Loss on the Terraces: Foreword
People want to be a part of something. And as we’ve discovered through the outbreak of COVID-19, that doesn’t stop when the football stops. As this report from HOPE not hate charitable trust makes clear, local football clubs hold rich meaning for town communities. Clubs and supporter communities are central to people’s identity.
People have given up their time delivering food parcels, medicine runs, crowdfunding, much of this has emerged through the football community – they’re passionate about community and want to be a part of it regardless of what’s happening on the pitch. But the financial crisis that the coronavirus outbreak poses to football clubs presents a crossroads, with many clubs- especially smaller, town based clubs- under threat.
There are lots of ways in which our cultural heritage is protected in this country, and football clubs are part of that heritage. They deserve to be treated as such. Good club owners understand that clubs really belong to their communities, and many put huge amounts of money into it. That is to be respected, but good owners understand that clubs would be nothing without supporters.
But as this report outlines, there is a need to scrutinise whose heritage we are speaking about. There’s a lot of hidden history in football. Women have been playing football since it started, but the fact that the FA tried to ban women’s football for 50 years and stop women playing shouldn’t be forgotten. We should understand that history so that we can learn from it. Equally, there have always been women on the terraces, but most people’s classic image of a football supporter is a man. So women are positioned as excluded regardless of whether they actually are. We need to embrace the hidden histories – and the hidden supporters – as part of football’s folklore.
Similarly, the history of black footballers isn’t told and celebrated in the way that it should be. We need to bring those stories to the fore. It’s been deeply impressive and moving to listen to black players and managers – like Hope Powell – talk about their feelings on the game and what they expect from it, what it can be going forward. We need to listen to people with experience about what good inclusion looks like.
For a long time, people have known that the game needs reform, in order to survive and serve its communities. A reliable, workable test for who is able to own and manage a club would make sure supporters know that a club is being run in their best interests and in the long-term interests of the game. Both political parties went into the 2019 election with commitment to that reform, and we have seen a lot of cross-party agreement about that change. It is not for politicians to micromanage sport, but we do need to act as a backstop. We can think of countless examples of where governance have failed, and now we should be looking at what the principles of good governance are.
Football has huge potential for building hope in our communities. At it’s best, football is an incredibly enjoyable team sport that exemplifies what we can achieve when we work together. It’s a beautiful display of collaboration, and it symbolises the good in life when people work together.
Alison McGovern is MP for Wirral South and Shadow Minister for Sport