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Celebrating football and co-operatives

Speakers from the Celebrating Football and Co-operatives event

On the day that FC United won a Co-operative Award for their innovative use of social media, their General Manager Andy Walsh was taking the opportunity of a captive audience to talk about his club. He was speaking at an event organised by Supporters Direct and the Co-operative Group to celebrate the role of co-operation in football, talking with passion and pride about the way that fans are doing something about the things they see wrong with the beautiful game.

The event was opened by Supporters Direct chairman Brian Burgess, who reminded guest that at one time it was the players who were football's most ignored asset - the maximum wage for players used to be set at £20, and they had little or no control over what happened in their careers. Now it is the fans who are ignored and undervalued - but through the work of Supporters Direct, thousands of fans are now taking control of their clubs and running them on a co-operative basis.

Head of Membership at the Co-operative Group, Russell Gill, took to the podium to talk about the wider co-operative movement, and supporters trusts' places within that movement. The marriage of co-operatives and football has proved one of the movement's great success stories in recent years . . . and Supporters Direct chief executive David Lampitt followed Russell to talk about how they are working to spread that success further and wider.

He explained that football and co-operation are natural bedfellows - at their hearts, football clubs of groups of people who want to come together and participate in the life of their club. But there is more work to do to make the model more accepted within football, and to help make the game more sustainable and more accountable to its fans.

David then welcomed Andy Walsh to the stage to talk about one of the great success stories of co-operative football: FC United. He praised the work of Supporters Direct, and the way that fans have put aside the natural divisions that are part of the game to come together and promote the co-operative idea.

Football clubs should all be run co-operatively, he said: everybody involved with a club should be a fan, and no-one should be afraid of allowing democracy into the boardroom. FC United was famously set up following the Glazer takeover of Manchester United, and Andy told the crowd that it was because he was - and is - a fan of United that FC United had to be set up. He would not allow his ticket subs to continue to support football's irresponsible approach to finance and funding: 16 out of 20 premiership clubs made operating losses, and all three major political parties are agreed that something needs to be done, and that something is to get the fans involved.

Andy and FC United are great advocates for empowering fans to take control of their clubs, and a great example of what fans can achieve. And as well as their success in the Co-operative Awards, FC United had another reason to celebrate - a 2-1 win over Ashton United.