The ‘Last Chance Saloon’ is finally closing its doors and it now seems inevitable that English football will face fundamental reforms, following a far-reaching review of how the game is run.
Former Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, has delivered her initial verdict on the state of the game and as many expected, she is heading towards changes on an industrial scale.
Ms Crouch and a panel of experts have spent two months gathering the views of supporters, clubs, participants, leaders, academics and administrators as part of the Government’s Fan-Led Review of football.
Fans protests spread across the country after proposals for a European Super League were revealed, but they quickly broadened into wider criticism of football governance
‘I and my predecessors as Sports Minister often stood at the Despatch Box and claimed that it was the ‘last chance saloon’ for football to reform itself,’ Ms Crouch, who is a qualified FA football coach, wrote in a letter to Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden.
‘It is with some sadness that I note they didn’t heed those warnings and that therefore it is time now for external assistance.’
The politician, who served in the Cameron and May governments covering the sport brief, added: ‘It is absolutely evident from our sessions that the football authorities have lost the trust and confidence of the fans as have, in a number of cases, clubs themselves…
‘This continuing lack of coordination significantly reduces my confidence in the football authorities being able to successfully address the problems identified.’
MP Tracey Crouch leads the government’s ‘fan-led’ review of football and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will receive her final report in October, with ministers prepared to legislate
And in her interim report, Crouch has revealed she has reached one firm conclusion already: ‘In order to protect the future of key aspects of our national game a new Independent Regulator for English Football is needed,’ she stated bluntly in the first paragraph of her letter.
The final report, which is due in the autumn, will include detailed recommendations for Government, which must then decide what measures to adopt. However, Ms Crouch has been pretty clear where it is headed and Mr Dowden has previously indicated he is looking forward to seeing it and expecting to act.
While the need for an independent regulator is the headline of her half-way house report, Ms Crouch, a Spurs fan, has highlighted some significant issues she is also minded to address in the months ahead.
The power grabs of the most powerful clubs have led fans and politicians to call for change
She is determined to lock-in mechanisms that prevent the re-emergence of European Super League plans, or other break-away projects. The ill-judged scheme unleashed the fury of football fans, whose protests quickly broadened to include how clubs are managed and the game is run.
Subsequently, 142,000 people signed an online petition calling for an independent regulator for football.
The ex-minister has been assisted in her deliberations by an all-star cast of Roy Hodgson, Clarke Carlisle, media executive and chair of the Women’s Super League Dawn Airey and Everton CEO Prof Denise Barrett-Baxendale, as well as Kevin Miles of the Football Supporters’ Association.
Manchester United fans have led calls for changes to the supporter ownership model for clubs
In her letter, the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, pledged to investigate diverting agents’ levies to the grassroots game, giving the FA more freedom in how to spend its surplus and allowing League Two teams to make use of artificial pitches to help generate revenue.
She will develop proposals for the introduction of a fans’ ‘Golden Share’ to provide a veto on key decisions such as a club’s badge, colours, location and the competitions it participates in, as well as suggesting the absorption of the Vanarama National League into the EFL.
And while concerned about parachute payments for clubs relegated from the Premier League, which she thinks distort competition, Ms Crouch is yet to settle on a solution and ‘strongly’ urged the top flight and EFL to ‘seek a viable achievable solution’ themselves.
Demands for a new regulator for football have been widespread among fan groups
After 100 hours of oral evidence, 70 documents of written evidence and 16,000 responses to an extensive online survey, Crouch was clear on the key challenges.
Among them she identified the financial mismanagement of clubs, the flow of money through the game, fragmented views on what needs to change and how to achieve, plus insufficient progress on issues such as equality, inclusivity and diversity.
‘The dangers facing many clubs across the country are very real with their futures precarious and dependent in most cases on the willingness and continuing ability of owners to fund significant losses,’ said Ms Crouch.
‘When this is multiplied by poor financial controls, reckless behaviour by owners and an unwillingness of the authorities to intervene the results are clear – as can be seen from the recent fates of Bury and Macclesfield. Historic and much-loved clubs going under. Loyal fans bereft and communities decimated.’
Ms Crouch and her colleagues will now work through the details of their recommendations.
However, she set out the scope of the proposed independent regulator, which includes controls over financial and corporate governance and club ownership.
More specifically, the review would like to see cost controls at a club level, real-time financial monitoring, inclusion of independent and non-executive directors on boards, further tests for owners and directors, as well as a licensing model and further fan engagement to protect against future Super League plans.
There seems little doubt that Ms Crouch will pull no punches when the final report is delivered.
‘I believe this is the opportunity to address some of the very real challenges facing the English game while at the same time building on its many strengths to make it stronger still,’ she concluded.
Stating somewhat ominously for the existing authorities, the Premier League, EFL, FA and National League: ‘This is just the start.’
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