The 50+1 rule can solve the Football League’s conundrum

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As Charlton prepare for a third owner in as many years and English football struggles with a cash crisis, the time has come to embrace the German 50+1 rule fan-ownership model.

The latest owner to take the keys to The Valley is Paul Elliott – not the Chelsea player who started his career at the club but a Manchester-based businessmen of the same name.

The weary Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust responded with caution: “We know very little indeed about Mr Elliott nor about the make-up of his consortium… we have not been given any clue about his motivation in taking on, in the middle of a pandemic, a struggling football club which has crippling liabilities to former owner Roland Duchâtelet.”

Charlton’s story is one of a proud community club, relocated from its ground in the 80s, now passed around by whomever can get their hands on a controlling interest. The Addicks were latterly owned by East Street Investments under chief-executive Matt Southall, whom Charlton protest Group CARD threatened to rally for the removal of before COVID-19. He and Tahoon Nimer shifted the club on to Elliott but Southall has taken out High Court insolvency action against Charlton as the whole thing degenerates distastefully.

CARD warns Southall with Valley protest plan next Tuesday #cafc
“Southall is not welcome” at QPR game, says spokesperson. pic.twitter.com/88xuztL5UC

— CARD (@CharltonCARD) March 12, 2020

CARD stands for Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet, the previous club-hoarding Belgian owner, driven out of south east London by a coordinated fan campaign.

In Germany, they have fewer problems with errant club owners due to the 50+1 rule, which guarantees fans a controlling interest by tipping the balance past half of all shares. It’s not a perfect system but simply a better and more modern solution to ownership which gives space for outside investment without clubs becoming the playthings of anyone and everyone.

There are few equivalents to Steve Dale in Germany, the private owner of Bury who left a trail of destruction after buying the club for a pound without providing the EFL advance proof of funds. Nor will you find many homeless clubs like Coventry City, detached from their stadia.

In the Championship, the league that Charlton face a battle to stay in, the wages-to-turnover ratio was a bloated 107 per cent in pre-Corona 2018-19 and second-tier clubs lost a combined £300m. Meanwhile EFL chairman Rick Parry has warned that his member clubs face a financial black hole of £200m following the Covid-19 outbreak.

German clubs are in a more robust position to deal with financial swings. The direct connection to the fanbase through the 50+1 system helps, as does the DFL (German Football Association) licensing system which keeps a strict eye on various factors of club governance, including finance. Basket-case clubs that keep organised fan groups at arm’s length aren’t allowed to play. It’s bad for business as a whole, you see.

Back in England, MP Damian Collins recently released plans, approved by the Football Supporters’ Association, to suggest what should happen ‘if public money is going to be used to bail out football clubs’.

The gist is that money should only be given to clubs in exchange for shareholdings for independent directors from supporters’ trusts. When in receipt of such a shareholding the clubs would be well on the way to achieving the magic 51% – the German 50+1 rule.

Obviously it is difficult to exactly replicate that model due to the particular makeup of German clubs but the basic strategy can be copied, giving club members the controlling interest instead of moguls or chancers. Once 50+1 is standard in the EFL it would put a magnifying glass on the inadequacies of private ownership in the top tier and maybe the likes of Newcastle will be helped to swat away interest from the Middle East and believe in the power of the supporters.

This idea of fans being in the driving seat of clubs was advocated by the late Brian Lomax, who set up the first supporters’ trust in the early 90s at Northampton Town. He said that fans could no longer be seen as “turnstile fodder,” and with a little help from our friends in Germany, community control of clubs could soon come to fruition. It’s 100% the time for 50+1.

 

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