What will the political parties do for Swindon Town F.C. fans?
With the General Election just days away, Jacob Badcock asks what will a change in Government mean for British football and Swindon Town?
Whether we like it or not, the long and intrusive arms of politics intrudes upon each and every aspect our lives. Football is no different
Basically, as much as most football fans would like to keep our privileged bunch of expenses fiddling, promise breaking MPs out of the game, their presence is frankly unavoidable. With the British general election just a matter of days away, the British people have the chance to change their government, but also potentially change the way in which British football is governed.
The democratic process is involved with football at every single level; be it international, national or or Sunday league with The Greyhound lumping the ball around on a sultry, Swindon morning. The extent to which this is the case is obviously debatable with football being governed chiefly by the discreet, opaque institutions of FIFA and UEFA both of which are held to account by political institutions that are arguably equally as opaque. Alas, I won’t bother going into this, as Wyn Grant does such an excellent job of it here.
As it stands, British football is currently dominated by the same kind of neo-liberal dogma as the banking industry was prior to the kick-in-the-bollocks crash of 2008. Premier League clubs are largely owned or part-owned by wealthy foreign investors; aided by the financial gusto of the most recent Premier League TV worth over £5bn pounds.
#These owners can spend silly money on players and wages with the cost of this ultimately landing in the lap of fans through inflated ticket prices and TV subscription fees. But of course, owners and executives will say that this is the price to pay for quality, competitiveness and success. Football is often referred to as a market, subject to the same laws of supply and demand as any other market. If people are willing to pay these prices, then the demand clearly exists.
To me, this represents a complete simplification: football supporters have a far greater degree of loyalty towards their team than a customer does to a brand. Our football team is part of what defines us, part of our identity and is far more than a commodity that can be bought or sold. Throughout British football this loyalty is being exploited by ticket prices that have risen far above the rate of inflation in the past 20 years, with Liverpool fans’ recent boycott of their away fixture at Hull yet more evidence of growing fan disquiet.
Envious glances are being cast across to Germany, where government legislation through the ‘50+1 rule’ means that private companies cannot own a controlling stake in any football club.
European Union market competition laws have begun to bear their weight upon European leagues, as have UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules: but at a national level, the English FA and British governments alike have failed to legislate at all. The political economy of British football is very much reflective of the the British political economy as a whole; with gaping inequalities at the top of the game and very little being done by the establishment to correct it. The cynics amongst us might say that it is not in their interests to do so
But where does Swindon Town F.C fit into all of this?
Lee Power has done an excellent job in solving the conundrum of a lower league football chairman, striking a decent balance between competitiveness and financial responsibility. However, in the money mad, success crazed atmosphere of English football he is just one chairman fighting a losing battle. Swindon, like most football league clubs are at the mercy of their bigger Premier League adversaries, as well as the national and international footballing authorities.
Similarly, the Football League itself is almost powerless to resist the wishes of the Premier League, which seemingly has the FA under its thumb when it comes to reforming British football.
In order for there to be more fairness in the British game, I see no other solution than more government intervention. If football really is a market, then it’s a market which is which is failing to regulate itself. In the words of Gordon Brown “the view that markets only self correct and never self corrupt is a bankrupt ideology”.
If things remain as they are, then history tells us that the football bubble will eventually burst. Hypothetically, if Swindon fail to gain promotion this season and are found flailing in lower mid-table next season, calls for Mark Cooper’s head will come. There would be no money for Swindon Town to spend their way out of trouble, with already dwindling attendances likely to get worse in such a circumstance.
The choices would be stark: remain financially frugal and face relegation, or spend more and risk financial stability. This paradox is not unique to Swindon Town, with virtually every other Football League club facing the same issue unless they are backed by a Steve Lansdown or Andrew Black style sugar daddy. Although, as we sorry Swindon fans found out, this approach is not without its pitfalls either. Ending this constant uncertainty is only possible if there is greater fan involvement in the running of British football clubs: if not to the same extent as in Germany, then to a much a greater extent than currently.
Last year, the Labour Party revealed radical plans to place to supporters on the board of every English football club and for supporters to have the right to buy significant numbers of shares the next time their club changes ownership.
Similarly, the Liberal Democrats have called for a shake up, demanding that owners incorporate fans in decision-making. To my knowledge, the Conservatives have been silent on the issue.
Most will decide who to vote for on the grounds of economic competency, or the NHS, but I’d suggest that if you care about your football club and the state of British football in genera, then football should figure highly on your list of priorities when it comes to deciding which box to check on May 7.