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Book Review: Punk Football - The Rise Of Fan Ownership In English Football

After a summer where ownership has been high on the agenda for Reading fans, the chance to review Jim Keoghan's book looking at fans involvement in club ownership couldn't have come along at a more relevant time.

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While the title of the book conjures up images of the 1970's, mohawks and the Sex Pistols, it's also become a term to describe the growing and fascinating trend of fans breaking away from the established 'sugar daddy' system to take an active role in how their clubs are being funded and run.

The early portion of the book looks at the very nature of fandom, as Keoghan recounts his own early experiences as an Everton fan to help demonstrate how football fans are different from your ordinary business customer.

It's this devotion and often blind loyalty that has led football fans up and down the country to follow their clubs even when those running them haven't exactly had their best interests at heart and Keoghan looks back through the game's history to look at how fans went from being active members running their teams to something more akin to a customer.

Not that this reads like a standard history textbook, it's a fascinating look at how the game has evolved to the point where clubs are increasingly run at a loss and supported only by 'sugar daddies' and the soft loans provided by banks and other institutions.

Which is exactly where the Punk Football element comes in.

Keoghan looks at how fans at some clubs, starting with Northampton in the early 90's, helped take over the running of the club by providing funds and management when the sugar daddies had deserted them.

The book goes on to explore other positive examples, such as Swansea, Exeter and Bournemouth but the 'poster boy' for the movement is undoubtedly AFC Wimbledon and for anyone who's not aware of the back story and the genuinely  heart warming tale of how their fans fought back from seeing their club taken away, should certainly take a look at those chapters.

Yet this isn't a movement that's always had happy endings and Keoghan hasn't ignored those stories either. Stockport's plummet down the leagues while under fan ownership and other painful experiences at Notts County and Brentford are told to show the potential perils and limitations of clubs being solely in the hands of the fans.

The Bundesliga has come in for plenty of praise over the past couple of years and the ownership situation there and in Spain is also covered, to both show how it could work but how the chances of it being adopted over here are sadly very slim.

So we get to the portion of the book dedicated to where sugar daddy owners have got it right and that's where this very website comes in. I was asked to answer a few questions on Sir John Madejski by Jim for the book last year before the Zingarevich deal went sour. I stand by the praise handed out to Sir John for his more than two decades of work lifting the club from third tier to the top but the very fact we've since endured over a year of financial strife shows just how quickly things can change and how dangerous the current system of ownership is when the money man does run out of cash.

So does Punk Football work and could it succeed at Reading? The lessons of the book seem to be that if you do want to progress beyond League One at present,  you sadly do need some form of outside investment as the sums needed to run a competitive football club are just too enormous for fans of a normal sized club to support. Where it works best is at club's like Swansea where the club's fans own over 20% of the club, enabling them to have representation on the board and on decision making but also have the support of outside investors. Likewise former Brighton Chairman Dick Knight is giving away his remaining 9% of shares to fans who can demonstrate their loyalty for a pound each.

While overall control of a club might seem fantastic, for now it seems just as important to get genuine fan representation in the boardroom if only so fans can have their voices heard and be aware of exactly what's going on. If that was the case perhaps we as Reading fans wouldn't have endured such a confusing last year or so.

Overall I can't recommend this book highly enough to fans who are interested in how clubs have, and could be run in the future. This isn't a dull and dour history book, it's a book packed with humour and stories that all fans can relate to, for better or worse!

If I'm being picky, I'd perhaps have liked a bit more exploration on the exact nature of how fan directors have influenced decision making while there may have been a missed opportunity in not exploring the experiment that saw Internet based fans take over Ebbsfleet but that could probably fill a book in its own right.

However those are just minor points and again I'd very much recommend the book to anyone with even a passing curiosity in how clubs are run, rather than just the following side of things.

You can pick up the book from bookstores now or online through various retailers including Amazon.