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Jeremy Hunt could be the man who saves Manchester United... and Liverpool...

By Tim Montgomerie

IMG_0926 In the run up to the General Election, supporters of Manchester United waved various banners protesting against excessive borrowing. One banner stated that "debt is the road to ruin". The supporters weren't protesting at Gordon Brown's economic record but at the huge debt interest payments that MUFC's American owners extract from the club.

Along the M62 is a club that is Man Utd's arch enemy but supporters of Liverpool FC share the same anger at their own indebted club's ownership and management.

There are many other football clubs across the country in bad financial shape and the position is deteriorating.

Screen shot 2010-08-24 at 07.11.01 Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, could quite properly argue that the problems of Britain's football clubs are nothing to do with government. I would argue, however, that he'd be missing a massive political opportunity. I'm not recommending that he uses a penny of taxpayers' money to help these extravagant clubs but he could do two things. At the very least he could loudly demonstrate sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of supporters who hate what is happening to their teams. More significantly he could look at legal changes which would, for example, give fans the first option of buying a club in the event of a change of ownership.

The case for supporter-owned football clubs was made yesterday on the fringe of the Liberal Democrat Conference by Paul Marshall. Paul isn't a Hughes/ Cable-style interventionist but a hugely successful hedge fund millionaire. He was a driver of the Orange Book revolution that has made LibConnery possible. In his speech (available to read in full on the Manchester United Supporters' Trust website) he sets out the crazy economics of British football and points to the success of supporter involvement at, for example, Barcelona and throughout the Bundesliga.

At the moment the Culture, Media and Sport team seem content to let the footballing authorities find a solution to the football debt problem. These are the same authorities who, amongst other things, stupidly signed a contract extension for Fabio Capello before the World Cup. Jeremy Hunt isn't quite standing before an empty goal but not far off. If he becomes the champion of football supporters and is seen to be at the forefront of their demands for change in the way their teams are run, there could be big electoral dividends for the Tories in the North West. I arranged a meeting for Mr Hunt to meet MUST's green and gold protestors in April and I know from that meeting he is sympathetic.

HALFON-robert Final word to Chelsea supporting Tory MP Robert Halfon. This was his contribution to a recent debate on football in Westminster Hall:

"I am a community Conservative, which is why I support moves for co-operative ownership of football clubs and other football institutions. I believe that we must have a democratic revolution that will give fans a greater say in the running of their local clubs. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton mentioned, the Conservative pledge was to reform football governance arrangements so that co-operative ownership models could be established by supporters as part of a wider package of reform of football finance and governance. To adapt what Abraham Lincoln famously said of democracy, I hope that our Government will give football clubs a new birth of freedom, so that football of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."


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