Barbara stood up for local football supporters in a Westminster Hall Debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday 8 September. The debate was led by Labour MP Steve Rotherham and focused on the role of football supporters in the governance of professional football clubs.
Barbara spoke about the disillusionment many Manchester United fans feel following the hostile takeover of the club by the Glazer family in 2005. Due to the way the takeover happened, Manchester United has the largest debt of any club in world football. Instead of profits going towards improvements or development of the club, they go towards servicing the club’s debt. Many fans feel they have little say in how their club is run.
Barbara urged the Sports Minister Hugh Robertson MP to consider other models of governance for football clubs, such as in Spain where clubs are given the status of Sporting Limited Company which gives fans more of a say. She urged the Minister to take action now rather than continuing to wait to see if football authorities will deal with governance problems themselves. Barbara also urged the Minister to reconsider whether it is appropriate to give tax breaks to buyouts like the takeover of Manchester United by the Glazer family.
During the debate Barbara said:
“Constituents who are supporters of Manchester United ….have become disillusioned with how their club is being run following the Glazer takeover in 2005 and are concerned about the state of the national game.
“Many feel that the decisions made by controlling interests in the club in the boardroom do not demonstrate long-term commitment to the club and its supporters.
“They rightly feel it is time for dedicated football fans to be given some sort of stake in the clubs that they and their families have helped to build over many years.
“There should be stronger regulation to ensure that those owning and running football clubs understand their wider responsibilities to the community. At the moment, the game has clear laws enforced by referees and assistants on the field. However, off the field, it is like trying to play a game with hardly any pitch markings, unclear laws and no referees.
“There is plenty of legislation on football, but it is directed at the fans—for example, on all-seater stadiums, football banning orders and controls on drinking in sight of the pitch. What about some legislation to constrain what goes on in the boardroom?
“I believe that ordinary company law is insufficient because football clubs are not ordinary companies. Football clubs are unique, and their sole purpose should not be to make profit for one individual or company at the expense of their fans and the wider community. Football clubs should also not be run on the basis of massive debt.
“One never hears of anyone wanting to have their ashes scattered on the car park of their local supermarket or business park after they die. However, fans do want their ashes to be scattered in their football clubs. That is why football clubs are different.”
A copy of Barbara’s speech in the debate can be viewed in Hansard online here