As I am regularly and frequently in England, I am familiar with the frustration of supporters of clubs such as Blackpool, Leyton Orient and Coventry City to name a few.
There are copious amounts written about the issues for each club which I won’t go into other than, as an example, recount a little of what Blackpool has been through.
Their fall has not just been downhill. It’s been the equivalent of going over a sheer cliff face to hit rock-bottom.
After relegation from the Premier League after one year in 2011, they were relegated again in 2015 and 2016 to League One and then League Two. During this time, the majority owner Owen Oyston, who is a convicted rapist, took an £11 million payment from the club to give to one of his companies – the same year when Blackpool was in the Premier League and Oyston kept player wages at Championship levels. We believe this made Mr Oyston the highest paid sports administrator in the world for that year.
As offensive as that statement is, what further rubs salt into the wound is that there exists a ‘fit and proper person’ test for ownership of an English football club. Mr Oyston is able to bypass this regulation on the basis that his ownership of the club preceded the introduction of the test.
Along with the chief executive of the club, Owen successfully sued a fan for defamation. The fan was a passionate lifelong supporter who was protesting what was happening to his club. The Blackpool CEO is none other than Owen’s son, Karl.
As I read about this unfolding saga, I was simply horrified.
Add to Blackpool’s case, similar issues at other clubs and there’s one common factor that was the source of these problems – some of the owners, and the lack of a regulatory regime around the management and operation of clubs.
Owners who were too greedy and kept the riches generated for themselves, or management who may have simply been incompetent, or people in charge who were more interested in making a quick buck than respecting the history and heritage of a club which is part of the social fabric of a community.
And while there’s a common source of conflict in the ownership and management group, there is also one organisation that can fix it. The FA.
You see, the entire English football system hasn’t kept up with the times. It’s become so big, so successful, such a behemoth, that too much control has been ceded to the lower leagues and there is a lack of regulation and proper overview of what’s going on.
The FA were planning to do something about it five years ago, but the mooted football authority to oversee governance in football clubs never happened.
In talking this over with supporters groups from Blackpool, as well as our friends at Supporters Direct and SPORF, we believe that the FA needs to operate a regulatory regime that has control over who the owners are, that includes a club licensing system, and which has ‘teeth’ – in other words, issue sanctions and take action against clubs that are non-compliant . This isn’t something ‘new’ or out-of-the-box. Such regulatory regimes and tests exist in many other areas that are vital to our community – whether it be the media, financial services or education.
Supporters Direct, SPORF and SKINS believe it is time for football to have an independent regulatory body. One that can not only set but, crucially, can enforce off-pitch regulation. The new body could be financed via a small (eg. 1%) levy on the commercial rights income generated by the leagues.
We are not trying to put the boot in to the FA or any of the leagues. It’s about accepting that there is a problem and proposing a meaningful, comprehensive solution.
We are not about making football club ownership difficult. It’s about giving football’s stakeholders some certainty, surety and confidence.
Football’s number one stakeholders – as I have long advocated along with my colleagues at #NewFIFANow – are fans.
And individual fans have power with their local pollie when it comes to issues of importance to their community.
What we’re asking you to do, in conjunction with our friends at Supporters Direct and SPORF, is to #RiseUp with us and remind your local MP that you are a fan and not a number, and you want reform.
The FA can fix the game, and government can give them the backing and legal power to act.
Here is link to a draft letter to MPs, along with details on how to contact your local MP via a postal code search, if you are a UK resident.
For further information, visit www.fansnotnumbers.org or take a look at our short campaign video here.