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:: Reclaim the Game ::
Monday, October 16 2006

When the FA changed the practise of both teams sharing the match-day gate money and lifted the restrictions on owners of clubs siphoning money out of football they started a process that has had a devastating effect on the game in the modern era. True competition in our leagues has been killed off and doors have been opened that allow business targets to become the principle reason for a football clubs’ existence instead of the achievement of sporting excellence.

IMUSA believes that the problems caused by these changes are now so severe that they cannot be solved at a local level by the fans of any one club. They have become the concern of every fan in the Premiership, Championship and Football League. We therefore plan to roll out a national campaign aimed at reinstating the rules relating to the sharing of gate money and the restrictions on money being taken out of the game by owners. This “Reclaim the Game” campaign will include a requirement for these rules to be updated to include clauses relating to the equitable distribution of TV money throughout the FAPL and FL. It will also demand the adoption of a stringent fit and proper persons test for prospective football club owners and directors that take into account the sensitivities of the fans and the needs of the club and the game as a whole.

The Reclaim the Game campaign will start off by raising awareness in fans groups in the North West and then move onto a national level once regional momentum has been developed. We shall also be seeking the backing of the nationally representative Football Supporter’s Federation right from the off and IMUSA are urging everyone who reads this to join the FSF.

Where match-day gate monies were once shared equally, home teams now get to keep it all and because of this, money has accumulated around a very few big clubs, including us, in exactly the way the founders of the FA were trying to avoid. The result is that only 3 different teams have won the Premiership in the past 10 years and the competition has become meaningless for most of the clubs that make up this league. TV money, instead of being used for the benefit of the game as a whole, has made this situation even worse.

The rule restricting the siphoning off of money from football clubs by their owners was Rule 34. This used to state that directors of football clubs could not derive their main income from their ownership of a football club and that dividends paid on shares in football clubs could not be more than 5% of their face value (for reference, the last issue of United shares that were selling for £3.00 on the Stock Exchange had a face value of 10p). There was also a clause that prevented clubs from being bought, asset stripped and then closed down for profit. Rule 34 was taken off the books in the late 90’s because the FA stopped enforcing it. With Rule 34 big business would not be interested in taking over our game. Without Rule 34 our game has, almost uniquely in European football, been left vulnerable and exposed.

In the 70’s and 80’s football crowds were loud, vibrant and colourful, even when viewed on a black and white telly. The league was exciting because at the start of the new season, every team had a chance of winning it. The FA Cup gave further hopes of glory and even clubs outside the old First Division felt that they were in there with a chance. Match tickets were at pocket money prices. Sportsmanship and fair play were held in high esteem. When Matt Busby told us that “winning isn’t everything. There should be no conceit in victory and no despair in defeat.” he meant it and we listened to him.

Today, United supporters pay more for two lowest price tickets in Old Trafford than the Government gives an unemployed adult to live on for an entire week. Flags and banners not of the approved size, material or message are forcibly confiscated and overly aggressive stewards command everyone to sit down and shut up on pain of eviction. The police intimidate supporters on the way to and from the ground and anyone who steps even slightly out of line has a three-year banning order slapped on them. This scenario is the same all over the country and football, for the fans, has become an Orwellian nightmare.

The FA stood back and let this happen and because of this IMUSA believes that the FA no longer has the will or capability to protect our game in the way that it should be doing. Therefore, unless the FA implements the rule changes we are seeking at the earliest opportunity, “Reclaim the Game” will campaign to have these rule changes forced on them through Government action.
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