9. Views on Defining Supporters and Supporter Groups, in the Context of Making a Law to give Supporters Rights in the Decision-Making or Ownership of their Football Club
There is much debate about how to define a football supporter. The Scottish Government acknowledges that at one end of the spectrum a football supporter could be perceived to be someone who has an interest in a club and keeps an eye on the results, or at the other end, a season ticket holder or those who are financial investors in a club. The Scottish Government also recognises that, given the wide range of supporters' groups, it could be a challenge to know which one has the greatest legitimacy in the context of rights.
Question 7: What are your views on how to define what is a football supporter and defining supporter groups, in the context of making a law to give supporters rights in the decision-making or ownership of their football club?
530 respondents addressed this question, including 22 organisations and 508 individuals.
A widely held view was that attempting definition of supporter and supporter groups was very challenging given the wide range of involvement exhibited by supporters, from armchair followers to Boardroom representatives. It was pointed out that some supporters follow several different teams at the same or different times, sometimes changing allegience over time. Even within a football club's group of season ticket holders, different supporters may have different types of season ticket, demonstrating the difficulties in using criteria such as season ticket holder as a basis for definition.
Views on defining a football supporter
Despite such challenges, many respondents identified key attributes they associated with being a "football supporter":
- Season ticket holder.
- General contributor to the club's finances ( e.g. from shareholder to someone purchasing merchandise).
- Someone who attends games when they can (may not be regular attender, but more than armchair supporter).
- Someone who self-defines themself as a supporter and has an emotional attachment to their club. They may not attend matches, but they continue to support their team through thick and thin.
"The individual's financial situation at any one time may mean he/she is not able to contribute, but this in no way may lessen his/her adherence to the club. Often too that loyalty extends to whole families or communities. So in our view supporters should be self-defining. If an individual defines him/herself as a supporter then he/she should not be denied that right" (The Celtic Supporters Trust).
Attributes of a football supporter mentioned less frequently were:
- Member of supporter group or trust.
- Someone who volunteers their time in some way for the club.
- Someone on the club's membership database.
- Financial investors.
- Somone who pays regularly into a funding vehicle such as Community Interest Company.
- Someone who contributes generally to the club.
- Someone who engages generally with the club.
The possibility of prioritising one supporter over another on the grounds of regular attendance at matches was opposed by many respondents, some of whom viewed the issue clearly in equality terms.
"If you define how much of a supporter a person is by how much financial support he/she gives the club then by definition, poorer fans are lesser supporters. Disabled fans are lesser supporters. Unemployed fans are lesser supporters. Fans who have moved away from the area or even the country for work or family are lesser supporters. I think most people would not accept this definition. At the heart of any football supporter is a love of their club. It is a bond that lasts a life time..."
One theme to emerge across several responses was that of developing a hierarchy of supporter priority (in the context of making a law to give supporters rights), possibly by awarding points according to set criteria, or a sliding scale of supporter priority, based, for example, on number of matches attended or length of time a season ticket has been held.
"...a supporter of a club should be allocated by a points system, where you accrue points up to a maximum allocation dependent on attending games, purchase of merchandise and attendance at public meetings related to the club and its existence" (Individual).
A few respondents argued that the definitions of supporter and supporter groups were generally known and did not require more explicit definition.
Emerging from a few of the responses to the overall question of defining a football supporter was a distinction between what some perceived to be a "supporter" and, therefore, more deserving of involvement in decision-making at their football club, and a less deserving "fan".
In general, supporters were viewed as more connected to their club, financially, emotionally and physically (in terms of attending matches). Fans were perceived as admirers from afar, possibly living far away and watching matches on television rather than at the ground.
A few exceptions existed, with the concept of supporter and fan perceived as the other way around, a supporter being the more passive party, but overall, respondents perceived a hierarchy of support with football club "supporters" above football club "fans".
Views on who should not necessarily be given priority as a supporter
A minority of respondents were explicit on who they considered should definitely not be given priority over others within the context of giving supporters rights in the decision-making or ownership of their football club. It is noteworthy that these views conflict with others and with each other, with no clear shared view emerging, reflecting the difficulties respondents encountered in identifying an appropriate definition of supporter in this context.
- Not armchair supporters who follow their team but do not contribute financially in any way.
- Not necessarily season ticket holders/regular attendees.
- Not someone who attends matches only occasionally.
- Not financial investors who are involved with clubs only for a return on their investment.
- Not individual supporters. Rights can go only to supporter groups.
- Not necessarily supporter groups. Could be individual supporters.
Views on defining supporter groups
Far fewer respondents attempted to define supporter groups than provided a definition for supporter. However, amongst the minority of respondents who addressed the issue, a range of attributes emerged.
- Properly constituted group registered with the Scottish FA or SPFL.
- A collection of like-minded supporters who contribute generally to their club.
- Supporters' Trusts ( e.g. "When defining supporters groups the only real body who has any legitimacy are Supporters' Trusts. They are the only democratic and accountable organisations that represent supporters that have a legal standing" (Individual)).
- Groups of supporters who buy shares.
- Body which provides a voice for individual supporters and communicates on their behalf.
Once again, notions of hierarchy emerged, with a few respondents urging that no one group should have priority over another (for example, some groups may be smaller than others due to remote geography), but others suggesting hierarchical frameworks based on criteria such as number of matches attended, number of season ticket holders within the group, groups which are seen to contribute more to the running of their club, and so on.
Notions of legitimacy also emerged from responses, in particular how to ensure that those joining supporter groups are legitimate supporters of the football club. Suggestions were made to reduce the risk of "rogue supporters" infiltrating supporter groups, including permitting membership of only one supporter group at a time; paying a monthly fee to the supporter group; signing a contract confirming allegiance to the club; and requiring two or three referrals from other members before being accepted into the group.
Summary of key points
The challenges of defining football supporter and supporter groups were widely recognised. Amongst those respondents who attempted definitions of a football supporter the most frequently mentioned descriptions were: season ticket holder; someone who contributes generally to the club's finances; someone who attends matches when possible; and a person who self-defines as a football supporter and has an emotional attachment to a club.
It was generally acknowledged that some supporters cannot afford to attend matches or are not able to attend in person due to distance from their club or disability. Respondents emphasised that such supporters should not be excluded from decision-making at their club on account of this.
There were mixed and sometimes contrasting views on which supporters should have priority over others in the context of rights in the decision-making or ownership of football clubs.
Amongst the minority of respondents who attempted a definition of supporter groups, the most common views were: properly constituted group registered with the Scottish FA or SPFL; and a collection of like-minded supporters who contribute generally to their club.