Friday
Apr202012

Why football governance matters

Supporters Direct's Kevin Rye on why the governance review is another missed opportunity for football

"If you look across sport, it is very clear to me that football is the worst-governed sport in the country, without a doubt."

Hugh Robertson MP, Minister for Sport and the Olympics, January 2011 

Football was given its most recent chance to reform as a result of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee review of Football Governance, last summer. The report provided some pretty radical thinking on the big issues affecting our game.

The report was the result of pledges secured by the Trust movement in the Conservative manifesto and the Coalition agreement. In their October 2011 response, the Government supported the the Committee’s recommendations from, threatening legislation if the authorities failed to act strongly enough.

The areas that were of greatest concern to the Committee, and Government, were:

• Reform of the FA

• Club Licensing

• Supporter Engagement and Supporter Ownership of football clubs

• Supporters Direct’s funding situation

• Unsustainable debt

• The number of insolvencies

• Fit, proper and transparent ownership

• Asset Protection

Supporters Direct produced three papers in response to the Committee’s report:

• SD Key Principles of Club Licensing, highlighting a progressive pathway for increased supporter rights in terms of relationships with their clubs

• SD Financial Regulation Issues, which identifies financial and regulatory barriers for supporter investment and outlines proposed remedies

• SD Agenda for Expert Group - the purpose was to suggest the terms of reference for group to examine how recommendations for increased supporter engagement could be delivered.

These were submitted to the football authorities, Mr. Robertson and over 500 MPs. The FA, the Premier League, the Football League and National Game finally published their response to this review on March 9th. Although we saw the acceptance of basic principles such as licensing, and the introduction of Financial Fair Play in the Premier League and Championship – something SD called for – fundamental reform that would make football fit for years to come was avoided, and a whole series of issues, it would appear, are potentially being kicked into the long grass and in some cases avoided entirely.

An example is the debt issue, so important to all of us, and the whole of football. The word appears just once – but unfortunately it’s referring to the “debt of gratitude to volunteers” working across the country for football. Yet the word ‘debt’ appeared over 50 times in the Select Committee report alone. Guardian journalist David Conn, who knows more about these issues than most, accused the FA of surrendering their authority with ‘barely a whimper’.

The response is far too vague on far too many issues. Supporter rights and responsibilities – where supporters’ trusts would work towards a formal role at a club as part of the licence conditions – was a key issue for the Trust movement. We will be seeking discussions with the FA and Leagues in the football pyramid as well as the Minister for Sport.

One of the other major issues for us was our own future funding. The committee and the Government made a major play of the need to secure future funding for SD through football, the Government itself saying “a solution to provide funding for the long-term future of Supporters Direct… should not be beyond the skills of the football authorities”. But the authorities have almost completely ignored this, saying instead that we “should primarily rely on funding raised from its membership or their own initiatives.”

The financial commitment alone of supporters’ trusts has averaged £2.5m a season since 2000 (money which has often been part of dealing with debt and insolvency problems that the authorities have failed to get to grips with – there have been 92 insolvencies in the top five divisions since 1992) that have cost the game £5m during this period, or a net investment of £25m.

We have outlined our views to our over 140 English and Welsh affiliated trusts. We also need to identify the opportunities we have as movement to force further change, working with trusts as partners, and their over 250,000 members – in other words you.

Saturday
Mar102012

Trust statement on football governance

The Fulham Supporters' Trust believes that the response offered by the Premier League, the Football League and the Football Association today to the parliamentary inquiry into football governance is sadly inadequate. The recognition of the benefits of a club licensing system is a positive step, but the football authorities must put forward detailed measures to ensure the sustainability of the clubs up and down the country. With many of the Premier League clubs now hamstrung by debt - and the spectre of Portsmouth still fresh in everyone's mind - we had hoped that the governing bodies would have enthusiastically embraced the licensing system put forward by Supporters' Direct.

The supporters remain the lifeblood of the game, and whilst a commitment to 'consult with supporters' on the relevant FA boards represents progress, it falls some way short of the Coalition Agreement's pledge to 'to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by their supporters'. We would strongly urge the Government to consider changes in legislation should the proposed reforms fail to deliver genuine power to the fans.

