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Pitch battle: Probe into giving football fans greater power in the running of their club

AN EXPERT panel has been appointed to investigate how fans and communities can become more involved in running Scottish football clubs.

The working group has been set up to look into the issues of team ownership in Scotland and examine their relationship with supporters and communities.

The Supporter Involvement in Football Clubs group has been formed following high-profile financial problems for some of Scotland's oldest and biggest clubs, including Rangers, Hearts and Dunfermline.

Last week it emerged that Hearts moved a step closer to coming out of administration after the club's biggest creditor Ukio Bankas approved a sale of shares to a company headed by businesswoman Ann Budge. The 66-year-old will become executive chairwoman "on a no-fee basis" before transferring ownership to the Foundation of Hearts within five years of gaining control.

Rangers fans have long called for representation in the Ibrox boardroom.

Dunfermline officially exited administration at the end of last year, after a fan-backed Pars United group took control.

Experts say clubs got into financial trouble by paying high wages on the back of lucrative television deals that are no longer around. Now it is the fans who are picking up the tab as some clubs run close to the wall.

The panel of experts looking into the clubs' structure is being chaired by Stephen Morrow, senior lecturer in sport finance as the University of Stirling.

Mr Morrow said: "As has been well documented, a number of Scottish clubs have faced severe financial problems in recent years. In several cases these problems have arisen out of, or are being exacerbated by, clubs' ownership and governance structures, which in practice have marginalised supporters and communities.

"The working group provides an opportunity for all of those involved in Scottish football to reflect on these key issues of club ownership and governance.

"In particular, its aim will be to identify how best to improve supporter and community involvement to ensure that clubs have every opportunity to be viable sporting, social and business institutions."

The working group will be tasked with looking at ways to improve supporter involvement in the governance, financing, oversight and operations of professional football clubs in Scotland.

Membership of the group will include representatives from the Scottish Football Association, Scottish Professional Football League, Supporters Direct Scotland and sportscotland.

The Scottish Government will provide secretariat support to the group but will not be involved in proceedings.

Shona Robison, the Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport who announced the formation of the group said: "Never before have football clubs, both large and small, faced so many challenges. This is the right time to look for a better way forward for all involved in Scottish football. A club is more than pitches, building and facilities. Football clubs are about more than the players, the coaches, the history and even the fans.

"A football club is all of these things and more and this needs to be represented in the ownership and governance of clubs.

"Stability is important for the business and community of a club. There is no easy solution to complex issues but this group, through a thorough examination of many ideas, will help us find sustainable ways to improve the health of Scottish football for the conceivable future."

The first meeting is expected to take place next month with a final report due late this year or early next year.

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