The following piece is in support of our government epetition calling for an independent regulator for football. The petition can be signed here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/268665
We, the undersigned, petition Her Majesty’s Government to legislate for the creation of an independent regulator for football and subsequently to oversee the foundation and implementation of such an organisation.
We believe that the finances and administration of football are in crisis, that self-regulation has failed and that, without a new independent, statutory body, there is a serious risk that clubs will begin to go out of business.
In 2018, Blackpool Supporters Trust launched a similar epetition, following many years of dissatisfaction with the stewardship of the club by its then owner, Owen Oyston. Upon accruing 10,000 signatories, the petition received a government response.
That response said that other bodies were available to supporters to fulfil the function requested by the petition and cited the Independent Football Ombudsman as an example. Yet, by its own admission the IFO is a “part of football’s self-regulatory system.”
The government also claimed that, “Where regulation is being managed by the existing authorities in football to the extent which it is, this negates the desire or need to establish an independent regulator.”
While it may be true that there is currently limited appetite among club owners and league bodies for a new body, it’s unequivocally not true in the case of the sport’s most important stakeholders: its fans. In June 2019, Leyton Orient Fans Trust (LOFT) tabled a motion for the FSA AGM backing a “licensing system overseen by an independent regulator.” This motion received backing from 33 different trusts or supporters organisations, collectively representing tens of thousands members.
The pressing need for action
A year on from the government’s refusal of an independent regulator, the situation for football clubs, especially in the lower leagues, has deteriorated to the extent that we believe the decision needs reviewing.
– Over 10% of EFL clubs failed to pay their players on time at least once in the 2018/19 season.
– On 29th July 2019, Bury FC were prevented by the EFL from starting the season, due to issues surrounding the takeover of the club in December 2018. The current owner has run the club for over six months without satisfying the criteria for the EFL’s own Owners and Directors test.
– In April, Bolton Wanderers FC were also unable to complete their fixtures for the 2018/19 season as the ownership of Ken Anderson collapsed. The club’s players went five months without being paid. Mr Anderson himself had been approved by the EFL despite being previously barred from running any UK company for eight years after eight of his former companies went bust.
These are just a few examples of the increasingly widespread financial problems in football as the gap between the richest clubs at the top of the Premier League and the rest of the game grows ever larger.
The EFL, one of the bodies which should be taking responsibility for resolving the situation appears incapable of grasping the scale of the problem, let alone addressing it, and continues
to insist it is nothing but a ‘competition organiser’.
There is little to suggest a desire for owner-led reform either. Instead, a small number of larger clubs have mooted a breakaway league, while others seek loopholes on spending limits to try and reach the Premier League. (Astoundingly – and with complete disregard for the long-term future of their teams – club owners recently approved a proposal to allow the sale-and-leaseback of their own grounds to related parties to help them circumvent the very Financial Fair Play rules designed to protect clubs from unsustainable spending.)
The game is in the grips of a Wild West mentality, with club owners – many of whom have no long-term connection to the communities in which their clubs are based – pursuing reckless spending that threatens the very existence of football clubs.
The bodies tasked with safeguarding the future of the nation’s favourite sport – the FA, the EFL and the Premier League – stand uselessly by, hobbled by the inability or unwillingness of club owners to agree on the need for collective action to restore some sanity to the sport and ensure that clubs, treasured community assets, are preserved for generations to come.
Football needs to hold up its hands and admit it has lost control. Self-regulation has failed in football.
The future of the game depends on urgent government action. We, the undersigned, urge you to take it.
James Cave / Martin Calladine