Book Review: “Punk Football”

“Punk Football” - a dodgy name for a book all Trusts must read.

Punk Football - The Rise of Fan Ownership in English football , by Jim Keoghan

If you have any interest at all in whether and how fans should have greater control or influence over the clubs they love, this well written and well organised book is essential reading. It describes in detail all the most well known cases of supporter ownership. If you have already been interested in this area, then you will feel that you have read these stories before. Nevertheless, the value is in the author bringing them all together and pointing out the common strands in the various events which have led to supporter ownership at clubs such as AFC Wimbledon, FC United, Exeter, and Northampton. It remains shocking to read about the mismanagement and sometimes criminal behaviour which led to the formation of Trusts, and Jim Keoghan performs a valuable service by pointing out in equal detail the cases where Trusts have taken over and made a mess of things. You probably think you remember what happened at Notts County but it is worth reading the bizarre and horrifying episode again . And then just when I was thinking, OK, but what about European examples of fan ownership, Keoghan obliges with a chapter dealing with exactly that.

What do we learn from this excellent overview? Well one clear fact is that Trusts have only been able to gain any equity when it has reached one minute to midnight and the club is close to disappearing entirely. The book is unable to map a clear path to equity ownership in clubs like ours which, at this time, appear to have a financially stable ownership. It hints at political involvement and legislation, but fails to consider the elephant in the room - the Premier League is a separate entity from the rest of English football, able to do what it likes in the ruthless pursuit of the goals of the 20 owners; but to be fair, the rest of us activists don’t have a clear path either!

Personally I feel the book may be unwise to pick out Portsmouth as the possible “breakthrough” Trust. The argument is that it has 15,000 members so it is the first example of a “big” club in Trust ownership. However it is far from clear at this time that the Pompey Trust can succeed in taking the club forward. I was a little disappointed that more space wasn’t devoted to Swansea instead.

Finally the title. I don’t think Keoghan invented the term ‘punk football’, but is it the right one? Punk is about turning your back on what is seen as a rotten, corrupt system and going back to your roots. I think that is what FCU and AFC Wimbledon have done. But I am not sure that other Trusts aim to do that. They are surely trying to work better within the system, and in the long term, to change the system. If you want a musical analogy, it is perhaps with bands like Radiohead embracing the digital download world. But although it kept bugging me, this is a minor quibble which most definitely should not put you off the book. It is a handbook which can both inspire us and perhaps prevent us from making the same mistakes others have made. It’s a pity that a similar book doesn’t exist to help club owners!

("Punk Football" is available as an e-book as well as paperback)