Yesterday supporters from our Community-owned club Network gave evidence to the government’s Fan-led Review. The chair, Tracey Crouch MP, and the rest of the panel heard from a number of supporters’ trusts and fan-owned clubs about the big issues to do with supporter ownership.
Supporters spoke at length to the panel throughout the day, and we caught up with a few of the groups to hear about the issues they highlighted which had taken place at their clubs.
“Our journey into community ownership came about after the dream of chasing promotion turned into a nightmare caused by overspending on and off the pitch as the global financial crisis took hold. In 2010 we became community owned and have flourished, today boasting over 1,700 owners in 36 countries, with an annual renewal rate of more than 75%. Our mission is simple – to be an exemplary football club on the largest achievable stage. That means ambitions, within our means, of promotion but also projects that use football as an enabler of community growth.
“We took the, to us at least, logical step of allocating equal playing budgets to our men’s and women’s first team squads in 2017 and have never looked back. Both sides are playing one step higher today than they were before. We now attract players who align their values with ours – our stance on the eradication of gambling ads in football for instance.
“For us, football as a whole has to innovate, think outside of the “we’ve always done it this way” to become more equitable. We want to see greater funding from the professional game for non-league clubs – more money for the Football Foundation to distribute to grassroots projects, we want to see investment and prize money for the women’s game become more equitable and tax breaks/incentives for clubs who move towards a more equitable position, non-League grounds becoming community assets and that elimination of gambling ads.”
“For Exeter City we wanted to demonstrate that community ownership does work and importantly, can be successful, even with the anomalies of wealth distribution and the Elite Player Performance Plan!
“It was important that we spoke on our roots and we must remain a fixture within the community we reside and how, in reality, it’s not possible to own a football club. A bit like a parish church, a village hall, or the local pub: owners are simply custodians of the heritage and the future of the club.
“We also spoke about the challenges of combining the commercial requirements of an EFL club with a very supporter and community focused ethos.”
“From a Chester FC perspective we were delighted to highlight both the challenges and great successes of operating a fan-owned football club at National League North to the panel.
“This included presenting our views and opinions as to what wider football can learn from our increased transparency and community focus, to ensure we as a board and wider club are fit for purpose to represent our supporters and the local community of Chester and surrounding area.”
“AFC Wimbledon called for a complete overhaul of football funding which would see the current parachute payments ripped up. Top of our list was the call to end parachute payments with the money being redistributed to clubs that are run well and pass a new ‘Sustainability Index’.
“This has led to a culture of acceptable unsustainability and has turned the Championship into a gambler’s haven, where owners play Russian Roulette with the future and traditions of their clubs in a desperate bid to get a season in the Premier League.
“There are clubs in that division that pay over 200% of their club revenue on players’ wages alone – that is not only unsustainable but has a huge knock-on effect to the rest of the pyramid as clubs try and play catch up.
“That needs to change and we believe this review offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do that.
“We need to encourage clubs to be run well. The longer the current failed system is in place the more likely we are to see clubs collapse – a scenario we are obviously far too familiar with. The parachute payments should be placed into a central pot and allocated to clubs on the basis of good governance.
“Our proposal to Tracey Crouch, the MP leading the review, was simple. To get a share of the pot, clubs must pass four tests: Real-time financial sustainability; clear and transparent governance; community engagement; and equality standards.
“Then any money received can only be spent on long-term projects that build and embed the club in their local community such as outreach programmes, academy infrastructure and stadium redevelopment. This would ensure that clubs are truly sustainable for generations to come.
- Niall Couper, Dons’ Trust
“Telling the story of Enfield Town to the panel was a very fitting way to mark the day of our formation 20 years ago as the first fan-owned club. It was important to highlight how we have grown the club in a sustainable way to show how the model of a community owned club can be successful.
“I was pleased to be able to stress the community work that we undertake and how the flow of funds from the top to bottom should be improved.”
- Paul Millington, Enfield Town
“We provided the panel some background on our move to 100% supporter ownership in 2016 after our owner announced that he could no longer afford to pay for the running costs of Grays Athletic.
“We laid out the due diligence process we underwent with the FA to achieve the transfer of the licence to play from the private club to the new community club. It was a seven-month detailed examination of our business plan, our medium-term financial forecast and the experience of the proposed directors who were voted on to the board. I suggested this could be extended to many clubs to ensure that clubs had sustainable plans, competent directors and deliverable financial outcomes and that his should be managed by an independent regulator and the FSA should be granted more resources to help clubs move into supporter ownership.
“We argued for specific support from the Premier League from their world-wide TV rights deal – 5% would give non-league and grassroots football over £400 million to help provide new 3G pitches, new and improved grass pitches, as well as better training and coaching facilities.
“We also suggested a redistribution of part of the FA Cup prize fund (in 2019-20 alone, two FA semi-final losers and the losing finalists received £3.6m of the £15.9m total prize fund!). Allocations to specific community projects, again through the Football Foundation, could make a real difference at a local community level for men’s, women’s and disability football.
- Glyn Jarvis, Grays Athletic
How does the fan-led review work?
The FSA’s member supporter organisations will lead dozens of evidence-gathering sessions throughout May and June, at which the advisory panel will listen to their experiences and proposals for improving football governance. An interim report will be made available in July 2021, with the final report published in October 2021. It will cover clubs who compete in the English pyramid system.
The advisory panel will offer specialist advice to the chair of the fan-led review (Tracey Crouch MP) but it will not write the report. In past reviews the involvement of the football authorities gave them a veto on proposals – this review is not structured in that manner. The chair alone will write the report.
- The panel features the FSA’s chief executive Kevin Miles – see all members here.
- You can see the panel’s full Terms of Reference here.