That Gordon Brown is drawing up proposals to give fans a share in football clubs should come as no surprise. With the connections formed by trade unionism, church or social club having fallen away, support for a football club is one of the few ways left of showing communitarian endeavour and a willingness to belong.
If Brown did not own shares in Raith Rovers, then any spin doctor worth his or her salt would quickly provide them. All modern politicians need a football club: the homily Ed Balls gives about his love of Norwich City establishes him – he thinks – as down to earth, a man of the people, and endearingly quixotic.
Alastair Campbell plays the same card. Yes, he paved the way for the invasion of Iraq, but did you know, he is an avid Burnley supporter? (It's very difficult to avoid knowing, actually.) Before long barristers making pleas of mitigation will be saying things like: "And, your honour, the defendant is a passionate supporter of Derby County, and a lifelong season-ticket holder."
When not used to ingratiate, the identity of fan with team is poignant. Callers to 5 Live phone-ins will say "We showed our quality today", when what he really means is "I sat on my bottom and watched other people show their quality". When the conflation is taken further, and the presenter congratulates a caller ("Well done Derek, you played really well today" – though it is unlikely Derek is capable of running a hundred yards let alone playing professional football), this is because he has sacrificed much of his life to the sedentary pursuit of watching football.
He has entered a virtual or shadow world, and I feel that many of the fans who want to take over their clubs have done the same. Let's say they get 25% stakes ... what then? In the case of the bigger teams there'll still be 11 millionaires on the pitch, most – like the manager – foreign, with little connection to the town. While the grip of some creepy plutocrat might have been lessened, the town – if it is typically provincial – will remain a bleak, demoralised place in hock to the shareholder value of global conglomerates; where the life of the centre has been leeched away by hideous superstores; where investment in industry has given way to the supply of Americanised coffee, call centres, or some other activity lending no identity.
The centre of world iron-making was once on the banks of the Tees in Middlesbrough. Today there's a great expanse of ashy nothing, with just one new enterprise in place of the old: the Riverside football stadium, which for most of the week stands silent and isolated like an upturned and abandoned ship, because, despite the efforts of Rupert Murdoch, the game can't be played around the clock. (It can be talked about around the clock, of course – provided you repeat yourself every 10 minutes, as Sky and 5 Live do).
When James Alexander Gordon reads the results at 5 o'clock on Saturday, the former identity of the town or city flares briefly in my mind. When he says "Nottingham", I think lace; "Stoke", potteries, and so on. But then I'm 47 and with a retrospective frame of mind. Before long, the names of many of our provincial cities will evoke nothing but the team, and this is the problem, not the solution. I urge all those energetic, engaged people who want to take charge of their clubs to look beyond the touchline and take charge of their towns: stand for the council, fight the corporations, campaign for co-operation in the workplace, blog about how the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism has all but killed provincial Britain, and become an active member of the party you think most likely to reverse the trend.