We sat down with Emilio Abejon, the general secretary of the Federation of Fans and Shareholders of Spanish Football. We talked about Villar, safe-standing and the problems facing Spanish football fans.
1) What is the Federacion de Accionistas y Socios del Futbol Espanol? How was it created and what are its objectives?
FASFE is the Spanish network for socios’ associations, shareholders and clubs that are owned by their fans. We were born in 2008, a result of the union of small minority shareholders and fan groups, and since then we’ve been growing, reaching 26 member associations and clubs. At FASFE we believe football clubs are social and cultural entities, not businesses. For this reason we believe they need to be set-up as democratic association entities and not as capitalistic entities with profit goals centred around “selling”, forgetting the social dimension of the sport. Our action focuses on two main areas. On one side, we work with the owners and directors of the club for our fan ownership and on the other we try to preserve the social dimension of our sport and the manifestations of fan culture.
2) So the federation has 26 members from all over Spain. What are the advantages of being a FASFE member for them?
Our members are fan associations and/or small shareholders and fan-owned clubs that are doing great things for popular football, both on the sport side and social side. We help our members with legal services and administrative tasks, from activities marketing or the defense of supporters’ rights when they are vulnerable and under attack, which is something that happens more and more often in Spain. But our most important task is promoting fan participation at all levels in football clubs and institutions.
3) In France, in England and in Scotland the fans face many different problems. What issues do fans face in Spain?
A lot of our issues here in Spain are also faced in our neighbouring countries. In Spain the fans have lost their voice in the process of commodification of football, a process happening everywhere in the world. This loss of influence can be seen in different ways which negatively affect our supporters and our way of imagining football. One of these problems is the obligations for clubs to be established as SAD (Anonymous Sport Enterprise) which eliminates democracy. Another problem is the growing repression of the traditional “stand-culture” which led to the loss of civil rights in our stadia, because of the very aggressive legislation used, officially, to fight against violence. Another problem is the major financial instability of our clubs, run with a short-term vision which aims to satisfy the investors, putting at risk the future of the club (more than half of professional clubs in our country have risked or have gone into bankruptcy in the last decade).
4) We recently talked to the ANS, your equivalent in France. L’ANS and FASFE are both members of SD Europe. What can you learn from your international partners?
Since 2008 we’ve worked with the SD Europe network, and without a doubt it has been a success. During these years, we’ve learned from our neighbours, their problems – that like I said are similar to ours – and how they face them. We’ve learned that there are countries where the power of the fans in clubs is much bigger, and how that creates better football for all and these are examples for reform that would be suited for Spain.
5) A lot of fan groups in Europe ask for safe-standing stands, which allows supporters to watch games standing up. Is it the same in Spain?
Watching football standing up is part of most of Spain’s stand-culture. At the moment, all safe-standing stands are completely banned in professional football in the country. Here at FASFE, we believe that it would be very important to change the legislation, because safe-standing stands would have positive consequences. Not only it would allow anyone to see the games standing up without putting yourself in danger, but it would also allow ticket prices to be affordable to fans with smaller financial means, allowing then to follow their team. Which is a complicated issue here in Spain in many clubs.
6) Spanish football is the best in term of pure football results. But the prices seem to be normal, compared to other countries for example. However, are you worried about the future?
Yes we are. As I said, ticket prices are worrying us actually. They are throwing out from our terraces the people that are economically struggling the most, who are paradoxically the ones who’ve supported their clubs the most. Independently of the injustice that this expulsion of the traditional fans represents, this price policy puts in danger football’s survival as a popular show but also the survival of the stands as a place of transverse social encounters.
7) You also have the Villar case, a worrying one. What do you think are the consequences for your association?
The Villar case is another proof that staying too long in a position of power is pernicious in all sectors. In the case of Spanish football, his mandate of almost 30 years meant the establishment of clientelist policies, along with the use of our biggest national football institution for personal goals. Today, the Spanish Football Federation is an institution with a 30 years delay compared to Spanish society as a whole and suffers from an opaque, sexist and non-democratic management. We hope that the recent election of a new president, Luis Rubiales, will bring change. We believe that one of the first steps that he should take is to include representatives of the fan groups into the General Assembly.
8) Finally, the classic question from us at the Million Seater Stadium: what are the future goals for FASFE and what can we wish for your organisation?
Our short-term plan is to create a new legal category that allows and promotes democratic and inclusive clubs that respect fan culture. We believe that football has a huge potential to be a positive social actor and that the mercantile tendency that has arisen in the last decades is slowing the development of that potential. More participation from the fans is needed to develop it.