What a day. From BBC breakfast in the morning, being pressed on the proposed new football ‘super league’ and whether it could be stopped at all, to Newsnight at 11pm, by which time the whole thing had collapsed. The past 24 hours have been a rollercoaster in the crazy world of football.
Thankfully, I got to spend some time with the people at the heart of it all. Yesterday, Jo Stevens and Keir Starmer and I met with 200 football supporters, and 1,000 more joined us watching live online. This was a meeting organised with barely 24 hours’ notice. Of course, we were there as politicians to listen to the people we are supposed to be accountable to. But as much as anything, Keir, Jo and I were there as fellow football supporters, who follow Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool respectively, all season ticket holders. We are football people. This is politics, of course. But it is also personal.
It is personal because each of us has been there to watch our teams get hammered unexpectedly, win from nowhere, and be frankly mediocre. Like everyone we met yesterday, we have been through the ups and downs of it all, and we stick with it, because you might not always get to win but you do get to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Whatever club you support, that experience is common to us all. Everyone wants to feel that solidarity, that unity of purpose. As a football supporter, you get to be part of the team. That, in a nutshell is what it is all about.
So when decisions get taken about the game supporters love above their heads and beyond their control, that is wrong – as demonstrated by this week’s events. And that is where the politics comes in. The labour movement has always been about organising. It is how we do things. If you want to change something, don’t just hope the people at the top will be benevolent: build a movement, and make everyone bigger than themselves. And in this instance, we won.
But it cannot stop here. My plea is to ask all those who care about football to join us in organising to put supporters back at the heart of the game. For four elections since 2010, Labour members have campaigned for change, including fan ownership. We did so because we knew that right now, as this debacle shows, supporters have no real say over what happens to the game we love.
The fan-led review of governance that the Tories finally announced in the heat of this week may offer us an opportunity to get some of these proposals on the table for legislation. We may also see movement towards an independent regulation of football, which could potentially enforce the rights of supporters. But whatever the specifics, I know that real change only happens when you can show the volume of demand. That is what happened over the past days, and it will be needed again.
To all those who love football I say: let’s work together. Let’s do the Labour thing, and organise for the game we love.
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