Before I add to the torrent of comment in reaction to Birmingham City’s 0-8 loss on Saturday, I’d like to remind readers that this is a personal blog. The opinions expressed are mine alone and don’t represent the views of any organisations to which I belong.
I’m not going to try to analyse what happened or whose fault it was. Assigning blame after a catastrophe may be therapeutic for the person doing it but it doesn’t change the situation. During the match, one fan stood in front of the directors seating area and shouted an anguished plea for the owners to sell the club. That may have contributed to Panos Pavlakis’ decision to vacate his seat before the game ended but I doubt it will influence decisions made in Hong Kong. But I want to be clear, I’m not condemning the man for his protest; I just don’t want to make that the main focus of my thoughts in this post.
I want to put down some thoughts on what, if anything, Blues fans can do to help the club they love.
First, I’m going to say what we can’t do. We can’t force Birmingham International Holdings Limited (BIHL) to sell the club. It is not clear who is in control of BIHL or if they really want to sell the club. According to Will Giles, Carson Yeung’s legal battles are a long way from over; his conviction could be overturned on appeal. If you want the details on that, read Haircuts & League Cups that he co-authored with Daniel Ivery, and also Daniel’s blog.
Are we desperate enough to get rid of our present owners by trying to force the club into administration? And would it be possible to do that? At present my answer to both of those questions is, “Don’t know.” It certainly wouldn’t be an easy way out of our troubles and we could spend a lot of time languishing in League 1 or 2 during the process.
So what can fans do?
We can talk to each other. Have conversations instead of arguments and try to find points we agree on. “We want our club back,” fans chanted on Saturday. Surely most fans could agree on that or some other slogan. I hope we could go a step further and agree not to bicker about topics on which we differ.
We can protest. I don’t think that protests will have much influence on BIHL but they could help to unite fans. It would help if every group would use an agreed basic slogan and, if they wanted, add their own embellishments. It would also be nice to agree on a colour, black for mourning or red for anger or whatever, something that would help to show that everyone was working together even though wording and designs were different. And it would be wonderful if we could refrain from my-banner-is-better-than-your-bed-sheet type arguments.
We can co-operate with supporters of other clubs who have or are facing similar problems. Find out what worked for them.
We can back initiatives to change the system that allows ownership situations like ours. The Labour Party has recently proposed greater ownership powers for football fans. Supporters would have seats on the board of their club and a right to buy shares when the ownership of the club changes. Whatever party we vote for, we could all try to extract some promises in return for our votes and then apply pressure to get the politicians to keep their promises. That’s one reason why we need to co-operate with fans from other clubs; the more people there are working together, the more pressure we can exert.
We can prepare for future possibilities. For those of us who belong to Blues Trust, I think this involves working towards being a fit and proper supporters’ trust. The legislation that Labour is backing, which Supporters Direct recommended in its Football Club Licensing proposal, is not proposing that clubs be forced to give a seat on the board to any group of fans that asks for one. A supporters group would have to show itself capable of such responsibility and fulfil certain criteria. (See quote at end, under pictures.)
Football is a team game and I think that football supporters’ organisations have to be team efforts. We have differing emphases, skills and abilities and if we can find a way of working together we should be able to do more than any one group could achieve on its own.
Quote from 3.2 of Football Club Licensing proposal
“Such rights should however be balanced by responsibilities and based upon supporters’ trusts being ‘fit and proper’.
The framework should function so as to incrementally improve the level of engagement between Fit and Proper Supporters’ Trusts and their clubs in line with their performance against these criteria and this will be assessed independently (by the regulator in collaboration with SD). Issues in which supporters should have a direct role can be addressed within the licence framework by the concept of embedded rights and responsibilities taking account of stakeholders’ legitimate interests.
The incremental levels should be:
- Preliminary Level:
A properly established supporters’ trust should be provided with information (including financial and major transactions) and regular consultation meetings with senior club executives.
- Intermediate Level:
‘Fit and Proper Supporters’ Trusts which demonstrate increasing membership as well as properly operating democratic structures should be entitled to a ‘Golden Share’ type arrangement in which they must give permission for ‘fundamental changes such as sale of a ground, change of club name or location and the taking on of debt above specified levels.
iii. Higher Level:
Fit and Proper Supporters Trusts that show continual improvement in their representation of supporters as well as engagement of the wider community should be able to nominate a director and have pre-emption rights, giving them first refusal to purchase shares when these are available for sale or in an insolvency situation. This should also include the right to bid to acquire all or part of the shareholding and receive a reasoned response to be reviewed by the regulator.”