The initial findings of the Independent Fan Led Review of Football Governance show that there is an appetite for independent regulators and more fan involvement in club decisions, but this must be legislated, writes Laura Lawrence.
Last week the Independent Fan Led Review of Football Governance released its initial findings, ahead of the full report in October. I think it’s fair to read between the lines of the report and say that the panel members and fan groups are angry with how the same issues in football are repeatedly highlighted but seldom resolved.
So, is it time for legislation to be enshrined that will protect the future of English football?
Tracey Crouch, Former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, has written to the incumbent, Oliver Dowden, setting out what the group believes needs to be reformed.
Finances were always going to be high on the agenda, with the majority of clubs in the top two divisions operating at a year-on-year loss. While football clubs do need to be run as businesses, the overreliance on TV income makes the model unsustainable. The panel expects that as more broadcast companies come to claim their slice of the pie, the ones who will suffer will be the clubs themselves. The letter addressed to Dowden suggests that there will be an ‘existential crisis in years to come unless pre-emptive action is taken now.’
As a football fan who lived through the age of ON/ITV Digital and the collapse of that income stream, it was the beginning of the end. This could just prove to be the end.
The most forceful change in the direction of organisations such as the Football Supporters Association (FSA) has been around regulation and governance. While the FSA were once happy for the Football Association (FA) to regulate every level of the game, there is now a real push for an independent regulator.
The Premier League, English Football League (EFL), and FA do not provide a coherent voice on financial regulation, corporate governance, and ownership of clubs. These organisations remain a merry-go-round of white, middle-aged men who seem to drift back into the game as they please.
Take Peter Ridsdale’s recent appointment to the EFL board as a Championship representative. This is a man who oversaw the financial collapse of Leeds United in the early 2000’s and was disqualified from being a director of any company for seven and a half years after his sports consultancy firm collapsed. Within a year of his ban ending, he had a seat back at the highest table.
Conversations about what is deemed fit and proper in football should start with a frank discussion about those who vote on the governance of clubs and the game.
The fan led review is also keen to protect clubs as heritage assets. Football, as well as other sports clubs, need listed status – much like buildings. While you may own a club, you are more accurately its custodian, and should adhere to stringent standards on what can and can’t be done with it. By registering clubs as Assets of Community Value, this would hopefully protect any future asset stripping like Bury FC.
Without fans football would be nothing. The so-called ‘Big 6’ found out to their detriment that they couldn’t ride roughshod over the fans as if they didn’t exist. Clearer engagement and ‘golden shares’which will provide vetoes for fan groups on selected items are proposed by the panel – the aim being that fans will have a greater say on some aspects of how their club is run.
While I have every faith that the final report in October will be music to all fans’ ears, getting owners and governing organisations to relinquish some of their powers to the fans and to dance to our tune will be almost impossible without legislation to back it up.
Follow Laura Lawrence on Twitter @YICETOR