If this con­fe­rence room in the Bath Hilton were a film set, with its psy­che­delic pat­terned carpet, what kind of scene would be played out here? Would we wit­ness a decisive moment, as events come to a dra­matic con­clu­sion and the little people join forces to stick it to The Man? In fact, that would be a scene typical of a film by Ken Loach.

The face of the club: Ken Loach

Indeed, it is Loach who is cur­r­ently giving inst­ruc­tions for the evening’s events. Tables are being placed on the podium and chairs are being pushed around. Pic­tures have been taken down and replaced by a large Bath City flag han­ging on the wall. But the softly-spoken Loach, who will soon turn 80, is not direc­ting on a film set, or tel­ling a camera crew what to do. No film stars are expected to make an appearance and Loach himself is not a director who has been weighed down with awards. Yet he made Loo­king for Eric”, one of the best foot­ball films of all time – and dis­co­vered Eric Cantona’s acting talents as well.

Right now, Loach is pri­ma­rily a fan of the Eng­lish sixth-divi­sion foot­ball club Bath City. And his ambi­tion as a fan is to buy the club – but not on his own. Loach is the most pro­mi­nent repre­sen­ta­tive of the Big Bath City Bid”, and tonight is all about that bid. Those involved want to raise nearly one mil­lion pounds from as many people as pos­sible and use that cash to buy a 75% majo­rity share of the club. This would enable them to change the struc­ture of the club to a demo­cratic set-up where every member has a vote.

Decades of work in pro­gress

While the feed­back from the spea­kers is making Loach rather uncom­for­table, tou­rists stroll through the crowded town centre out­side. They are fasci­nated by the Roman baths and the famous sand­stone Gre­go­rian archi­tec­ture. Bath is a beau­tiful city, deser­vedly listed as a cul­tural heri­tage site, but the foot­ball club is dying a slow death. City has always been a true non-league club, exis­ting out­side the four pro­fes­sional divi­sions and without a glo­rious history to look back on. But in common with many clubs in Eng­land, today’s modest exis­tence does not seem to have much of a future to look for­ward to.

Just a few hundred spec­ta­tors ven­ture down to the sta­dium, which actually should be a tou­rist attrac­tion in its own right. Anyone who fails to appre­ciate the charms of Twerton Park must have a heart of stone. The ground has been put tog­e­ther pie­ce­meal over eight decades and harks back the time before the rise of inter­ch­an­ge­able, all-seater arenas. The main stand con­tains sky-blue seats from Maine Road, the demo­lished former home of Man­chester City. The dark blue seats oppo­site were ori­gi­nally used at Fil­bert Street, where Lei­cester City used to play. They were then bought by Ches­ter­field, before making the move to Bath for the princely sum of one pound per seat. Time has stood still else­where in the ground too. The dres­sing rooms could pass for the set of a foot­ball film from the Fif­ties and the VIP areas radiate the shabby charm of the 70s and 80s

Twerton Park is part of the overall pro­blem

As magical as the cob­bled-tog­e­ther sur­roun­dings may be, Twerton Park is part of the overall pro­blem. Paul Wil­liams manages the sta­dium from a dusty office under­neath the main stand. Typi­cally, the owner of a club is the bad guy in any story about a fans’ take­over bid, but Wil­liams has as much in common with an Abra­mo­vich figure as the National League South does with the Cham­pions League. Nine years ago, the former accoun­tant paid about 65,000 pounds for nine per­cent of the club, and received a whole load of extra work in return. The pen­sioner is here five days a week in the summer and six days a week during the foot­ball season. The other owners are also local busi­nessmen who would not be unhappy if the fans’ bid suc­ceeds with their fund­rai­sing initia­tive

That would at least show, that there is inte­rest in kee­ping the club alive”, said a tired-loo­king Wil­liams. He’s been kee­ping the club going for a long time and the figures just don’t add up. The top ear­ners in the first team pick up nearly €2,000 a month, and most players are on €600 – 800. These are not enor­mous amounts, and no wages are paid during the close season. But run­ning costs for the sta­dium are high and the club makes a loss of about €150,000 every year. The total debt has now reached one mil­lion Euros. The pro­blem is not acute as the value of the land on which Twerton Park stands is worth a lot more than that.

