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Fan ownership in modern football - the Israeli model

FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon and Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem are all professional football clubs.

The one thing that sets them apart from the rest of the football world is that fact that they are owned by their supporters.

While you may recognise the first two clubs listed above, it is the latter that's in the spotlight here.

Katamon is the first club in Israel under fan ownership. 

The city of Jerusalem is known for its biblical significance to all three major religions. The city's main religion, however, is the game of football.

Rivalry

In the past, there were two major football clubs in Jerusalem: Beitar and Hapoel. Both teams would battle it out in the Israeli Premier League, and the rivalry was second to none.

That is, until Hapoel Jerusalem were relegated to the second division in the late 90s, a fatal blow from which the club had problems recovering. These problems grew bigger as time went by, and the rift between the club's supporters to its owners deepened.

In 2007, a group of Hapoel fans headed by journalist Uri Sheratzki decided they'd had enough. Their non-stop battles with club owner Yossi Sassi grew tiresome, which led to the trying to find a potential buyer.

When that initiative failed, they tried to buy the club themselves. Sassi made negotiations impossible for the fans, who went on to start their own football team.

The group approached Hapoel Mevaseret Zion, a third divison team, in an effort to take control of the club and change its name to Hapoel Katamon, in memory of Hapoel Jerusalem's old stadium loacted in the Katamon neighborhood. Their offer was accepted, which signalled the start of a new era.

Fantastic atmosphere

The club's debut season took place in 2007-2008, with 1,000 season tickets sold. Despite enjoying great crowds and fantastic atmosphere, the team failed to win promotion to the second division, missing out by a single point for two seasons in a row.

The club's board of directors, made up of seven members, decided to try to renegotiate a deal with Hapoel Jerusalem's owner Sassi, in order to join forces at the end of the 2008-2009 season. However, when he refused, the fans decided to form a brand new team starting in Israel's fifth division, this time calling it Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem.

And so, the 2009-2010 campaign began with one intention in mind: promotion. A change in fortune saw Katamon promoted at the end of the season, and the fans were absolutely delighted. A second consecutive promotion followed. As a result, Katamon are now playing third division football.

There's been plenty of bad blood between the two clubs over the years. The boiling point came when Hapoel Jerusalem's captain, Shai Aharon, decided to make the switch and sign for Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem. The 32-year-old striker is something of a local legend, and is currently captaining Katamon.

One of the club's most prominent supporters is Jonathan Cohen, a leading sports journalist working for the Sport 5 network. 

Membership programme

"The club has a special membership programme that includes a season ticket, entry to a weekly fans forum and two club meetings, in which they recieve the club's financial reports as well as getting to choose the board members," he said. "In addition, they get a vote on certain matters presented to them by the board.

"Fans looking to have a real say by joining the programme have to pay 1,000 Israeli Shekels (approximately £175) per annum. The club currently has 500 members."

Two key factors behind the way the club is financed by the fans are the membership programme and season ticket sales - but the fans' influence goes beyond that.

"Our initiative's true power comes from the fact that the club has 500 people who are looking for sponsors and investors at all times," said Cohen.

"Our board members have been selected for a reason. It gives them a vote of confidence, so that when they have to make difficult decisions or unpopular choices, they can do so.

Apprenticeships

"If they can't agree on a certain matter, then they turn to members for a public vote. The club's founders have used the models of other fan-owned clubs, including FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon, for research, and even spent time with club officials from those clubs."

He added: "At the end of the day we're all Hapoel Jerusalem fans. However, the club is being destroyed and holds no future, which is why Hapoel Katamon was created, as a way of raising awareness.

"We are just looking to give the next generations a chance to support Hapoel Jerusalem, though that may not be possible if things stay the same.

"Whilst currently not viable, I'd love to see Katamon's current management system replicated at Hapoel Jerusalem."

By Daniel Nussbaum


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