With all the foreign investors flooding our game higher up the ladder, it is worth noting that several clubs are experiencing great times after being taken over by their supporters.
We have seen several top flight clubs, and some Championship ones, being taken over by foreign owners in recent times, with varying degrees of success. However, there is also a trend now of clubs being taken over by the one group of people that know their clubs better than anyone: the fans. In total, there are currently twenty seven clubs owned in full by their supporters, with another two being part-owned by the fans; Swansea City and Cambridge City. Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding these supporter takeovers are very rarely good. Instead, the fans are rescuing their clubs from the brink after years of financial mismanagement.
Most of these fan owned clubs are in the non-league divisions, however there are three current Football League sides who are owned by their fans; Brentford, Exeter City and AFC Wimbledon. The latter are particularly fascinating, having only been in existence for around ten years, and enjoying several promotions in their short history so that they now find themselves in League Two. Brentford, meanwhile, regularly alternate between the bottom two divisions, and were taken over by their fans in 2009. Exeter City, meanwhile, were relegated from League One last season.
As for the teams in the semi professional system, there are plenty experiencing varying levels of success. The highest placed team that ended the 2011-12 season under fan control were Wrexham FC. They were only taken over by the fans in the second half of the season, with the club’s very existence under threat for much of the campaign. They went on to finish second in the Conference with a massive points haul of 98, five points behind champions Fleetwood Town. However, they went on to lose 5-1 on aggregate to Luton Town in the playoff semi final and will therefore compete in non-league’s top flight again in 2012-13, where they will certainly fancy their chances of returning to the Football League.
Also in the Conference are Ebbsfleet United, the club owned by members of the website MyFootballClub. They finished comfortably in midtable last season, and will be looking to build on that progress next season. However, with membership continuing to fall, we could well see the club face further financial problems next season. AFC Telford, meanwhile, survived relegation from the Conference by five points, although they were helped by the ten point deduction imposed on Darlington.
Further down the ladder, there are a lot of “phoenix clubs”, those that have emerged from the ruins of the original clubs, and in the case of FC United of Manchester, a club formed in response to fans’ disapproval of the takeover of the club they used to support. As mentioned earlier, there are now twenty seven clubs under full fans control, and we are likely to see more clubs end up this way as chairmen and owners withdraw their funding.
It is not an ideal way for the fans to become involved in the running of their club, but it could be the only way for some clubs to move forward. Clubs like Wrexham had a bleak future under sole ownership, but fans of the Welsh club now have a bright future to look forward to, and a return to the Football League is surely on the cards for them.
If your club has a supporters trust, and let’s face it most do, then get involved. Join up and have a say in the future of your club.