First of all, congratulations to Gary Bowyer and the Blackpool team for a well-deserved victory over Barnsley in the FA Cup on Tuesday. On a night of heroics by several clubs against higher-ranked opposition, notably Lincoln City and Sutton United in addition to the Seasiders, the magic of the Cup lives on. It sets up a fourth round tie away to Bowyer’s old club, Blackburn Rovers.
Blackpool’s progress in the competition continues to evoke mixed emotions for many supporters. Of course we want the team to do well and we wish them success, however finding a way to support our team while not sustaining the regime is frankly very difficult for many fans in the current situation.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust will be liaising with our opposite numbers in Blackburn Supporters’ Trust regarding the possibility of a media-worthy peaceful protest against the owners of both clubs and in favour of changes in football governance on the day of the fourth round FA Cup tie.
The desire to see fundamental changes in football governance in this country has been a regular theme in several of these weekly columns. There is growing support among fans from many clubs for there to be a better deal on offer to supporters. In a game awash with TV and sponsorship money (at least at the higher levels), the lack of regulation in English football creates opportunities for the sort of financial exploitation that is ultimately damaging to the fabric of the national game.
What might an alternative future look like? Since a number of fans from Blackpool Supporters’ Trust recently visited Germany to see how the Bundesliga model of governance works in practice, now is perhaps an opportune time to compare the German approach to ours.
Many of you will be aware that '50+1' is a phrase that is often used to sum up the way that football governance in the Bundesliga works, and more specifically, the way that German clubs are owned.
It is a model that ensures the majority shareholding in the company which operates the club lies in the hands of the members’ club rather than in the hands of external ‘investors’. 50% +1 is a minimum required level, and the club can own anything up to 100% of the shares.
It needs to be stressed that in German football the ’50 + 1’ rule is just one, albeit probably the most significant, of the requirements of a strict licensing system within which all clubs must operate.
This strict Bundesliga licensing system is designed amongst other things to help guarantee each club's stability, to increase the integrity of the league's competitions and to support the clubs’ constitutions and financial structures.
The ’50 + 1’ ownership model is held by the Bundesliga to be a fundamental basis on which these objectives can be met with only a couple of historic exceptions tolerated.
The main characteristics of German league football in comparison with the English are:
- that all clubs operate ‘in the black’ financially and insolvency is unknown
- that financial doping by owners is not an issue, and thus competitive balance is enhanced
- ticket prices are lower
- there are generally bigger crowds (in bigger stadiums)
- wages are lower
- wage/revenue ratios are at around the 40% level
- the connection between professional football and grassroots football is strong
- there are fewer international star players
- there is a stronger and more consistent national team
- there is a far greater engagement between fans and their club
Many of these characteristics can be directly or indirectly related to the ’50 + 1’ model of club ownership. So what is there not to like about this model of football?
Of the characteristics highlighted above, the only one which might possibly not be attractive to English fans is the fact that there are fewer international players plying their trade in Germany. However if fewer international players in the English leagues led to a resurgence of our national team, surely that would be a price worth paying.
By far the most impressive and heart-warming aspect of the German set-up is the close link between fans and their clubs and the involvement of supporters in the running of clubs. The sort of stand-off we see in some English clubs, with fans and management being at loggerheads, is almost entirely absent in the Bundesliga.
If the English FA and Football League were to adopt the German model, it would ensure that English fans were repositioned at the heart of their clubs, with a dramatically increased say in the way they were run. It is an alternative future that looks increasingly attractive.