19 Sept 2009

The future of football is free

Peer-to-Peer, cooperative, FOSS....commons based football clubs are the future argues Andy Hewitt the Green Party Executive campaigns officer and member of Green Left

Swansea have, over the past 25 years or so nearly gone under a few times, largely due to wild excesses of spending, and financial mismanagement by various speculators who have taken control of the club for their own ends.

In 2001 the community marched in their thousands through the city calling to save the club which was being run into the ground by such a speculator, eventually the campaign was won with a group of local business people and more importantly fans taking control of the club and bringing it back into the community. They have vowed to run the club within its means as they recognise the importance of the club to so many people in the city.

A Supporters Trust was established, which now has a 20% stake in the club.

The fall from grace was almost complete 2 years later when the club fought off relegation from the League with an emotional win over Hull in the last game of the season, a game which included a hat-trick by striker James Thomas, a local boy who has a certain legendary status amongst supporters now.
His career was soon to end early due to injury, being a lower league player retiring before the age of 30 I imagine that he was not so “set up for life” as a modern Premier league footballer will be when they are pensioned off.

When football became a commodity, a rich man’s plaything (owning a football club is like what owning a racehorse used to be) and predicated upon market forces, the vast inequality of wealth and resources between the small elite at the top, and the rest, has expanded almost exponentially.
Working Class people who relied on their club and as part of the community have in many cases been priced out of the game. In many ways the game serves as a metaphor for the past 30 years politically and economically.

Swansea have tried to do things a bit differently, being run by fans whose priority is keeping the club alive for the supporters and the community.
The directors of the club all work voluntarily and take no money from the club.
In cooperation with the local council a new stadium was built, shared with the regional rugby club, but largely still owned by the community not the clubs.

A new academy and training facilities are being built to nurture young local talent, and will be shared with the community.
The club has risen up the leagues playing a quality of football which would grace the highest level.
Although part of me would love to see them playing in the Premier League, if that came with the price of sacrificing everything over the altar of football boom and bust for the sake of a small grasp of ’success’, then no thanks (political parties take note?)

The Swans have provided a good model for other clubs to follow to keep them alive in their communities and survive in the cutthroat capitalisation and commodification of football, although it could go further.
How about football clubs being run as true fans/ workers’ cooperatives?

Would it give a better platform for tackling other social problems which attach themselves to football as a reflection of the times: racism, homophobia, violence, inequality? How about locally produced kit so that corporations arent exploiting kids in the global south to make boots and footballs? Fantasy football maybe

Andy Hewett
Campaigns Coordinator, GP National Executive
Secretary, Green Left

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