By Barrie White, News Correspondent
Football’s role in the ‘Big Society’ was on the agenda as Manchester Grammar School hosted a Conservative Party conference fringe event this week.
The successful independent school’s head of politics Richard Kelly chaired the meeting which had an illustrious panel of MPs, journalists and people from within the football industry.
With an audience dominated by the school’s own highly-regarded sixth-form students, as well as interested parents and journalists, the event was a huge success for Manchester Grammar School – despite the last-minute withdrawal of the Minister for Football and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson.
Mr Kelly, along with members of his department, put together the event and he was able to call upon famous old-boys such as Telegraph columnist Jim White.
Also present was Jesse Norman MP, who is one of the principle developers of David Cameron’s much-maligned pre-election policy of ‘Big Society’.
The panel debated where the concept – which looks for volunteers to provide services such as libraries and care – could fit into football.
As the debate raged on, it became apparent that in the panel’s view, ‘Big Society’ already existed in football as more and more supporters gain control of clubs and there were calls from members of the panel for legislation to make this happen.
Mr Kelly was delighted that the event at his school could have unlocked a whole new way of thinking for the ‘Big Society’ and believes the onus is on political parties to develop this new path.
“The recent history of supporters’ trusts – notably last week’s takeover at Wrexham – gives a new dimension to what the Big Society means,” he said.
“It also suggests that the concept could develop in a way Conservative leaders never envisaged – and in a way they may not find altogether pleasing.
“During Monday’s fringe meeting, it appeared that supporters’ trusts could spearhead a radical and (for some) alarming new form of civic engagement and political participation.
“Indeed, by the end of the meeting, there was a clear sense that a genie had been un-bottled.
“Thanks to this fringe meeting, the Tories may be the only political party to even acknowledge this crucial development. It remains to be seen when – or whether – the other main parties latch on.”
The panel also included Tracey Crouch MP, Richard Sullivan from the Football Association, Supporters Direct representative Tom Hall and another former MSG old-boy Sandip Jobanputra, a spokesperson for Manchester United supporters trust.