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17 March 2006  

Yes, I'm still here

11:45 PM
just busy..
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12 March 2006  

Who's Running Your Club?

9:22 AM

First of all, I'm a Newcastle fan. Secondly, I'm going to comment on today's Sunderland protests against Bob Murray. If you can't bear to see this sort of thing, please look away now. You still here? Right. Well, it seems that around 600-800 Sunderland fans (depending on which hastily cobbled together internet report you read) demonstrated after the home defeat to Wigan Athletic to demonstrate their unhappiness with Bob Murray. Bob Murray has already experienced the brunt of some direct anger this season, although I must admit I think the peaceful protest is the way to go about this sort of thing.

So what can happen? Well, not very much. As I understand it, Bob Murray owns pretty much all the shares in Sunderland, so unless he wants to sell, Sunderland fans are stuck with him. They've been well and truly Glazered. Of course, constant protests and generally making the chairman feel unwelcome are weapons of long standing in the armoury of a fan base against an unpopular regime. But why is this? Well, it's pretty much because as I've said there's nothing else they can do about it.

Except maybe buy the club.

Excuse me for saying so, it's a bit out there but it's something I'd love to happen at my beloved Newcastle United. Just imagine it at your own club: a shareholders trust owning a significant or majority shareholding in the club! Fans representation on the board! Clubs run for the benefit of the fans and for their own well-being, not for the benefit of a few shareholders. Free beer in all club bars! Well, maybe not. No more speculation over whether the new kid on the block is an asset-stripper or not. I've mooted this idea before in many alcohol-fuelled conversations, but is it just a pipe dream?

Well, it's certainly a pipe dream to believe the fans of any major club could own it outright overnight. But it's possible that a well set up and well organised supporters trust could raise money to buy shares, use any dividends to buy more shares and gradually increase the fan representation at that club.

Here's some figures for Newcastle United. According to http://www.nufc-finances.org.uk, the club has around 129 million shares. According to the latest quoted share price, the price per share is around 46p. This values the club at around the £60 million mark. Hmm. I certainly don't have £20 million lying around to buy a sizeable stake.

But maybe I could put in £20. If 49,999 other fans could do the same, that's £1 million. Which equates to around 1.6% of the total shareholding. Not a great deal by any stretch of the imagination. But now let's imagine we could put in £20 every year for 10 years... and we've now got a 16% stake. That's not enough to run the club, but it's enough that the fans would have a say in how the club was run, and it may be enough for fan representation in the boardroom.

And there's three significant figures: at a 10% share, you prevent anyone from reaching 90% and being able to compulsory purchase the rest. At a 25% share you prevent anyone from reaching 75% and being able to delist the company from the stock exchange Glazer-style. Of course, at a 30% share you need to be prepared to make a takeover bid yourself...

I've just used the figures for Newcastle United because they happen to be my club and I know where to look them up. The same principle would apply to any club with publicly available shares. And if the shares aren't publicly available, maybe if the supporters trust could raise enough money they could start buying them privately...

So next time you're feeling disgruntled with who's running your club, why not try and do something about it? If the Sunderland fans were to get together and buy back their club I'd find myself in the rather odd position of continuing to wish the club the worst of luck whilst wishing the fans well.

It's not an impossible dream. Big clubs are owned by their fans in Spain. Supporters trusts in the UK already own shares in many of our clubs. Heh. It wouldn't be easy, though. But, if you want it enough, if you're prepared to work hard enough, if you're prepared to put a little of your money and a whole lot of your time where your mouth is, and you're prepared to be patient, then maybe, just maybe, it could be you.

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