By Calum Fraser
Jeremy Corbyn has given his support to the Mercury’s Back to the Board campaign.
The Labour leader expressed his frustration at the ways in which many English football clubs have become the “plaything for billionaires.”
We believe that a fan on the board will strengthen links between the club and the supporters, which have weakened during Roland Duchatelet’s reign.
Mr Corbyn said: “Charlton was a very good club. But now it seems to be becoming a plaything for billionaires who are competing with each other.
“You talk to fans from many clubs around the country, the fans feel alienated. We think they should have a say, hence the rights on the board and the right to buy shares.
“What we said in our manifesto last year, which is obviously still police, is that fans should have representation on the board. Also, the ability for fans to buy shares to become participants in the club.
“It is very viable and very good from the point of view of the club. After all it is the fans, that either pay through TV or by turning up at matches, who actually fund this whole edifice that is English football.
“I am interested in the German model where there is much greater fan participation in running the clubs.”
The Islington North MP regularly attends Arsenal matches, and asked if he would come down to a Charlton match, he said: “It depends who is inviting me. If the fans invite me to a game I’ll go. I’ll pay and I’ll go. I love football, cricket and cycling, and politics.”
Mr Corbyn was in Blackheath on Thursday June 7 to support Labour candidate Janet Daby in the Lewisham East by-election, which she duly won.
The Labour leader has several links with South London. His brother Piers Corbyn is part of the Southwark Defend Council Housing activism group and he had friends in Woolwich council during the Back to the Valley campaign in the late 1980s and early 90s.
Mr Corbyn said: “I remember when the club [Charlton] collapsed and the Valley was empty. My great friend John Austin-Walker was then leader of the Woolwich council and he led a lot of the campaign to get resources there for the rebuilding of the Valley. Which he was very successful in doing.”
Mr Austin-Walker was leader of Woolwich council, now Greenwich council, from 1982 to 1987, when he became mayor for two years. He stepped down as a councillor in 1994.
The council blocked plans to return valley which led to supporters starting the Valley Party and standing in the 1990 elections. This party was one of the many successful volunteer projects that fans organised.
Mr Corbyn paid homage to the role that volunteer groups play in football.
He said: “If you look at it the other way round. Football relies largely on volunteers. I was talking to a lady in my constituency who is a secretary of a league. She looks after 200 clubs. Completely voluntary. Her normal job is in waitrose.
“She does because she loves football and loves what it means. Those people provide the facilities for the stars of tomorrow. They’re the people who should be supported.
“If we were in power, we would take funds from premier league teams off them to fund grassroots football.
“The difference between premier league finance and the other divisions is so massive, that it actually creates an elite division that is completely out of the reach of anyone else. There has to be a fairer playing field for all.
“To break into the championship or the premier league, is very difficult without resources to do it.”
Andrew Muir’s Australian consortium had hoped complete their take-over of Charlton last week, but when we went to press this had not happened.