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Elite clubs continue to oppose reform – but the time for action is now

One year on from the Fan-led Review of Football Governance a new report by its chair Tracey Crouch highlights just how football would benefit from its recommendations. Tracey explains below why the time for action is now…

Tracey Crouch MP CBE – Chair of the Fan-led Review:

If a week is a long time in politics, a year is certainly a long time in football. Some incredible football has been played. Manchester City won the Premier League, Liverpool won the FA Cup, Forest got promoted back into the top flight after 23 years and we saw a record £1.9 billion in summer transfer fees. And for the first time in my life a senior England team won a major trophy in Euro 2022 setting a final game attendance record across men’s and women’s football.

In November 2021, I wrote that ‘there is a stark choice facing football in this country. Build on its strengths, modernise its governance, make it fairer and stronger still at every level, or do nothing and suffer the inevitable consequences of inaction in towns and cities across the country – more owners gambling the future of clubs unchecked; more fan groups forced to mobilise and fight to preserve the very existence of the club they love and inevitably more clubs failing with all the pain on communities that brings.’

One year on this statement remains true and action to implement the recommendations of the Fan Led Review of Football Governance (FLR) remains imperative. Stark examples of some of the ongoing problems in the game, including the sanctioning of the then Chelsea owner and the problems at Derby County that threatened its existence, show that there is no room for complacency.

Cross-party support

However, the positive reaction of so many who love the game to the need for reform has been incredibly encouraging. This, of course, includes the Government who in April 2022 accepted or supported all the strategic recommendations of the FLR. It includes both the current Prime Minister, who committed on the campaign trail to implement all recommendations of the Fan Led Review, and the Labour Party who have also committed to do so. I am confident in my belief that the cross-party support for reforms which will deliver a long-term platform for success of the game at all levels will at some point happen.

But football, of course, does not belong to politicians. The support for reform from groups including fan groups, academics, numerous club owners and others shows the importance of the game and the opportunity to make things better. The genuine efforts by the FA to achieve reforms to its constitutional set up – often in the face of stern resistance from those with a vested interest in the status quo – should be applauded and are a good start to the much needed FA reform. The EFL has also introduced new financial control bodies, and it is to be hoped that these will aid EFL clubs.

Some clubs had also taken the opportunity to embrace reform of their own fan engagement. Working in close collaboration with fan groups, clubs, including Liverpool, Manchester United, Cambridge United, Doncaster Rovers and MK Dons, have adopted new measures to improve fan engagement. The close co-operation with fan groups evidenced to deliver these reforms show that clubs and fans can collaborate effectively. They are not natural enemies.

Self-interested voices

Of course, not everyone reacted positively to the report. Being accused of being a Maoist by one over-exuberant club CEO was certainly a novel experience for a lifelong Conservative! However, some loud self-interested voices within the game have continued to thwart the football authorities’ own attempts at meaningful reform, to the detriment of fans without whom football would be nothing.

Where there have been positive developments in the last year they offer a tantalising glimpse of what might be achieved when the FLR recommendations are implemented in full. Those recommendations were never set out as an à la carte menu. Better regulation and corporate governance will lead to clubs being run more sustainably, which will also allow increased distributions down the pyramid without fear that such money will be wasted.

The issues identified and the need for such reforms are clearer than ever. But I am more optimistic than ever and look forward to the upcoming publication of the government White Paper on football reform and the legislation that will follow it.

As ever, I thank fans, as individuals or through their supporters’ groups, for their dedication and commitment to their clubs and to the long term positive vision for reform.

Tracey Crouch MP CBE – Chair of the Fan Led Review of Football Governance

What did the Fan Led Review propose?

  • Governance: an independent regulator for football (IREF) which has the necessary investigative and enforcement powers is needed to prevent the recurrence of such developments as the European Super League.
  • Finance: football’s model is unsustainable with too many clubs making losses. Pre-emptive action is needed and a regulator will impose stronger financial controls.
  • Engagement: proposals to embed democratic supporter organisations and engagement within the heart of domestic football.
  • Heritage: football stadiums, club badges, location, colours and competitions all deserve special protections. Fans to have a veto on these assets at every club via a “golden share” which is held by a democratic, legally-constituted fan group. These protections confer many benefits of ownership without supporter groups being required to raise capital.
  • Reform: half of the FA Board should be made up of independent non-executive directors, to reduce elite club influence. The FLR also recommends reform of the FA Council.
  • Distribution: the removal of restrictions on FA spending meaning more money redirected towards grassroots, non-league and women’s football.

Download the full report (Nov 2021) here…

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