The biggest fan-owned football clubs in the world

There are plenty of billionaire owners in world football these days, but there are also some clubs who prefer to keep things a little closer to home and give fans the control.

Newcastle United are the latest fanbase vying to take back control from their owner, Mike Ashley, by purchasing a stake in the club, but history has shown us that such a decision can either work out perfectly or lead to disaster.

Let’s take a look at some of the most famous fan-owned clubs around.

Things behind the scenes at Manchester United weren’t great at the turn of the century, and they only got worse when the infamous Glazer family bought the club in 2005. That was the final straw for some fans, many of whom broke away to form their own team, FC United of Manchester.

Inserted into the tenth tier of English football, FC United made it as high as the sixth tier in 2015 and they have been kicking about in non-league ever since.

What started off as a bunch of tired fans who had grown frustrated with United has since become a genuine football team with a women’s setup as well. They might not be strutting about in the Premier League, but at least the owners are a popular bunch.

Wimbledon FC’s move to Milton Keynes to become MK Dons in 2003 did not go down well among some local fans, many of whom chose to stay put and create a new team to support.

It’s a similar story to that of FC United, but what sets Wimbledon apart is how successful they have been. Thrown in at level nine, the Dons are now flying high in League One.

In their debut season at that level, Wimbledon came up against MK Dons, and they actually went on to secure a 2-0 win. Karma.

One of just four sides in Spain’s top tier to still be owned by its members, Athletic Club have been doing things their own way for a long time now.

Because there is no sugar daddy funding the club, Athletic have focused on developing talents from inside the Basque region and will only sign players with local roots, and while that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it has proven to be anything but.

Athletic are genuine powerhouses in Spain and have never been relegated from the top flight. They’re playing by nobody’s rules but their own, and they are absolutely loving it.

Another of those Spanish sides to still be fan-owned, Barcelona are example of what can happen when things get a little out of control.

A problem with Barcelona’s methods is anyone hoping to become president of the club must be able to find 10% of the club’s worth as some form of a deposit. Current president Joan Laporta needed £108m before he could take office – something your Average Joe obviously can’t afford.

It means that while Barcelona’s ‘socios’ can vote on who controls the club, they only have a finite number of rich, elite candidates to choose between. It’s a business, but without the legal name.

With power handed to the bigwigs, Barcelona fans technically control their club, but they vote away their power whenever they bring in a new president.

Barcelona might have lost their way when it comes to fan ownership, but German giants Bayern Munich still know what they’re doing.

The Bundesliga’s famous 50+1 rule means that teams must remain majority owned by fans (barring the odd exception), but instead of settling for 51% fan ownership, Bayern have been as high as 75% recently.

Fans focused on achieving results on the pitch, and Bayern have grown and grown into a self-sufficient, rich powerhouse of European football as a result. No glitz, no glamour, just trophies.

Exeter’s relegation to the Conference in 2003 was too much for the Exeter City Supporters Trust to bear. They had watched their side be run into the ground by poor owners, and they decided to step in.

The Trust bought a majority share in the club and managed to keep them afloat through fundraising activities, until an FA Cup draw with Manchester United gave them the income they needed to finally put their feet up and relax.

Now with an elite academy, Exeter haven’t made it any higher than League Two, but to fans, that’s irrelevant. Their club is alive and that’s all that matters.

Since 1993, Brazilian law has allowed private ownership for their football teams, but a select few have rejected change and continue to fly the flag for their supporters.

The likes of Santos, Flamengo and Palmeiras are all part of that group, as are Brazil’s most successful club of all time, Sao Paulo.

With six league titles and three tastes of Copa Libertadores glory, it’s hard to say it hasn’t worked out for them.

Rangers aren’t entirely fan-owned, but supporters group Club 1872 are the second-largest entity in the boardroom, so they get more than just a say when it comes to how the club is run.

Born out of a mutual frustration towards former management, Club 1872 saw a number of fan groups put all their money together to purchase a stake in the club, and as support has grown, so has the group’s spending power.

They already have the best part of 11% of the shares in the club, and the hope is to keep picking up more over time.

For more from ​Tom Gott, follow him on ​Twitter!

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