I get a little skeptical and tend to hold back a smirk when people start really waxing lyrical about their passion for football and how it doesn’t just enrich their lives but enhances it in quasi-religious ways.
Michael Calvin had me a little worried about his sanity after five minutes into settling down to watch BT Sport documentary Ours which debuted Tuesday night.
When football writer and presenter Calvin states football has enhanced him personally as well as “spiritually” and the film opens with a down in the doldrums Bury fan who still can’t get over how his club only exists on paper now and phoned his boss on the day Bury was thrown out the football league to ask for the day off, I was starting to think this was just another cliché riddled sporting doc focusing on the extreme football supporting tin foil hats.
Ours goes into the complex relationship between supporters and clubs, focusing particularly on the success and failure of fan run clubs.
Ironically the film premiered straight after Man City continued their unstoppable winning run beating Wolves – City are the archetypal club, with its foreign ownership and corporate mega company structure, that Ours brings into question.
Contributors include chairmans of fan run clubs, private run clubs and Times football columnist and sports reporter Paul Hayward.
One of the stand out contributions is Professor Simon Chadwick, Director of Eurasian Sport at Emlyon Business School, who emphasises the importance of the often suicidal supporter-run business model by stating that through his studies he believes the only way for clubs to survive is to be owned by fans.
Chadwick says in the film: “If you genuinely want your club to survive and you genuinely want your club to be financially stable you are going to have to step up because we now know the British Government is not going to help. We know the FA is in constant turmoil. Fans need to do it themselves.”
Calvin then takes us on a journey through the different styles of fan ownership from Lewes FC – whose supporter based running of the club has allowed both the male and female teams to be paid the same – to Ebbsfleet United who had the ludicrous model while under fan ownership of running online petitions of up to 15,000 supporters who would select the team every week.
Wimbledon’s success story was covered. Under private ownership the club was moved to Milton Keynes seventy miles away from the Borough of Merton where Wimbledon is located. Now the club has a shiny new stadium in Wimbledon after fans took control and rebuilt the club from the bottom up.
Rushen & Diamonds were sold to the fans for one pound after the owner lost interest when the club started to become successful and things were getting serious. One beleaguered fan gave Calvin a tour of the former stadium, which was an overgrown field.
“The supporter-run experience may not have stadiums with its own brewery. Instead you’re more likely to be stuck on the edge of a field, in the rain, watching your side play hoof ball, but you’ll be able to say I was a part of creating that hoof ball.”
Interestingly Calvin explores the relationship between club’s and social media.
The likes of Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are being seen by savvy teams as a cheap way to raise the club’s profile, gain more supporters and increase revenue if they know how to do it.
Leyton Orient have partnered with a group of “influencers” called the Sidemen who in exchange for promoting Orient are allowed to use the club’s stadium for antics they post on their YouTube channel – the videos were viewed 27 billion times.
The most interesting of all was Hashtag United – a club founded online by YouTube content creator Spencer Owen.
Hashtag United, founded in Pitsea, had no official home, played in the ninth tier of the English pyramid and had an e-sports team along with a real team – such was Hashtag’s use of social media that the e-sports side were paid full-time and the real side were only paid part-time.
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It is a crazy and complex picture the one between the supporters and their clubs.
What is the role of fans at City, United, Chelsea, PSG and Liverpool, other than to hand over their money to continue the circulation of billions of pounds, as well as all the decisions, that is swilled between the few at the top of the game.
Calvin does a succinct and clear job of offering one theory on how to enhance the football experience – the fan owned club. He shows the pros and cons of this complex structure, ultimately coming to the conclusion that to reinvigorate the disillusioned supporter – for which there are many – the remedy might be to go from a passive to proactive fan.
Calvin states: “I fell out of love with the game’s greed and elitism. I grew tired of its institutionalised bitterness and the ever increasing gap between the haves and have nots. I need to reconnect with the fan I once was and work out why football’s human touch had grown cold. I suspect the answer will lie with clubs that are run or heavily influenced by their supporters.”
The supporter-run experience may not have shiny concrete causeways lined with monumental sized ceramic statues of the club’s logo and a stadium with its own brewery. Instead you’re more likely to be stuck on the edge of a field, in the rain, watching your side play hoof ball, but you’ll be able to stand there and say I was a part of creating that hoof ball.