But of course if the club sells the sta­dium, it’s all over – there is simply nowhere to build a new ground in this pro­spe­rous city.

There are too many pro­fes­sional and semi-pro­fes­sional foot­ball clubs in Eng­land”, says Wil­liams. There is some­thing to what he says: 54 mil­lion inha­bi­tants need to sup­port over 100 clubs, whe­reas Ger­many has just 70 clubs fit­ting that descrip­tion, and 80 mil­lion inha­bi­tants. Little wonder that bankrupt­cies have become the norm in Eng­lish foot­ball. In the lower pro­fes­sional leagues, and the grey area bet­ween pro­fes­sional and ama­teur foot­ball, over 100 clubs have gone to the wall in the last 30 years – and some of them more than once.

No pos­ters adver­tise upco­ming matches

Most of the smaller clubs were better off before. Bath City’s crowds at the end of the 80s regu­larly reached the 2−3,000 mark. Local com­pa­nies got involved and ever­ything just seemed to work. If you walk through the city today, there is vir­tually no sign of the exis­tence of a local foot­ball club with a great sta­dium. No pos­ters adver­tise upco­ming matches, and the staff in the sports shops can barely con­ceal their amu­se­ment when asked if stock Bath City mer­chan­dise, poin­ting to the racks of Pre­mier League shirts. Arsenal, Man­chester United or Chelsea kits are all rea­dily avail­able.

In the mean­time, Ken Loach has finished his pre­pa­ra­tions for the evening’s event. His hands are tucked into the pockets of his baggy jacket and he seems con­tent – the stage is set, the infor­ma­tion brochures have been laid out, and ever­ything is ready. Loach has lived in Bath since 1974, and has had a season ticket since then too. The over­bur­dened Wil­liams is not the reason for the club’s woes, Loach is sure of that. The vil­lain of the piece is the Pre­mier League and the dri­ving force behind it. That’s capi­ta­lism, isn’t it?”, snig­gers the left-wing veteran, as if he were sur­prised at the effi­cacy of simple Mar­xist ana­lysis. The irony of capi­ta­lism is just this: Com­pe­ti­tion kills com­pe­ti­tion, because it leads to a mono­poly”. The is true within the Pre­mier League, where four or five clubs mono­po­lise the top of the table. And it is true for the league as a whole, which draws the whole country into its orbit. It squeezes the life out of the smaller clubs because the media pre­sence of the Pre­mier League is so powerful that local kids don’t wear a Bath City shirt: they get one from Arsenal or Man­chester United.”

Fans‘ move­ment

Loach has not aban­doned his dreams of a better world, even for foot­ball. Once you have unders­tood the system, it’s not about frus­tra­tion but about ploughing your own furrow”, he says, before decla­ring that the revo­lu­tion starts here”. A little laugh at once dis­pels any mental images of Loach lea­ding the revo­lu­tio­nary masses to over­throw the system, proudly bran­dis­hing the club’s black-and-white banner

For Ger­mans to fully under­stand this fans’ move­ment, it is necessary to see the dif­fe­rences bet­ween a club in Eng­land and one in Ger­many. The German FA demands that every club has its own youth foot­ball sec­tion, but Bath City does not have one. An asso­ciated cha­ri­table trust that sup­ports kids’ foot­ball – Bath City Youth – and their players wear Bath City kit. There is also an aca­demy based at Bath Spa Uni­ver­sity, where the club’s only full-time employee works. Bath City simply does not make finan­cial sense – and tur­ning this situa­tion around is the main driver behind the bid

Tim Mou­rant and his friends are enthu­si­astic about the bid. We are the young fans”, he grins, as these thir­ty­so­me­things aren’t really young any more. Ken Loach dubbed this group the choir” as they start up songs and chants on the covered ter­race oppo­site the main stand. During the week, they meet in a pub near the ground to play Sub­buteo.

