A BILL giving football fans the right to buy their football clubs has passed a Holyrood committee.

The amendments to the Community Empowerment Bill were signed off by all members of the Local Government and Community Committee and will now be refined before going to vote in the Scottish Parliament.

The proposals were put forward by Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who described yesterday as “an extraordinary day for Scottish Football”.

The bill means that supporters’ trusts will have the first right of refusal if their club is being sold or going into administration. It also gives trusts the right to bid for the club at any time if a majority of the supporters back it.

Johnstone said: “Football has been dragged from the back pages of Scotland’s newspapers to the front by a series of catastrophic failures, from small clubs like Gretna to clubs at the very top like Hearts and Rangers.”

“The current model of ownership has failed, and we know from Scotland and elsewhere that fan ownership works. Fans are obviously going to be the people with the long-term interests of their clubs closest to their hearts.”

In a survey conducted by the Scottish Greens, 95% of those questioned believed fans should have the right of refusal if their club is being sold, and 80% believed they should have the right to buy at any time.

Three Scottish clubs are now majority fan-owned – Stirling, East Stirlingshire and Clyde – and several more clubs including Hearts, Hibs and Motherwell are moving towards the model.

“There are many well run Scottish clubs in private hands, but those owners come and go and when they go, we want to see fans have the first right of refusal,” Johnstone said.”

The fans group BuyHibs is working with club chief executive Leeann Dempster to purchase shares which would give them a 51% control of the club. The Foundation of Hearts is in the process of buying shares from current owner Ann Budge and aims to have purchased a majority of the club within five years.

Andrew Jenkin, head of Supporters Direct Scotland, worked closely with all three fan-owned clubs in Scotland as well as Dunfermline Athletic when they achieved community ownership after the future of the club was in danger. Jenkin backed yesterday’s announcement saying that it could be a “game-changer for Scottish football”.

Jenkin said: “Supporters Direct Scotland was set up to support fan ownership of Scottish clubs, and we believe a well-constructed right to buy could be a game-changer for Scottish football. We welcome the decision of the committee today in agreeing unanimously to these proposals and congratulate Alison Johnstone on her continued work on supporter involvement in Scottish football.”

“Using our considerable expertise and experience in this area we stand ready to help the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Professional Football League and the Scottish Government to further empower football fans in Scotland in the running of their clubs and ensuring a long-term future in Scotland,” he added.

Dave Scott, campaign director for anti-sectarian group Nil by Mouth, said: “We welcome such strong cross-party support for Alison’s proposals for greater fan control and ownership of their clubs, and feel that this could be an exciting opportunity for the silent majority of fans to find their voice and use their increased position to bring about the real changes required to bring the Scottish game into the 21st century.”

Stuart Duncan, a former director of Greenock Morton, said: “I’m very excited at the prospect of fans being given the right to buy. Clubs provincial and otherwise are community assets as shown by Greenock Morton who now have a vibrant and highly successful community trust – a fan-led initiative – which is, in their own words, “the heartbeat of Inverclyde”. These community assets are best protected by people who have the club as the hub of the community at heart – fans.”

The right-to-buy proposals would move the Scottish game into line with the German ownership model. The “50+1” rule means that fan-based groups must own at least 51% of a club.

Local government minister

Marco Biagi said that if the Scottish Government supported the legislation it could lead to real changes for fans.

“Affirmative procedure for the development of the details, with the aim put in the bill, would allow consultation with the wider football community, it would allow consultation, as appropriate, with the parliament, and it would ensure that we don’t just endorse the principle but we ensure that any legislation we introduce we get right,” he said.

The bill will come to parliament in the later stages of this year.