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Governance

There’s no set definition of a club in crisis but fans know it when they see it – if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Clubs with an endless stream of unpaid creditors and fall outs with HMRC. Owners who react to fan protests with self-defeating threats. Media calls for FA action. Player wages going unpaid.

Even within a club’s own fanbase not every single supporter will comfortably accept the label but there comes a point when everybody knows, including the football authorities.

The easy part is identifying the clubs in crisis and analysing their problems but the tricky bit is finding ways to fix the problem.

As supporters we see football clubs for the uniquely special entities they are: history, importance to the local community, decades spent going to games with friends and family or taking your own kids.

But legally they are businesses and they exist within the laws of the land. 

We see an unscrupulous owner running our beloved club into the ground. The law sees a business owner making his or her own decisions about their own investment and won’t intervene, as long as they follow the laws of the land and pay tax.

The FSA has lobbied the Premier League and EFL for years, but the problem is these are member organisations owned by the clubs (or the club owners) and they resist outside “interference” as owners see it. Or rules as fans see it.

The body who should be the ruling regulatory force in this country is the FA. Yes, the national team is important, and county FAs do a lot of good work to keep grassroots football ticking over, but the FA should also be the overarching regulatory body who can protect our clubs.

It’s a role we’ve been encouraging them to take for some time, and we recently presented an extremely detailed policy paper to the FA board which outlines exactly how that can be done. This course of action has Parliamentary support from many MPs.

What the FA needs to do

Our proposals to the FA rest on two key principles.

  1. The significance of football clubs must be properly recognised. These are not just ordinary businesses, whatever the law might say, and if you are involved in the football industry you must recognise that. Clubs are cultural commodities, the biggest expression of community identity in our country, with loyalty built up over generations. They should be afforded levels of protection in keeping with listed buildings or conservation areas. It is not appropriate to treat them as if they were supermarket or mobile provider.
  2. Massive conflicts of interest exist within the game and they must be removed. The Premier League, EFL, and National League are effectively member bodies for football clubs and supporters don’t accept that self-regulation works. 

Regulatory decisions should be taken by people with a suitable level of independence, with support from external expertise where needed, to avoid the conflicts of interest which currently exist. The FA is the best placed organisation to do this and should be the game’s regulator. 

Beneath these core principles we have made a series of proposals to the FA including a new Code of Practice on the Stewardship of Football Clubs. 

While the FA, Premier League, EFL, and National League have all taken steps in recent years to protect clubs, their actions are too often undermined by the actions of a small number of renegade owners.

The Code of Practice on the Stewardship of Football Clubs would set out new guidance for clubs (and owners) on a range of issues which have caused problems over the years – name changes, playing colours and badges, stadium location, and training facilities.

Prospective owners should outline business plans that demonstrate their capability to run a football club sustainably, in accordance with the Code of Practice and its requirements to engage with the club’s supporters and other stakeholders.

Crucially, proposed owners shouldn’t be allowed to use shares in a club to raise funds to complete their purchase. This restriction would avoid repetition of recent examples where new ownership has seen significant new debt loaded onto a club, rather than the new owner.

Owners should also have to deliver a bond to the FA which the owner forfeits if the club failed to honour wages, tax commitments and so on. Proposed owners would continue to be subject to current checks and directors should face their own separate checks.

If our proposals are put into force and implemented there’d be a significant reduction in the number of clubs in crisis. Without real action the supporters of those clubs will continue to suffer.

The damaging actions of a small handful of rogue owners overshadows the good work at the majority of clubs and reflects poorly on the game’s commitment to good governance. 

We want those good owners to stand up and be counted alongside supporters when these proposals are debated by the football authorities – it’s in all our best interests.

Next steps

Our proposals have been presented to the FA Board, a first for a supporters’ group, and we have continued to try and gather support within the football and political worlds. In the coming weeks and months more actions will be announced which we hope to engage supporters’ groups with.

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