Tuesday
Feb282012

Trust responds to Friends' of Bishop Park

In response to a recent article in the Hammersmith & Fulham Chronicle where the Friends of Bishops' Park outlined some of their objections to the redevelopment of the Riverside Stand of Craven Cottage, the Fulham Supporters' Trust today submitted the following letter to the newspaper for publication:

 

Dear Chronicle,

The Fulham Supporters' Trust were disappointed to learn of the Friends of Bishop's Park's objections to Fulham Football Club's planning application to redevelop Craven Cottage (Bishop's Park group raises concerns over Fulham FC stadium plans, Chronicle, 17 February 2012) and wishes to respond to some of the points raised.

Previously, Fulham Football Club currently was granted planning permission to increase the capacity of Craven Cottage, their historic home, and this would have necessitated the demolition and rebuilding of not only the Riverside Stand, but also the Putney and Hammersmith Ends of the ground. After extensive consultation with supporters and local residents, the present proposals, currently under consideration by Hammersmith & Fulham Council, have limited the redevelopment to just the Riverside Stand, with this approach endorsed by 89 per cent of respondents to a consultation. The Friends of Bishop's Park neglect to mention that the increase in the height of the stand would be screened by the Johnny Haynes Stand and the floodlights would be removed, thus eliminating any excess light pollution.

The proposals to extend the riverside walk behind the Riverside Stand - a level of public access which is not present at the moment - have been received enthusiastically by local residents. When considering previous applications to expand Craven Cottage, the Council has recognised that “a riverside walk is a long standing aspiration and would be of significant public benefit”. Objections to public restrictions to its use on a match day ignore the fact, at present, that access to public footpaths and roads is far more severely curtailed at all of London's other Premier League grounds. The closing of the gates on a match day is designed to ensure the safety of spectators and members of the public alike and the proposals will alleviate existing congestion, both before and after games.

The encroachment onto the River Thames is necessary to provide the walkway, but the Environmental Impact Assessment stresses that any building into the river will not have an impact on flood capacity, but will minimise any adverse impact on wildlife and support the biodiversity of the river. The Friends of Bishop Park also object to the operation of two cafés, conveniently ignoring the success of the Johnny Haynes café on Stevenage Road and the additional opportunities and views of the river that the new cafés would provide.

The Fulham Supporters' Trust believes that these proposals offer significant benefits to the local community and economy as well as having clear planning merit. We endorse wholeheartedly the plans and hope that Hammersmith & Fulham Council look upon them favourably.

Yours sincerely,

Fulham Supporters' Trust

The Trust also submitted a reponse to an Evening Standard piece about the impact the Riverside Stand development would have on a local sailing club, but the Standard chose not to print our letter.

Tuesday
Feb212012

Trust meets with Fulham Foundation Chief Executive

A delegation from the Fulham Supporters’ Trust met with the chief executive of the Fulham Foundation, Stephen Day this afternoon.

The Fulham Foundation, which was renamed from the Fulham FC Community Sports Trust in August 2009, has charitable status but retains close links with the football club. The Foundation runs several sports-related programmes in a number of London boroughs and Surrey.

The Foundation, which employs thirty full-time staff, worked with more than 25,000 young people during the past year, providing over 220,000 opportunities for them.

Despite being commended both locally and nationally, the Foundation’s work still has a low profile amongst Fulham’s supporters. The Trust is keen to work with the Foundation to boost awareness amongst the club’s fan base and support the Foundation’s activities.

By the end of the season, the Fulham Supporters’ Trust committee hopes to have made a contribution towards one of the local projects that the Foundation is currently supporting. The Trust would like to kindly ask all Fulham supporters to consider signing up for the Fulham Foundation Lottery, which helps fund much of the Foundation’s excellent work.

You can read more about the work of the Foundation on the Club’s official website.

Friday
Feb102012

Westminster Hall debate on football governance

A delegation from the Fulham Supporters' Trust attended a debate on football governance at Westminster Hall yesterday afternoon.

More than 20 MPs attended the debate, which was on the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee's report on football governance, and gave their view on the current state of British football.

Former Trust chair Tom Greatrex, now the Labour MP for Hamilton & Rutherglen West, spoke about the importance of ensuring that football clubs are no longer seperated from the grounds at which they play and how governance reform could offer fans a greater say in the running of their clubs. You can watch read Tom's speech here or watch the debate here.

Responding for the Government, the Sports Minister Hugh Robertson praised the Select Committee's report and said:

We do not want to be having these debates in a couple of years' time. It is important for the footballing world to realise that this is an opportunity for the football authorities - the FA, the Premier League and the Football League - to come together, to work together, and then to present the Government and Parliament with a solution. I very much hope that they will respond positively by the end of the month.

You can download information about Supporters Direct's proposals for a club licensing system here.