Kevin Miles’ robust build, fatherly tone, and absent-minded sense of humor evoke Uncle Pumblechook from Dickensian Great Expectations. “We won a battle, but the threat has not disappeared,” says in a cavernous voice the president of the Football Supporters Association (FSA), the organization that brings together fans of football clubs in England and Wales.
Miles points to the days in April when a street revolt brought the European Super League to a standstill – the secessionist company that aspires to create a competition limited to the richest clubs, and which is still led by Florentino Pérez, Andrea Agnelli and Joan Laporta – and warns of who has not stopped preparing for the final fight. In fact, it is not short of allies. “Yesterday we met with Parliamentarian Tracey Crouch, who was Minister of Sports, and with Prince William, who will be our king,” he says, “and who also chairs the English Federation. We have your backing. It is not just fan organizations that we are pushing for a legal change in the way football should be managed. This is a movement that encompasses all levels of society. There is an awareness of how important football is to the interest of the community and our culture. We cannot allow it to self-destruct because of the greed of those who think that this is just a television product. “
It is not surprising that in this unruly climate Kevin Parker, representative of Manchester City supporters, ordered Pep Guardiola, the club’s most powerful figure to shut up, after the coach complained about the low influx of fans to the stadium, makes a week.
“I think Parker was a bit populist,” says Ronan Evain, president of Football Supporters Europe, the group of followers that acts as an interlocutor for organizations such as UEFA or European Leagues, the employers’ association of the main leagues. “But on the other hand it shows that these big Premier League clubs have a clearer vision of what the fans expect. Since the Super League plan was unveiled, in football there has been a better understanding of the fans and the need to rebalance relationships. It’s just business common sense. If you sell yogurt, you will be interested to know how your customers like their yogurt. The clubs have been managed in isolation, without social responsibility or appreciation for the fans ”.
After three decades of extreme commodification, England fans are advancing like the ebb of a tide that returns stronger after the pandemic. Miles himself is part of the panel that prepares the law with which they intend to institutionalize the power of the fans. “The Boris Johnson Administration has already pledged in the 2019 election to conduct what it calls a Fan-Driven Governance Review of Soccer. It was a response to the concern raised by the disappearance of several centennial clubs due to mismanagement. The Super League precipitated the reactivation of the works and expanded the radius of the changes ”.
“The Government”, continues the president of the FSA, “has appointed a panel made up of football fans, clubs and institutions, with a president who is the deputy Tracey Crouch. The report that we will deliver to Parliament in October incorporates a proposal to establish an independent regulatory body. This organism will establish the conditions in which the clubs must operate, and will issue the licenses to compete. To obtain these licenses, each club must meet requirements such as the real and effective involvement of supporters in decision-making in the daily life of the club through consultation processes on issues such as financial sustainability. In addition, we intend to introduce a
The conquests of the fans happen regularly. This Thursday the Stadium Safety Authority, the administrative body that oversees sports facilities in England, authorized the standing stands, an old claim from the public since the Government of Margaret Thatcher forced all the stands to have seats, after the Hillsbrough massacre in 1989.
“The reinstallation of the standing bleachers is great news,” says Andy Mitten, journalist, activist and editor for United We Stand, the fanzine Manchester United’s publication, the most widely read by the club’s fans and the only one to which Ed Woodward, the last president, gave interviews. “Today in England the fans are more important than ever,” he says. “The government has recognized their importance and the clubs are building stronger relationships with them, in part because they can afford it. They bill so much money from television that ticket prices do not have the weight of ten years ago in the budget. United’s season ticket is the same as 11 years ago. Tickets for away games are sold for 30 pounds when ten years ago we paid 55. In Old Trafford there are sectors where a pint costs three pounds, two less than a decade ago.
“I know that people love soccer in Spain,” says Mitten. But in the north of England football is more important. There is no beach. Nobody has a second home. You go to football. To each game. Last weekend the average entry of the Fifth Division was 6,300 followers. Soccer is fundamental socially. You buy the season ticket, you go to the game, you see your friends, you are an active part of your community. When United and Madrid played in Michigan in the 2019 preseason and 116,000 people came together, I didn’t see anyone from Madrid. But there were thousands from Manchester. That gives a lot of power to the fans ”.
Kevin Miles can’t hide his excitement when he thinks about the law that can give fans a statute of control within club corporations. “Opportunities like this,” he says, “only happen once in a lifetime; we must make sure not to waste it. “
“In England there is a more deeply rooted democratic culture”
Prince William, heir to the throne of England, stood last Thursday in the modest field of Dulwich Hamlet, regional category, to question the management of the clubs under exclusively financial principles after the crisis of the Super League. The Duke of Cambridge defended the role of fans in football as part of his campaign to promote a law that protects the right of fans to supervise the management of clubs. The bill has only been possible thanks to the activism of hundreds of fan organizations spread across England and Wales.
The democracy of the member clubs in Spain, in many cases is almost nominal ”, points out Emilio Abejón, president of the Federation of Shareholders and Members of Spanish Soccer. “In England the fans are more concerned about their club, the mobilization capacity is greater, and there is a more entrenched democratic culture and a more active civil society than in Spain, where fan groups are fragmented by a rivalry between clubs that in England he doesn’t show up when it comes to coordinating the fans ”.
The bulwark that the supporters have placed against the Super League has made them essential allies of the national leagues. “It is important to listen to the fans,” says Alberto Colombo, deputy general secretary of the European Leagues, the body that encompasses competitions such as the Premier, LaLiga or Serie A. “Today’s fans have a greater awareness of what the league represents. soccer in their communities. They are realizing that this good balance that now exists between international and domestic football can be broken, when the vast majority of clubs in Europe only live off domestic football. When asked about the possibility of expanding the Champions League matches or holding the World Cup every two years, they have repeated that they do not need more football but better football ”.
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