The Government needs to take urgent action to “save professional football as we know it”, says Damian Collins MP, the influential former chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
The shock of COVID-19 has hit all clubs but it is especially devastating at clubs with already fragile finances who rely on season ticket sales and gate receipts for the vast majority of their income. That revenue has reduced drastically in the past few months.
Collins proposes a bailout for clubs who need it – but they don’t get something for nothing.
In return a Football Finance Authority (FFA) would be created by the FA and backed by government funding. The FFA could provide finance to clubs to help them meet short-term operational liabilities but could not be used for transfers or infrastructure spending. The FFA would include representatives from clubs, players, and fans.
The funds would be exchanged for minority shareholdings of between 10% to 49% and independent directors would be appointed to club boards. Supporters’ trusts may be the nominating body and the director would be subject to approval by the FFA.
These independent directors would then have a responsibility to report back the FFA and they would have the power to place clubs who continue to break financial rules into administration.
A local supporters’ trust can then be invited to purchase the shareholding at a reduced rate, repaying public investment and moving the club towards a shared fan ownership model.
“A benefit of the scheme will be the gradual move towards a German model – where communities own 50% of their local club – therefore ensuring that they cease to be a rich man’s plaything and instead start to look and behave like the social institutions they in fact are,” says Damian.
“We want to see a lasting solution to the previously existing problems of unsustainability, and so we see our proposals as going hand-in-hand with more permanent solutions already tabled by the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) around the regulation and governance of football.
“The government already has a manifesto commitment to a ‘fan-led review of football governance, which will include consideration of the Owners’ and Directors’ Test’; the COVID-19 crisis gives greater urgency to an area of concern already crying out for action.”
The core proposals are in keeping with FSA beliefs – supporters should be at the heart of governance change, fan ownership is a realistic aspiration at many clubs, and that the FA has a role to play in protecting our historic clubs.
Malcolm Clarke, chair of the FSA, said: “The necessary restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic have made government support for football clubs – a vital part of our communities and culture – an urgent necessity. We welcome the call for that assistance to be both prompt and linked to future sustainability.
“Football now has a unique opportunity to reset and adopt new ideas, which not only secure the short-term future of clubs, but help them thrive in the seasons ahead.
“These proposals would be a huge step in the right direction and chime with the FSA’s core beliefs – that fans have a key role to play in football governance and ownership models.
“The idea of an independent unit, embedded within the FA, which exists to protect clubs is an idea we’ve championed for some time. It receives our full support.”
You can read Damian’s full proposals, which have been drafted in conjunction with Sunderland AFC co-owner Charlie Methven, here.