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Dundee fans deciding on their future shows that democracy in football can work

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“Is this the end of fan ownership in Scottish Football?” questioned Jim Spence the BBC’s Tayside sports correspondent, during a recent broadcast. Jim of course was trying to highlight just some of the concerns that surround what could be Dundee’s short-lived foray into the previously unchartered waters of fans ownership.

But with one hundred and fifty-two administratons in the UK since 2000 perhaps the real question is ,have reached the end of the benefactor model? Surprisingly, few people have asked that particular question.

It’s just too easy to say fans can’t run clubs and as our colleagues in Sweden and Germany know that is just not the case where it is the norm. However ,one of the major challenges for supporter-owned clubs is operating in an unsustainable environment that is the rest of the football landscape. Here is Scotland that is no different where expectation continues to exceed the reality of what any given club can hope to achieve. In the changing landscape of our football economy paying players what you can afford to pay based on your actual income is starting to rebalance the game.

If the Dundee fans do decide to accept the external investment – and it is entirely their right to do so – it would reduce their controlling interest in their club down to 25.1%. This means they would in technical terms move from being owners and would instead have supporter influence on the Board. This of course is still a lot more than fans at most clubs have at the moment, so it hardly marks the end for supporter involvement.

Jim Spence was hinting that if Dundee became lost to fans ownership that the game was a bogey for fans wanting to own their club. Jim likes to play the devil’s advocate here and he knows that the other four senior community owned clubs in Scotland are managing just fine; being run effectively, efficiently and most importantly, sustainably. He also knows that many other fans groups at clubs such as Hearts, Dunfermline, St.Mirren and Motherwell still see this as a real way forward and will not be put off if the Dundee fans decide to change ownership of their club.

At Dundee in 2011 the fans became the bank of last resort and with no white knights on the horizon fan ownership became a reality. We know that there have been turbulent times in the past six months at Dundee with much of the real action has taken place off the park rather than on it. There is no doubt that in the scramble to save the club from its second administration there were many things done to get the deal across the line that in the cold light of day should have been done differently with a more considered Governance structure.

So what now for Dundee? This is a great club with a rich history and a passionate supporter base which has in the past attracted more than a few individuals who want to see what they could do for the club. As we know football clubs are unlikely sources of revenue for any investor as most clubs are more akin to being social enterprises rather than profit-making centres. Now Dundee fans have the perfect chance to use the democratic process afforded to them as owners. It’s their decision to accept investment or not. What is so important is that they now make the right decision for the right reasons and that the due diligence process is thorough.

At the Dundee fans meeting I attended on Saturday there was a real mix of emotions in the room. Disappointment at the way the club and the Society had been run, concern about how the investment process had been played out in public and a very real anxiety that having twice been in Administration what the landscape might be if the new investors decide in a few years that it’s not for them anymore. Due diligence will not be able to predict or help with this kind of decision. The most important thing is that there are safeguards put in place so that if the marriage does not work out a suitable pre-nuptial agreement means that the Dundee fans, who will always be there supporting their team, have the opportunity to buy back the shares they are currently selling to the American investors.

A Dundee fan at the same meeting asked why was I against the investment. I didn’t get a chance to respond at the time; but for the record I am not against new investment in Dundee. What I wanted the fans to be aware of is just what they would be giving up(ownership and control) to get the investment. If the Dundee fans do decide they want new owners then at least that is the decision they have made.

Whatever decision is reached it proves the point that democracy in football can work. What is will not do is put off the many other fans who do want control of the club that they call their own.

Written by Paul Goodwin. Goodwin is Head of Supporters Direct in Scotland and author of saving Scottish Football.

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