How Fan-Owned Football Clubs Are Putting the Power in the Hands of the Supporters

How Fan-Owned Football Clubs Are Putting the Power in the Hands of the Supporters

As the new club football season kicks off, the sport continues to grapple with questions about its governance and the growing influence of money in the game. While big clubs attract billionaire owners and prioritize financial gains, there is a defiant alternative emerging in the form of fan-owned football clubs. These clubs are redefining the relationship between supporters and the sport, putting community, sustainability, and democratic decision-making at the forefront. In this article, we highlight 11 clubs that are doing things differently and demonstrating the power of fan ownership.

FC United of Manchester – Challenging Excess and Greed

FC United of Manchester was born out of disillusionment with the Glazer family’s takeover of Manchester United in 2005. The club’s 1,120 owners each have a democratic vote on major decisions, ensuring that no individual or company can take control of the club’s finances. FC United operates as a not-for-profit organization and uses its platform to make a positive impact in its North Manchester community, tackling issues such as hunger, obesity, and poverty.


AFC Wimbledon – Rising from the Ashes

AFC Wimbledon was established by fans after Wimbledon FC was uprooted and relocated to Milton Keynes. The club’s journey back up the divisions, from the Combined Counties League to the EFL, is a testament to the dedication and resilience of its fan ownership model. The Dons Trust, a not-for-profit supporter’s trust, owns the majority share in the club, ensuring democratic decision-making and maintaining a connection with the club’s historical roots.


St Mirren – Empowering Fans and Benefiting the Community

2021, St Mirren became a fan-owned club through the “Buy the Buds” campaign. The St Mirren Independent Supporters Association (SMISA) now owns 51% of the club, with social enterprise Kibble owning a further 27.5%. This partnership enables the club to leverage Kibble’s expertise in supporting young people in care, providing them with access to job, training, and sporting opportunities. Fan ownership has brought together two Paisley institutions to make a positive difference in the community.


Newport County – Rebuilding and Rising through the Ranks

Newport County’s fan ownership model emerged after the club went bankrupt in 1989. Reformed by 400 fans, the club climbed up the football pyramid and currently competes in League Two. The supporters’ trust holds the majority stake in the club, allowing fans to have a say in important decisions and even granting some tiers of membership access to open training sessions. Fan fundraising has also contributed to the club’s success in the transfer market.


Exeter City – Defying Expectations and Fostering Community

Exeter City stands out as a fan-owned club that has proven its resilience and sustainability. After falling out of the EFL in 2003, the Exeter City Supporters’ Trust became the majority shareholder, leading the club’s revival. With extensive fan support and ongoing donations, Exeter City cleared its debts and returned to the EFL. The club’s success extends beyond the pitch, as it consistently tops the Fan Engagement Index, emphasizing the importance of involving supporters in decision-making.


York City – A New Chapter in Fan Ownership

York City Supporters’ Trust recently acquired full ownership of the National League club, marking a new chapter in fan ownership. With a united front and a strong sense of community, the trust aims to achieve great things for the club. Having endured relegations and fought their way back, York City demonstrates the power of collective effort and determination.


Bury AFC – Rebuilding from the Ruins

The high-profile demise of Bury FC in 2019 highlighted the damage unscrupulous owners could do to clubs.

Since then, Bury FC’s Gigg Lane ground has played host to Boris Johnson more often than football matches. The prime minister visited the ground in April to announce the government’s reforms to football governance.

Bury AFC formed almost immediately after Bury FC was expelled from the EFL to keep football going in the town and the new club is now in the Northern Counties League Premier Division.

Far from the financial mismanagement of Bury FC owner Steve Dale, the club operates a membership model with each member paying £5 per month.

Now the community benefit society behind Bury AFC, The Shakers Community Society, is working on a merger with Bury Football Club Supporters Society to bring football back to the club’s “spiritual home” Gigg Lane.

FC Barcelona  One of the biggest and most iconic football clubs in the world

FC Barcelona has a unique ownership structure that includes fan participation. The club operates as a membership-based organization, with supporters having the opportunity to become socio (members) of the club. The socios have the right to vote on important decisions such as the election of the club president and other board members.

This fan ownership model has played a significant role in shaping the identity and values of FC Barcelona. The club has a strong emphasis on its commitment to social causes and community development, which is reflected in initiatives such as the Barça Foundation. Through the foundation, FC Barcelona implements various programs focused on education, inclusion, and social integration.

While the socios hold considerable influence, FC Barcelona also faces its fair share of challenges, including financial difficulties and internal conflicts. In recent years, the club has grappled with significant debt, which has necessitated cost-cutting measures and player transfers. Nevertheless, the fan ownership structure continues to be a defining characteristic of FC Barcelona, reinforcing the importance of supporter involvement in the club’s decision-making processes.


Bayern Munich, one of Germany’s most successful football clubs

Bayern has a unique ownership model that involves fan participation. The club is organized as a membership-based association, with fans having the opportunity to become club members. As of 2021, Bayern Munich boasted more than 300,000 registered members, making it one of the largest sports clubs in the world.

Through the membership structure, Bayern Munich ensures that the fans have a voice in the club’s affairs. Members have the right to vote on key decisions, including the election of the club president. This democratic approach to ownership has helped foster a strong sense of community and fan engagement within the club.

Furthermore, Bayern Munich places a strong emphasis on financial stability and responsible management. The club has remained debt-free for many years and has consistently achieved financial success through a combination of prudent financial management, commercial partnerships, and sporting success.

The fan ownership model has undoubtedly played a role in Bayern Munich’s sustained success both on and off the pitch. The club has won numerous domestic and international titles, and its commitment to engaging with supporters and fostering a sense of togetherness has made it a model for other clubs to emulate.


Real Madrid, one of the most storied and successful football clubs in the world

Real Madrid operates under a unique ownership structure that involves its socios, or club members. Similar to FC Barcelona, Real Madrid is a membership-based organization where fans have the opportunity to become socios and participate in the club’s decision-making processes.

The socios of Real Madrid have the right to elect the club president and other board members. This ownership model has helped maintain a strong connection between the club and its supporters, as they have a say in shaping the club’s future. Real Madrid has a rich history of success, both domestically and internationally, and the involvement of socios has been a crucial aspect of the club’s identity.

In addition to its sporting achievements, Real Madrid has also prioritized community outreach and social initiatives. The club’s foundation, the Real Madrid Foundation, implements various programs focused on education, sports development, and social integration. Through these initiatives, Real Madrid uses the power of football to create positive social impact and empower individuals from diverse backgrounds.


Supporters Direct 

While not a football club itself, Supporters Direct is an organization that advocates for fan ownership and supporter involvement in the governance and ownership of football clubs. It provides guidance, support, and resources to fan-owned clubs, helping them navigate the complexities of ownership and governance. Supporters Direct has been instrumental in promoting the concept of fan ownership.

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