Why Club Owners Need To Take More Responsibility
Bury AFC will get their season underway in a little over a month’s time. But while once the great club were a part of the Football League, for 125 years in fact, Shakers fans will be getting used to the North West Counties league, and in fact, an entirely different team.
Yes, Bury AFC is little over 18 months old, forming after the demise of the twice FA Cup winners. It split fans, with some desperate to see their side play in its previous form, others turn to local side Radcliffe, and then there was Bury AFC. Whichever way a Bury fan went, though, whichever way they chose to grieve the loss of a great club, it was all down to bad ownership.
Bury aren’t the first club to go. They won’t be the last either. Wigan were relegated at the end of the season due to the points deduction they received for going into administration, and the EFL are being put under intense scrutiny for even allowing the Next Leader Fund, a Hong Kong based company, to take over the club.
The horror story that has followed is unprecedented, and while the EFL are rightly under pressure for the continual stream of bad owners passing the vetting system, should more responsibility fall on the owners selling the club, and those buying?
Readjusting the Owners’ & Directors’ Test
Naturally, what must happen is the system in place to ensure owners are fit and proper is reviewed as it is clearly unfit for purpose. But in reality, owners looking to do so should be doing so responsibly.
They should be looking for owners who have a vision, a passion for football and also a desire to take the club forward, both in terms of results and off the field.
The fact that so many clubs have gone into administration shortly after being sold is worrying to say the least. As much as the previous owner wishes to sell, due diligence needs to be done way before it gets to the EFL’s owners’ and directors’ test.
There are many examples of takeovers that have gone right though. Salford City are an extreme example of this. Gary Neville has become a fine entrepreneur since retiring from football and, while it was a pretty big business gamble starting all the Class of 92 portfolio, from the football club to the university, it appears to have paid off, with Salford now playing League football and finished in a solid mid-table position.
Forest Green are another fine example. The club finished just above Salford in League Two this season, but it’s perhaps their off field activity which is more impressive.
Dale Vince joined the club as a majority shareholder in 2010 and by 2011 had stopped selling meat products at the ground, as well as banning the players from eating red meat. By 2015, the club were the first all-vegan football club in the world.
Their collective social responsibility continues with solar panels and many other energy efficient features. Further plans to build Eco Park, made entirely of wood and sustainable materials.
Helen Taylor, an ambassador for the club said: “We became carbon neutral this summer  after signing up to the UN’s Carbon Neutral Now campaign. We’re the world’s greenest football club and present a vision for how we can all live a more sustainable life with regards to energy, transport and food, so becoming carbon neutral was an obvious next step for us.”
The players, fans and wider football community have all bought into what they are doing, and have certainly shown the success you can achieve with the right owners taking over.
Selling to the Fans
Fan ownership has also seen a rise in recent years, and it will be interesting to see how they progress. AFC Wimbledon are perhaps the most well-known and formed following the relocation of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes.
They moved through the leagues and have found their level in League One, alongside MK Dons. They’ve proven that the model can work, alongside Hearts in Scotland and further down the pyramid there are now a host of fan owned clubs looking to move into the Football League, after being let down by previous owners.
This is usually as a phoenix club, including the likes of Chester and Darlington, while interestingly Portsmouth fans took over back in 2013, but have since sold to former chief executive of Disney, Michael Eisner.
It’s a sale in which the fan owners took responsibility for, did their due diligence and is certainly paying off with widespread praise for how the club is being run, with long-term success key.
Which is how it should be. An owner needs to be responsible for the long-term, and that includes current owners allowing a sale to happen.
Instances such as Bury and Wigan are devastating for the beautiful game, and it’s likely more will follow unless more responsibility is taken for the sales and running of a club, particularly in times when both the world and football is ever-changing.
Image: PA Images