July 23 – English football needs an independent regulator and a “golden share” for fans to protect the game, former sports minister Tracey Crouch has recommended, following a fan-led review into governance issues in the sport.
Crouch came to her preliminary findings after her panel, including former England manager Roy Hodgson, heard over 100 hours of oral evidence from various stakeholders in the game across the football pyramid, including fans, leagues, the English FA and clubs.
“I have stated publicly that there is a strong case for a new independent regulator, and I have heard nothing in evidence that has dissuaded me from this view,” wrote Crouch. “Football clubs are not ordinary businesses. They play a critical social, civic, and cultural role in their local communities. They need to be protected.”
What the remit of such a regulator would be is unclear, but Crouch’s letter suggest a narrow role, focused on detailed enforcement of financial and governance rules for individual clubs.
Crouch wrote that there was much to celebrate in the game, including the FA’s diversity work and the development of St George’s Park, but she pointed at some of dangers that will threaten the long-term sustainability and viability of the game’s ecosystem.
“The short-lived threat of the European Super League jeopardised the future of the English football pyramid,” wrote Crouch. “While that threat has receded – for now – 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.”
“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 [financial collapses] of Bury and Macclesfield. Historic and much loved clubs going under. Loyal fans bereft and communities decimated.”
The review has proposed some solutions to the game’s current ills, including giving a “golden share” club vote to a democratic supporters’ group over fundamental “heritage” issues, including ground relocation and changes to club badges, colours and competitions. Those decisions are largely symbolic, but fail to truly democratize the game, even if the letter goes on to say that the panel will “explore measures to mandate greater fan engagement”.
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