Getting your fair share

Want to buy a stake in your club? Need to check whether it's worth what you're paying, or 14,975 times less? Or just keen to know if they're going out of business? Ian Plenderleith takes stock of online football finance

Proving that the internet may still be the last refuge of scam merchants, WSC was re­cently sent a link to a website called Framed Share that allows fans to buy smartly framed single share certificates in football clubs. “In the past only the richest football fans could afford to be a shareholder in various football clubs and have their say in how the club is run,” says the blurb, as if we had just emerged from an era when only the wealthy had the nous to pick up a phone and talk to a stockbroker.

However, this new site “enables fans to buy a single share in a range of top clubs, and it’s proving really popular with loyal fans”. Al­though supporters only buy a single share in the club, the site claims: “They still receive the same shareholder rights as multi- million pound shareholders. They get annual reports, perks and have the chance to vote at sharehol­der meet­ings.”

Well, that doesn’t sound bad, although you wonder what kind of “perks” this involves. A black-glassed stretch limo to take you to the shareholder meetings, perhaps? And football club shares are cheap, right?

Not at FramedShare, which would stretch the loyalty of the most bovine fan with prices for a single share in clubs such as Charlton, Mill­wall and Sheffield United starting at a cool £34.95, and moving upwards to the Harrods-esque sum of £85.95 for a piece of West Brom (couldn’t you get some of their players for less than that at the end of last season?). Still, I’m sure the (diamond-studded?) frame they come in looks very nice.

If you want to see how much these shares are actually worth, then track down the Bell Lawrie White Football Shares Index, usually available as a pdf file, which at the time of wri­ting in late August revealed that the Birmingham City share priced by FramedShare at £34.95 is available on the market at 15p. Even the most crooked dealer wouldn’t be taking a commission of several thousand per cent, frame or not. Watford’s and Millwall’s shares, meanwhile, are priced so low that you could buy 14,975 of them for the price of a single share at FS. Just framed, or stitched-up too? Best to follow the advice underneath the index that states: “Prices can be volatile and investments may fall – you should seek advice before investing.”

A fine independent web page that follows business developments in football can be found at Charlton fan Wyn Grant’s regularly updated Political Economy of Football, “pro­vided as a service to fans, journalists, students and others interested in the business side of football,” and covering both the UK and the world.

Grant writes up a handy summary of the annual Deloitte & Touche review of football finance, offers his own comments, and keeps ahead of news events such as an individual club’s annual report (“Villa Losses Mirror Poor On-Pitch Performance”), television-deal dev­elopments under EU law, the status of struggling clubs (“Notts County survive, but Wimb­ledon in trouble”) and the ongoing at­tempts to investigate the elusive financial af­fairs of Ken Bates, peppered with information such as the fact that every penny Chelsea earn­ed in qualifying for the second phase of the Champions League in 1999-2000 was used to cover interest payments on the club’s debts.

Another worthwhile site in this arena is Soccer Investor. Although few of us are likely to invest money in a football club with the aim of a serious payback, such sites provide val­uable information about the precarious financial state of the game and the majority of its clubs. Some of Soccer Investor is subscription only, like its swanky print publication Soccer Analyst, but you can browse daily news stories and regular features while those bargain- base­ment club share prices roll along the bot­tom of your screen.

You could also do worse than head to the web­site of Supporters Direct, the body established to help fans set up their own representative bodies “based on democratic, mutual and not-for-profit principles”. Not only will they give you advice on having supporters elected to the board of directors, they’ll tell you how to acquire shares to pool the voting power of individual supporters – ultimately the best way of putting yourself, and your shares, in the frame.

From WSC 201 November 2003. What was happening this month