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Protest football club Dial Square FC: Who are they and why did they form?

BY Taymour Khashoggi

17th Oct 2022 Sport

Protest football club Dial Square FC: Who are they and why did they form?

Some disillusioned fans of one of the UK's biggest football clubs, Arsenal, have started their own "protest club" to counter commercialism within the game

In October, 1886, a group of workers from a munitions factory in Woolwich decided to form a football team. In the 136 years since, that team has become one of the most successful in the country. Now, a group of disgruntled fans have decided to start from scratch.  

A little before 2pm, the chatter of 100 or so people accompanies an unassuming cohort of players onto Alwyns Lane’s modest pitch. It’s a Saturday like any other in Chertsey, about 25 miles south west of London. A far cry from the boisterous chants that are simultaneously echoing around the glitzy 60,000 person filled Emirates Stadium, but these contrasting crowds share a defining characteristic: A love for Arsenal Football Club. Or rather, what Arsenal should represent.  

The protest club's history

Loyal fans agonising over their beloved clubs’ circumstances is nothing new, especially at Arsenal, a colossus of the game with oscillating recent fortunes. Some grievances however, transcend tactical debates or gripes over player form. For many, elite football’s incessant quest to optimise revenues, its prohibitive ticket pricing, and the relentless monetisation of the sport have gradually nudged them into apathy. Stuart Morgan is one of the hundred or so fans gathered to watch Dial Square FC, the “protest club” he founded when his disillusionment with the club he spent his entire life following reach an apex.

“There was actually a lot of talk online amongst Arsenal fans regarding how they felt about the modern game. Some even mentioned starting a breakaway club. I had personally just had enough of the corporate and global commercialism within the game, and with the fact that Arsenal had become a casualty of this process. I felt it was compromising its principals, not to mention neglecting the fans along the way.”

Dial Square FC

Dial Square FC

“Dial Square” was the name originally given to Arsenal in early October, 1886, when a group of munitions workers gathered to form a football team within the Woolwich Arsenal Armament Factory. They referenced the imposing sundial that dressed the factory’s façade in naming their team. In 2020, after losing all hope in elite football’s ability to cure itself, Morgan borrowed this signature piece of Arsenal nostalgia to start afresh.

“Some people have criticised the project because they think Dial Square is something Arsenal fans should join while also turning their back on Arsenal. That is complete nonsense. It is a football club for Arsenal fans. It must be said that I have noticed Arsenal really trying to reengage with their fans recently, so that is a positive, but here at Dial Square, we allow fans to have so much more of a say and control of matters.” 

"Loyal fans agonising over their beloved clubs’ circumstances is nothing new"

Though Arsenal boast a trophy-laden history and a sizeable fan base across the country, fan discontent was palpable and reached a boiling point in April 2020. Results were flagging on the pitch, and the club announced that they would join a newly created breakaway competition, the European Super League (ESL). This closed league would feature a collection of Europe’s preeminent clubs and have no possibility of relegation out of it, or promotion into it, thus guaranteeing revenues for its participants in perpetuity. High stakes and genuine competitiveness would be foregone, in favour of a share of the sky-high TV broadcasting revenues such a competition would garner. After 48 hours of fan protests and wide-ranging condemnation, the competition was scrapped.   

Already over a year into the Dial Square journey, Morgan was both vindicated and dismayed. “Not a single thing has changed (since the ESL). There will be no change in the modern game and no change in the structures. That is clear as crystal. We are just concentrating on ourselves and will make things better for our fans. They're our most important commodity.” 

The present picture

In recent months, Arsenal’s on-pitch results have improved massively, and the team’s renaissance has translated into a more positive feeling amongst fans. They currently sit top of the Premier League, and their much-maligned owners have been lauded for improving their previously lacking communication with fans. However attentive owners are towards their fans, Morgan argues that the ownership structures themselves prevent genuine inroads from being made. For Dial Square, reimagining those very models with fan ownership at their centre, was paramount.

Dial Square FC footballer

Dial Square FC

“We have a company called 'Dial Square FC Enterprise' (DSFCE), which currently has a 15 per cent shareholding in the football club. This will increase as the club rises up the non-league pyramid. Eventually, when support is bigger and we are at the level that will require more funding, DSFCE will hold control of the club.”  

Fans are encouraged to buy memberships in DSFCE for a fixed fee of £90. Ownership gives members an equal say in crucial club decisions, ranging from a change in the team’s kit colours to a complete relocation of the club. 

"Morgan argues that the [traditional] ownership structures prevent genuine inroads from being made"

“They can bring anything to the club. DSFCE should hold board meetings and communicate with its members regularly, so they can formulate items they want the club to implement. It's pretty flexible.”  

The European Super League debacle in 2020 led to an influx of applications from wannabe fan-owners, virtually all disheartened Arsenal fans. Dial Square FC went from having a few dozen fan-owners to 140 at their peak.  

Other protest clubs

This latest attempt at a “phoenix club” will draw inspiration from previous success stories within the English game. In 2005, Manchester United supporters formed FC United of Manchester as a response to “changing kick off times for the benefit of television, soulless all-seater stadia (…) heavy handed stewarding and ridiculously priced tickets.”  

Chertsey Town FC

Chertsey Town FC

Wimbledon FC supporters had responded similarly two years prior, when their club was transplanted 60 miles north to Milton Keynes to become Milton Keynes Dons, despite vehement opposition. Fans formed AFC Wimbledon, and would see their team rise the footballing ladder to reach League One, the English third division, by 2016.  

"More actions than words are required before fans’ voices are meaningfully heard across elite football"

Currently competing in the eighth-tier English football, Dial Square FC have lofty ambitions of their own. While the systemic issues that push fans towards “protest clubs” are getting increasing attention, Morgan admits “more actions than words” are required before fans’ voices are meaningfully heard across elite football.

“I think if they truly shared those feelings, efforts to help wouldn't feel so laboured. Once we reach non-league football, Step 6 and above, we will review the stadium situation within London, to see if a ground share is available. Then, way into the future, we would look to building our own stadium at our final resting place, a place fans would vote for.” 

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