THE scenes of anguish at Bury and of relief at Bolton Wanderers last week presented in microcosm what it means to be a football supporter. For Bury fans, among the anger and fear at seeing their club expelled from the league, there must also have been unyielding pangs of frustration at their utter helplessness. That the people who care most about a club can find themselves in a situation where they are unable to save it in its darkest hour is cruelty beyond belief.

Football’s history books are littered with tragic tales like this one of reckless owners who tried to cut corners, tried to squeeze a little bit extra profit when it wasn’t there and held off paying their bills just that little bit too long. And, just like every business, that approach can only endure for so long before the numbers no longer add up and a club goes to the wall.

The harsh reality is that fan ownership remains the only guaranteed way of securing a club’s long-term future. There are different models and different ways of getting there. Many clubs have only turned to their supporters in times of financial crisis. Others have had the luxury of proactively taking on the responsibility of owning their club. Regardless of how it has come about and how it is administered, at its core the same principle applies universally: these are clubs owned by the people, for the people.

Football clubs are more secure under this model because it removes any doubts regarding the motives behind any boardroom manoeuvre. Everything is done with the best interests of the club in mind. It immediately alleviates any suspicion that there are alternative and underhand moves afoot. Trust and transparency are both key tenets of community ownership.

In many ways it is a return to the origins of football when clubs were established by a cluster of local people – businessmen, benefactors and others – with a view to creating an entity that would serve and represent the community around it. Many clubs, in fact, remain at the centre of that community.

In the subsequent century and longer, however, the ownership model has changed dramatically. Some clubs are still run by good-hearted local people. Others, though, have become merely another part of a wide-ranging business portfolio, snapped up by faceless corporations whose only interest is in the balance sheet rather than the team sheet. That vital bond with the supporters and the local community that was at the heart of all clubs dating back more than 100 years has become stretched and, in many cases, broken completely.

Fan ownership, in contrast, not only looks to maintain that connection but strengthen it. Supporters become members, making a regular financial contribution in return for a direct say in how their club is run. In many cases the socialist, co-operative principle of “one person, one vote” applies. Everyone has an equal stake.

In most cases, the fans will not directly run the club. That is often a myth propagated by opponents of the concept, a scaremongering claim that someone can scream their face off at a match on a Saturday calling for the manager to be sacked then have the power to do so on a Monday.

Professional organisations working with million-pound turnovers require experienced business, legal and administrative experts to make the right decisions on a daily basis. Members, though, will still retain control, electing those people they deem fit to run their club in the most appropriate fashion.

Fan ownership is also more than the club. It offers the chance to extend a hand to the wider community, to make the stadium a hub for building relationships with local people, charities, businesses and other groups. It goes far beyond simply what happens on the pitch at 3pm on a Saturday. It is a sense of wider responsibility and belonging, with the club at the centre of it.

St Mirren are one of a few Scottish clubs progressing down the route to fan ownership, with the St Mirren Independent Supporters Association (SMISA) set to take overall control within the next six or seven years.

In the meantime, as well as influencing club decisions via a member-elected director on the board, they are busy building links with the Renfrewshire community. Local groups can apply to use a block of season tickets for matches – allowing those who maybe can’t afford to attend a game to go for nothing – while a quarterly ballot gives members the option of voting to support projects such as a wheelchair viewing platform at the stadium as well as the club’s youth academy and women’s team.

Little surprise, then, that advocates of fan ownership are keen to extol those community values, an ethos endorsed by none other than Bill Shankly. “The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards,” the legendary former Liverpool manager once said. “It's the way I see football, the way I see life”.

Fan ownership is the realisation of Shankly’s vision – everyone working for each other and having a share of the rewards. That opportunity came too late for Bury. But hopefully it can provide a lifeboat for other clubs similarly heading for the rocks.