By David Owen
October 8 – Flummoxed by Brexit and with a general election looming, Britain’s opposition Labour party has turned to the people’s game to try to build some much-needed political capital.
The party, much redder in tooth and claw than during the Blair and Brown years of the nineties and noughties when it last tasted power, is promising a review of what leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) calls the “failing” system of football governance. It says it will ensure supporters have “a say” in how their clubs are run.
A 97-second video on Corbyn’s official Twitter account focuses chiefly on Newcastle United, asserting: “A small group of people are ruining our national game, billionaire football owners like Mike Ashley who runs Newcastle United football club.” That is Newcastle United football club who enjoyed a heartening win over Manchester United at the weekend.
The video lauds football as “more than just a game”, it is, so Labour says, “an institution rooted in the social fabric of our communities”, with clubs “too important to be left in the hands of bad owners who put their business interests ahead of everything else, marginalise supporters and even rip them off”.
While opinion polls and recent electoral results suggest the party is not terribly likely to be in a position to implement its plans anytime soon, except perhaps as part of a coalition, its football policy, seemingly, has the virtue of commanding the support of the entire party.
Tom Watson, the deputy leader, who survived an attempt to oust him in the run-up to last month’s party conference, is certainly on-message, tweeting: “Today we are announcing our plans to put football fans at the heart of the game, by legislating to allow supporters to buy shares in their clubs and make appointments to directors’ boards”.
While the comments will resonate with many fans, who spend heavily to follow the sport – and clubs – they love, it would seem churlish not to mention that club football is one of the few areas where Britain can still claim plausibly to lead the world. Absent a renewed surge of support for Corbyn and the leftwing policies he advocates, club owners are likely to shrug at this latest attempt to turn the game into a political football and go on with business as usual.
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