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Scunthorpe United in pre-season action at Glanford Park against Hull City © Alamy

Scunthorpe United shows need for a stronger “fit and proper person test”

Supporters have heard the phrase “Fan-led Review” many, many times now and you might be wondering why it’s still so important, now the immediate threat of the European Super League has receded? 

The answer is that the review was never just about the top end of the game – and ownership shenanigans playing out now at clubs like Scunthorpe United and Southend United spell out exactly why action is urgently needed.

Last week the Government reaffirmed its commitment to the Fan-led Review’s core ideas and we expect to see it included in November’s King Speech with legislation passing through Parliament in 2024.

Here at the FSA we have campaigned for stronger regulation of the game for many years and made sure supporters’ groups across all leagues were able to give their evidence – resulting in proposals which will include an independent regulator with powers to act before clubs are losing the plot financially. 

That’s something we back 100% and it has to go alongside a much stronger Owners’ and Directors’ Test (aka the “fit and proper person test”) to make sure our clubs get the owners they deserve. 

We’re not sure the football authorities can always say that is the case at present.

Scunthorpe United owner – and convicted fraudster

An investigation published this week by The Athletic highlighted serious concerns at Scunthorpe United where someone they say is a convicted fraudster was allowed by the FA to purchase the club. 

David Hilton, who is also alleged to have gone by the names David Anderson and David White, started a two-year prison sentence for fraud in April 2015, according to The Athletic’s forensic investigation. 

It’s a thoroughly recommended read:

It’s worth pointing out that many Scunthorpe United supporters were willing to give Hilton the benefit of the doubt, as previous owner Peter Swann was deeply unpopular, and the club currently sit second in the National League North. Far lower than their historic position but winning games regularly for the first time in years.

Everyone deserves a right to reply and at this point we were going to link to the full statement which David Hilton made via Soundcloud – but it seems to have been deleted. A partial transcript is available via The Business Desk.

Despite previous denials he now admits to serving nine months in prison for fraud and says he paid back £68,000. “It was completely the wrong decision. I’m completely embarrassed by it but it happened,” says Hilton. 

People deserve a second chance in life and Hilton’s conviction is “spent” but that doesn’t mean that anyone with any conviction can walk into any job. There are many crimes which will debar you from many different jobs.

And given the enormous community value of our clubs there’s a strong case that being an owner is one such “job” whereby certain convictions could indicate that a person is not “fit and proper” to own a football club.

The Athletic says that it is “unclear” if Hilton complied with the FA’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test. The form is not publicly available and the FA said: “We are aware of these serious allegations and are looking into them.” 

Mr Hilton has left a number of questions unanswered and the FA and the National League need to respond urgently.

This case clearly shows the Owners’ and Directors’ Test has to be strengthened and enforced by an independent regulator – and it’s not just us saying that.

Last week the Government released A Sustainable Future – Reforming Club Football Governance which started to spell out how the legislation will work.

The review found examples of “unsuitable custodians, including owners with long histories of business bankruptcies, owners with serious criminal convictions, owners later imprisoned for crimes including money laundering”. 

How has football let this happen? 

To tackle these problems an independent regulator will be tasked with implementing a “fitness and propriety test”, ensuring prospective owners actually have the cash they claim to own, while also demanding “robust” financial plans. 

Action can’t come soon enough.

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