found by clicking on the links or here Free Books where you will also find details of all my other publications.
Aside from all that, work continues apace on developing the film version of Wings of a Sparrow and I’m also pushing forward with another film which for now, must remain a secret for reasons which will hopefully become clear in the fullness of time!
Finally, my recent rant/blog It’s time for charity to genuinely begin at home attracted a huge response so I may well do part two over the next couple of days!
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