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Fan-led Review: non-league fans have their say

Yesterday supporters from fan groups in the FSA’s National Game Network covering non-league football 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 groups about the big issues throughout the non-league pyramid.

Supporters spoke at length to the panel, as well as representatives from the FSA, and we caught up with a few of the groups to hear about the issues they highlighted which had taken place at their clubs.

“It was a privilege to present to the review panel and fellow non-league supporters groups around the need for strengthened owners and directors tests throughout the football pyramid and how improved governance should not just be about clubs but also the league’s they are part of.

“Too many avoidable situations have occurred in non-league over the years whether that be poor and reckless ownership or the asset stripping of club grounds. All this needs to be stopped.

“This review has given a chance to input our views to shape the change of football governance for the better and to protect our much loved community assets.”

  • Rob Street, Billericay Town Supporters Society

“We started the meeting by providing a detailed outline of the Dulwich Hamlet’s recent experiences, along with the context of how the trust and the club board have worked closely to overcome threats to the club’s existence and achieve transparency and good governance. Our presentation emphasised some of the key themes emerging from the Fan-led Review so far, including the role of fans in the running of clubs, the facilitation of structured dialogue and the potential for a fully-funded, independent regulator.

“In a first for the evidence sessions, representatives of the supporters’ trust were joined by the club chair, Ben Clasper, leading the panel’s head Tracey Crouch MP to note how positive it was that trust and club were standing side-by-side rather than at loggerheads, as she has seen in other cases.

“Building on this, Ben explained how proper governance at the club is about roles and skill-sets rather than individuals and the recognition that there is more to be gained through transparency, communication and collaboration than not. We also discussed whether a model similar to that at Dulwich could be replicated at bigger clubs higher up the pyramid and how that could be best supported.

“We also discussed, given the current issues at National League level, whether there was a role for the league to bridge between non-league and league clubs. We agreed from both a club and fan perspective that protecting the structure of the league system was important but that clubs needed the support that looked at the system holistically – supporting teams going up as well as coming down the ladder and re-appraising restrictions such as those on alcohol sales and 3G pitches, which currently act as significant barriers to progress for some clubs. A well organised and supported National League would be crucial for those clubs operating in the margins.

“Finally we discussed how best to support and promote effective fan engagement alongside club governance. The experience Dulwich has had is perhaps unusual, with a knowledgeable and capable trust being able to invest in the club (both financially and in terms of the time and skills of volunteers) and to take an active role in the running of the club thanks to the willingness of the club to work in collaboration. This can be made easier for all clubs with more comprehensive and properly enforced standards for structured supporter engagement at club and national level.”

  • Tim Scott, Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust

“In 2018, through our independent View from the Allotment End fanzine, and with support of the FSA, we helped to champion North Ferriby fans’ interests when a new opportunist owner tried to steal our club’s identity (at Step 3) by changing its name and relocating it to another ground, near Hull, where he had a commercial interest.

“The FA rejected this but with poor governance, antagonistic community engagement, and mounting debts the club sadly folded. Fortunately, a previous owner returned to establish a phoenix club and bring a sustainable future. The former club’s ground is owned by the parish as a community asset, held in trust. This proved beneficial in the formation of the new club.

“It should, however, have never needed to come to this. Proper oversight at the point of sale to the problem owner, including a requirement for sound business planning and a code of practice, could have averted the club’s demise. Structured engagement with fans to explore options and help transition the club to a sustainable level, with the support of intermediaries, could have also helped greatly.

“Whilst we do not have a fan-owned stake in the club, we consider that it is run sustainably and benefits the community. Plans to convert the club to a Community Interest Company will further enhance this.”

  • Matthew Kempson, View from the Allotment End fanzine (North Ferriby)

“Macclesfield Town FC Supporters Trust told the panel how the combination of the deliberate actions and behaviour of a single owner combined with the indifference and lack of Governance in the EFL to deal with bad ownership led to the liquidation of their football club.

“The owner was allowed to be sole manager of affairs and through opaque financial management of a viable, very low spending club ended up with £2.2m debts after 11 High Court winding-up orders.

“We also pointed out how the EFL and a distorted disciplinary process, combined with an orchestrated campaign by senior figures in EFL clubs, focussed on removing Macclesfield Town from the EFL because their owner embarrassed the EFL and its unfit, self-regulated governance.

“In the whole process the fans, players and employees were rendered impotent by the owner and the EFL. Many points where the FA or EFL could have intervened were identified.

“In the future there should be regular independent review of club management in which all stakeholders’ – fans, owners, PFA, communities, employees – views are heard. There must be independent, external scrutiny of the EFL, critical assessment of its owners’ club structure and an enquiry if clubs fail. We endorsed the FSA’s restructuring plans.”

  • Robert Wilson, Macclesfield Town Supporters’ Trust

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