FIRST Minister Humza Yousaf has welcomed a Scottish Government initiative which will give football fans the chance to buy shares in their local clubs.

Falkirk Supporters’ Society is the first beneficiary of the fan bank after being awarded a £350,000 interest-free loan.

It will facilitate the purchase of 875,000 shares in Falkirk FC, giving supporters a stake of around 25% of the club and small shareholders around one third ownership, with medium and large shareholders also owning a third each.

Fans who are selected to own a share will have the opportunity to shape the future of their local and favourite sports clubs.

Yousaf said applicants to the fan bank must show a commitment to their local community.

The loan will be repaid over 20 years and is designed to protect the financial future of the club.

On a visit to the club’s stadium on Wednesday, Yousaf met with the board and supporters’ organisation to formally sign the loan agreement.

Yousaf said: “Scotland has some of the most passionate fans in the world, with more supporters per capita attending football matches than in any other European country.

“We care deeply about how our clubs perform both on and off the field, but while fans may have great ideas for how their club should be run, they may not have the funding to do so.

“The Scottish Government’s fan bank will change that and give fans of all sports real power to help influence the future of the clubs at the heart of Scottish communities.

“If fan groups can demonstrate a clear community focus, we believe they should be supported to buy a stake in their local club, and in this instance the fan bank will allow Falkirk supporters to play an even greater role in decision-making at their club.

“Falkirk bring employment and other benefits to the community, and I look forward to seeing other supporters across the country shape their own future through fan ownership and community proposals which the Scottish Government could consider supporting.”

Paul Robertson, executive committee member of the Falkirk Supporters’ Society, said: “We are proud to be the first supporters’ organisation in Scotland to be granted such a loan by a Government body to buy collective shares in our club.

“Falkirk has always been a progressive and forward thinking football club and our greater shareholding will allow ordinary supporters a say in the future direction of the club.

“We are grateful to the Scottish Government for their recognition of the Falkirk Supporters’ Society as a democratic, transparent and worthy recipient of these funds.”