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To begin with it is useful to help set a context for any discussion and debate around the way in which active football fans groups are run.

“Governance” has a range of key elements and applies to virtually any type of organisation and important functions. 

Without getting into a debate about an absolute definition of governance, which may have complexity, the need occurs at anytime a group of people come together to achieve an end or set of ends. The three main dimensions are based around authority, decision-making and accountability. Governance determines who has power and makes decisions, how other players or stakeholders make their voices heard and how account is rendered (Institute on Governance, Canada). 

The IOG is a not for profit, public interest institution that has adopted the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) five principles for good governance:

  • Legitimacy and voice
  • Direction
  • Performance
  • Accountability
  • Fairness.

These are widely recognised, although across different social contexts there can be conflict or overlap and ‘one size does not fit all’ situations. You can read more about them here.

When the issues of governance are raised within the context of football, most attention focuses on administration of the game at international, confederation, national and State levels. Rage against the international governing body and, in particular, its leadership is increasingly including well coordinated grassroots networks and groups with well run communications campaigns including, of course, through social media.

Despite this, the woes of FIFA are leaving many fans around the world with a feeling of 'it’s all too hard' to influence major and radical changes and reforms that are essential in the face of corruption, nepotism, arrogance, poor governance and lack of ethics.

Regardless of the above, committed and forward thinking football supporters are getting increasingly organised in terms of governance, leadership, structures and strategies. 

So where are there some good examples of good governance by football fans groups and how do groups in Australia measure up? The basis for compiling relevant information is from a desktop review and some follow up informal communications with active supporters for a number of A-League clubs. It is important to emphasise this is very much a preliminary look.

We are seeing the emergence of a new movement in Europe with national groups collaborating for the greater good. Football Supporters Europe (FSE)  has diverse representation and in June 2015 held a four day European Football Fans Congress in Northern Ireland. Democratic principles have been embedded into the FSE constitution and structure. The organisation was established as an incorporated association under German law, and includes a management Committee and Co-ordination executive body with members (individuals, local fans groups and national fans groups) voting rights that elect office bearers at the Annual General Meeting (AGM).  Core funding comes from UEFA, European Union programs and voluntary donations/contributions.

FSE provides a highly credible voice in terms of advocacy, lobbying and representation to football administrators across the European jurisdiction and even beyond. 

At the national level, in the United Kingdom we have another very good example of a peak body that is leading advocacy. The Football Supporters Federation (FSF)  is a democratic organisation representing the rights of fans and arguing the views of football supporters in England and Wales. The FSF has a constitution which includes a National Council elected by members (individual and local fans groups as affiliates/associates) at the AGM, which in turn appoints a Board and complemented with staff positions. There are also regional divisions providing members with access at the local level. FSF is a founding member of FSE, works in close collaboration with several partners, and sits on the Football Association (FA) Council as the fans’ representative.

In Australia, from 2001 onwards the Green and Gold Army (GGA) provided a focus for active support of the Socceroos, which worked well for a decade. However, after the 2010 World Cup finals things seemed to begin unravelling. Worrying signs emerged about a loss of intensity and even fracturing of support.

The organisation has been operated as a company by a Melbourne-based board, with reluctance to evolving into an organisation with national representation on a management committee and membership with voting rights.  By 2013, a process was underway where the GGA relinquished their lead role in co-ordinating active support to instead focus primarily on the delivery of commercial football tours, in particular the Brasil 2014 World Cup and 2015 Women’s’ World Cup.

More recently, Socceroos Active Support (SAS) emerged from the ashes of the failed “Terrace Australis” initiative of 2013 which has attempted to rejuvenate support for the national team(s).  From late 2014, an interim working group with representation across four States has worked on practical initiatives to galvanise support, with mixed successes at the recent Asian Cup.

The main aim is to build some momentum in lifting the vocal and visual support in the “home end” ahead of working on governance issues, such as the option of becoming a membership based incorporated association with a constitution for election of office bearers to manage the organisation on behalf of stakeholders.

Amongst A-League clubs active supporters groups there is wide spectrum in terms of competence and pursuit of good governance.  There are seven groups which are structured as not for profit incorporated associations, but not all of these comprehensively communicate how this works, who represents the interests of fans, opportunities to get involved in the AGM and the constitution that sets a context for how the organisations operates.

One of the notable exceptions to the above limitations includes the Central Coast Mariners Official Supporters Club which, as an incorporated association, sets out the Committee, constitution, sponsorship and partnering opportunities for loyalty program, and paid memberships.

The Yellow Fever has been recognised even by rival fans groups as having an impressive track record, structured as a company limited “which aims to make zero profit” by reinvesting revenue back into the game.

The Cove associated with Sydney FC has appointed a public officer under its constitution as an incorporated association. Details on their charter are not readily found on the website but is available via the supporters’ forum

The Squadron and linked to Newcastle Football posts details of its AGM and opportunities for members to be nominated for positions of the management Committee. Despite its relatively small size was one of the first supporter groups to become an incorporated association with office bearers.

The Den within its charter informs the group is a “not for profit operation” and although the website does not indicate it being an incorporated association other sources indicate this is the case.

The Red Army  linking to a Facebook page indicates it is incorporated (other sources indicate as an association) yet no further details about constitution, office bearers, memberships, etc. There is a separate Adelaide United Supporters NSW which aims to become an incorporated association following a General Meeting in June of this year.

The official supporters group for Melbourne City is known as “Melburnians” and yet does not make readily available any detail about its governance or structure. There is a related forum which does not provide further insights.

The Glory Shed Supporters Club sets out a charter, committee members which are elected for two year terms at the AGM, and paid membership opportunities. Within this context, other sources confirm the group is an incorporated association.

The Red and Black Bloc (RBB) is an incorporated association and yet the website does not include any details about the charter, committee/office bearers, AGMs or memberships with voting rights opportunities.

The North Terrace is the main supporters group for Melbourne Victory and yet seemingly does not make readily available public information about its charter, structure and management. Sources indicate there is no constitution, and instead a sort of coalition brings together a number of distinct ‘sub-groups’ with their own identity and philosophy. This is reflected when leaders of these different entities come together to negotiate with the Melbourne Victory club on issues under a charter of understanding.

The summary above as a snapshot is not a detailed or definitive analysis of the current situation across all club supporters groups. Feedback is welcome to build an even better overall picture.

It would appear that Australia’s fan groups has much to learn from other jurisdictions in terms of governance. 

Also, if we were to look at comparisons with other forms of community groups which are often well set up as incorporated associations, we would realise there is much ground to be made up to reach the best levels of transparency, financial reporting, accountability, stakeholder inclusiveness and opportunities for all members to contribute towards even better outcomes.

The challenge is there for football fans groups to ‘walk the talk’. This includes setting the right examples through good governance so they are even better credentialed to be able keep the pressure on international, national and local club football administrative bodies that fall short in critical areas of governance, leadership, policy and decision making.

Good governance and ethics begins with our own backyard at the grassroots level of football fans culture.

Categories: Opinion | Football Life

governance, supporters groups, a-league

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