The Pre­mier League is the vil­lain for them too: It has turned into a monster”, says Mou­rant. But this monster doesn’t impress them much – they easily knock back ques­tions about why the follow a club from the sixth divi­sion by trot­ting out some tales of amu­sing trips to Weald­stone and Chelms­ford. It’s not just about the foot­ball for us.” They enjoy their jour­neys around the small towns of Eng­land, and spen­ding time with oppo­sing fans.

Pro­mo­tion is a dream

But that is not to say that the fans of Bath City don’t yearn for suc­cess. Last season, they were a spot-kick away from a trip to Wem­bley, losing out on pen­al­ties in the semi-final of the FA Trophy. And having started this season with seven wins on the bounce, they are drea­ming of pro­mo­tion to the Con­fe­rence National. None­theless, the big­gest dream right now is to be become a member of their own club.

Even someone like Phil Weaver can’t do that at the moment. The 67-year-old former music tea­cher still scales the floo­d­light pylons at Twerton Park if a bulb needs repla­cing. A huge bunch of keys hangs from his belt, signi­fying his role as an unof­fi­cial caretaker at the ground. There are still some people who vol­un­teer to help out and receive no pay,” he says – for example, the ste­wards or the team behind the match day pro­gramme. But maybe there would be many more hel­pers, if only the club could change too

Sup­port your local club

Weaver is also atten­ding the evening’s event at the Hilton hotel. There are about a hundred people pre­sent: local poli­ti­cians, busi­nessmen, social acti­vists and the fans from the popular side. All that’s mis­sing is young people, once again. The ent­rance of a ten-year-old boy, accom­panying his father, is almost a cue for cele­bra­tion. Just that after­noon, Loach had said that people are mis­sing out on so much: iden­ti­fying with your local team and players from your town is a much more per­sonal expe­ri­ence than just buying a shirt with Messi on the back.”

On the stage, he now declares that Bath City is part of a move­ment. The number of clubs in Eng­land that belong to the fans, or to their mem­bers, is gro­wing. The best-known new clubs, such as FC United of Man­chester and AFC Wim­bledon, or the Ports­mouth that is reinven­ting itself after insol­vency, prove that there is ano­ther way. Bath City really would write a new chapter in the history of foot­ball clubs, as the move would not be born of despe­ra­tion at a hos­tile take­over, uproo­ting of the club to a new town, or bankruptcy

The Pre­mier League doesn’t have anything to do with foot­ball any­more”

One member of the com­mittee plan­ning the fans’ take­over was a com­mer­cial manager at Hull City until he quit that post last year, angered by the attempts of the club’s owner to change the name to Hull City Tigers. The Pre­mier League doesn’t have anything to do with foot­ball any­more,” grum­bles Nick Thompson. The other panel mem­bers on stage, inclu­ding a well-known TV pundit and a jour­na­list, nod in agree­ment.

Comments from mem­bers of the public are not slow in coming, and these make it clear just what the bid means to people. For all con­cerned, it would mean no less than just doing the right thing. Twerton Park needs to be become a lively place to go, for all mem­bers of the club. The sta­dium could also become the focal point for social pro­jects, inclu­ding the resi­dents of the sur­roun­ding areas. The club would also con­cen­trate more on youth foot­ball, as well as the women’s team and the dis­abled players’ team. And the first team would benefit from playing in front of bigger crowds – which would in turn help to stoke civic pride in Bath, some­thing that has lar­gely been the pro­vince of the city’s rugby team.

Just one dream: their own club

Ever­yone in the room is drea­ming those dreams that they have always had but it is abundantly clear that their uto­pian vision is pretty much nor­ma­lity for German foot­ball fans – they want not­hing more than their own foot­ball club, a Fuß­ball­verein’.

Two weeks later, the dead­line for the bid has passed and they are €650,000 short of the target. So the dead­line is extended to the end of the season… this revo­lu­tion will need a bit more time yet.

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Trans­la­tion: Philip Men­ne­brö­cker