Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's not often that this blog will say too many favourable things about Newcastle United. Too many friends who are Sunderland fans may have clouded my judgement on the Magpies!

All of their problems last season were more an amusing sideshow than important news for us, but news coming out of Newcastle about potential new owners and an exciting new direction that they hope to take the Club have certainly captivated our interest.

Fanbase 410 is a consortium fronted by former Chelsea, Spurs and Rangers player Graham Roberts. To many fans in Scotland, the former England international is more remembered for his conducting of the Rangers choir in sectarian songs than his football achievements, but Roberts now hopes to have the Toon Army singing to his tune going forward.

The group have an audacious plan and one which if it goes ahead, has the potential to revolutionise Club ownership and fan involvement in the UK on a huge scale. The word "if" is the key here though, as there has already been scorn poured on the consortium being able to raise anywhere near the capital required for their bid to succeed.

The plan would be for Fanbase 410 to buy Newcastle but the club would be run akin to Barcelona in Spain. The ownership group would consist of members who would buy a share and have a say in who would be Club chairman and manager and how the Club would be run. It would all be down to the members.

Now fan ownership of football clubs in the UK is nothing new.

We have Supporters Direct helping all the Supporters Trusts across the country get seats on the board and, in some cases, buy out the Club owners to have Clubs run by fans. I had involvement in setting up the East Fife Supporters Trust and they now own shares and have an associate director on the Board at Bayview. All great stuff.

Then there are schemes like who bought and run Ebbsfleet Town through members paying yearly subs and making the decisions. Whilst there was a lot of initial success and interest, members have reduced going forward with the idea.

Fans have set up very successful new Clubs like AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester and I've been following the exploits of new club Southill Alexander FC thanks to a fellow Whitecaps fan. They have joined the bottom level of the English non league pyramid and have been set up from scratch on a model like the Ebbsfleet one above but the fans feel a lot more involved.

It all stems of course from fans feeling that they can run their Club better than those that already do and that's exactly the kind of attitude that the Fanbase 410 consortium hope will rally the Toon Army round and see them putting their money where their mouth is.

The reason I feel such a deal would revolutionise UK football is that such fan ownership and day to day running decisions have never been seen at a Club anywhere near the size of Newcastle United. It's a huge advancement of the whole idea.

In these days of billionaire owners and crazy transfer fees, the idea of fans owning any Club is just so appealing. Many fans feel detached from their Clubs now and they want to feel close to them again and actually feel that they are an important part of their success.

The Newcastle option might just end up being pie in the sky, but if it were to go ahead and succeed, it could prove to be the catalyst for a shake up of how some of the bigger UK football Clubs are run.

Not for the first time this year, it's worth keeping an eye on what's happening down St James Park.


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