Andy Burnham MP has got a lot on his plate at the moment. A party in disarray in England and a party that has not only lost direction in Scotland; but has also lost its relevance and is fighting for survival following the fall out of being a branch office, writes Richard Skinner.
Strangely the relevance to this is mirrored in how football fans are now represented in Scotland.
When Andy Burnham was Sports Minister in the Tony Blair-era he helped set up Supporters Direct, which had lofty ambitions to help increase the influence of supporters in their clubs.
Its mission was to strive to ensure that all fans have the opportunity to have maximum involvement in the ownership and running of their clubs to enhance their club’s social and cultural value. In doing so that wanted to seek to improve the way the game is run. It was and still is a mighty big objective.
In Scotland, the organisation opened its doors in 2002 and closed them again in 2011 when nobody was prepared to fund those Burnham ambitions. Despite its main success in helping to help establish Supporters Trusts at many of our clubs. At its peak it had nearly 30 Trusts in membership although in the majority of cases they exerted minimal influence and when the funding ended in 2011 it closed its Scottish branch office. It now has only around half that number in membership.
The initial Rangers crisis in early 2012 led to the Scottish Government stepping in to fund the organisation as they recognised that sadly there was no independent Scottish Fans organisation in existence. It was given a wider brief to extend its reach and to be more inclusive to all fans.
It was without doubt a worthwhile intervention as the organisation under the leadership of Paul Goodwin started to give the fans some sort of recognition and he used his knowledge and experience from buying and running Stirling Albion to assist clubs such as Hearts, Dunfermline, Motherwell and Livingston.
Alas, Goodwin failed to bring the very changes to the organisation that the Scottish Government wanted or the fans needed.
Supporters Direct has a board based in London and a Chairman, CEO and Acting Head who do not go to Scottish Football matches. They have failed to grow and evolve as an organisation and in England they have been overtaken by the Football Supporters Federation who are an inclusive fans organisation who campaign on a range of issues for all fans.
In Scotland, the Burnham legacy is that SDS operates as a subsidiary to the English office with traction from just around 15 trusts. It has also been suggested that SDS have been unable to raise genuine issues relating to Scottish fans, due to the constraints placed on them by the hierarchy in England, a problem that Burnham is now wresting with at Scottish Labour.
The clock is now ticking as the Scottish Government’s financial support for this ailing organisation ends this month.
Supporters Direct Chairman, Brian Burgess has written to all its members across the UK confirming that there is a funding crisis and he has instigated a review of the whole operation. On the surface that should mean the closing of the Scottish Branch ( SDS); but with a sniff of further Scottish Government funding and knowing that surplus funding from the Scottish Branch goes back across the border to England – that seems unlikely given its funding crisis.
The dynamic has changed and as the Scottish Government now reviews its position you would have to assume if it can find money then it would not be keen to spend it in England.
It is recognised that in 2014 we saw changing dynamic in Scotland and a level of engagement in civic society through the Referendum. Spurred on by that engagement a new organisation has emerged with the newly created umbrella group the Scottish Football Supporters Association which seeks to achieve everything that SDS is currently failing to do and more.
Membership is open to everyone, whether they are individuals, trusts, supporters groups or affiliates and it will shortly announce a high profile board that includes former Scotland Captain Gary McAllister and backed by the Former First Minister Henry McLeish who both know their way around the Scottish game.
With over 22,000 members joining in a matter of weeks and run from Scotland by Scottish supporters with direct access to the European Fans network, and fronted by Paul Goodwin the former fans chief at SDS it now looks like the Scottish Government – if they want to continue supporting the development of the football community and ensure that fans have a voice – has a ready made solution awaiting them.
Sadly for Burnham’s legacy it looks like Supporters Direct in Scotland is not fit for purpose and that is something that might resonate elsewhere as he wrestles with even bigger problems.
In the words of Nicola Sturgeon it is about “showing good governance by putting the people of Scotland first for a stronger Scotland” and that is something that the Scottish Football Supporters Association subscribes too and why I joined it.
To read more about the Scottish Football Supporters Association and to join for FREE! Visit http://scottishfsa.org/.