Dangers to English football “very real”, according to chairman of the game’s fan-led review

Football fans protested outside stadiums after Super League announcement in May

The dangers facing clubs in the English league are “very real”, with key aspects of the nation’s game “at real risk,” the chairman of a government-commissioned fan-run review said.

Former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has written to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden proposing a series of measures.

This includes an independent regulator to “protect the future of our game”.

The review heard over 100 hours of testimony from fans, the Football Association and clubs at all levels.

“The evidence has been clear that football clubs are not ordinary businesses,” Crouch wrote. “They play a vital social, civic and cultural role in their local communities.

“They need to be protected – sometimes from their owners who are, after all, just the current custodians of a community asset.

“Key aspects of our national game are really at risk. The short-lived threat from the European Super League has put the future of the English football pyramid in jeopardy.

“While this threat has diminished – for now – the dangers facing many clubs across the country are very real with their precarious future and in most cases dependent on the owners’ willingness and continued ability to finance large losses. “

Measures proposed by Crouch include:

  • A new independent regulator to address the issues most relevant to gambling risks, in particular financial regulation, corporate governance and ownership.
  • Continued work over the summer to ensure increased fan engagement and influence at all levels of game governance.
  • Suggested potential reform of the Football Association, Football League and Premier League, with a recommendation that at least 50% of the FA board be made up of independent non-executive directors.
  • Better protection for important club assets such as badges, location and colors, thanks to a “golden share” for supporters which gives them veto power.
  • Further investigation over the summer of income streams within the football pyramid, including “parachute payments”.
  • Calls for a concerted approach from the football authorities to improve the well-being of players, in particular with regard to players released from the academic system.
  • Allowing clubs to operate all-season pitches in Ligue 2 to help generate income in the lower leagues.
  • Suggestion that the English Football League (EFL) start discussions to absorb the National League top division into the EFL structure.
  • Possibility of a levy on transfer or agent fees to support the development of grassroots, amateur and women’s football.
  • A separate examination of the future of women’s football following “mixed” evidence on the best way forward.

Crouch will release its final recommendations in the fall.

“English football facing an existential crisis”

The review was promised as part of the Conservatives’ manifesto for the 2019 general election and commissioned shortly after the founding and Rapid collapse of the Super League in April.

Crouch pointed to Deloitte figures from 2018-19 – before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – which she said highlighted the perilous state of finances for many clubs.

She pointed out that nine Premier League clubs would have suffered pre-tax losses that season and eight clubs had a salary-to-turnover ratio above 70%.

In the same season, all but two league clubs recorded pre-tax losses and the average salary-to-turnover ratio was 107%.

“It is sobering to consider these numbers to be the end result of a long period in which football has increased its income to record highs or close to records,” she wrote.

“The threat of possible future cuts in expected revenues as the broadcast market diversifies indicates that, without reform, English football could face an existential crisis in the years to come, unless preventative measures are taken. be taken now. “

Football authorities have “lost the confidence” of supporters, she added, as have a number of clubs.

She said authorities had received repeated warnings in the past that had gone unheeded, and “therefore, now is the time for outside help.”

Crouch also said the game’s governing bodies have failed to respond sufficiently to the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda.

“The voices of the fans have been heard”

Dowden welcomed Crouch’s recommendations and said: “We have seen this year with the failed European Super League and Euro 2020 proposals how central football is in our national life.

“I have been clear that now is the time to take a broader look at reforming the game. I will not hesitate to take bold action if necessary.

“I am grateful to the chair and the panel for their update on the fan-led review. I look forward to receiving the final report and recommendations in the fall.”

The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) welcomed the update, and its managing director Kevin Miles said: “It is clear from the preliminary report that not only the evidence was provided by the fans, but also that these fan voices have been heard.

“The commitment to create a new independent regulator for English football is particularly welcome.

“Additional proposals related to the sustainability of the game, preferred actions for fan groups, grassroots investments, mandatory fan engagement and a strong voice for fans in governance at all levels are extremely encouraging.

“We will continue to play a constructive role in the work of the review by fleshing out the details of the draft proposals. Their full implementation could be a huge step in securing a sustainable future for our clubs, the communities around them and the rest. of the world. Game. “

“Supporters play a crucial role in football”

Both the Premier League and the EFL have welcomed the preliminary findings.

A Premier League spokesperson said: “We will now review the initial update and are committed to supporting Tracey Crouch, the panel and the DCMS team as they finalize their recommendations.

“Fans play a crucial role in football and clubs have a significant impact in their communities. We look forward to working closely with the FA, EFL and other football organizations on these important issues.”

The EFL said: “We will now look at the recommendations in their entirety and continue to push for a redistribution of game finances that requires a fundamental reset to ensure long-term sustainability across the pyramid.

“As always, the league will continue to engage with clubs, authorities, fan groups, the review team and others as part of the process.”

“No more Russian roulette with the traditions and history of clubs”

The Fair Game group, which campaigns for sports reform, including the introduction of an independent regulator, has also reacted positively to Crouch’s recommendations.

“There is a lot to salute in this letter,” said director Niall Couper. “The need for a new football regulator is now indisputable. Football cannot continue in the same unsustainable way.

“The Premier League is the richest league in the world. Yet the Championship is the biggest loss-making division in the world, and further down the pyramid we have seen the collapse of Bury and Macclesfield and many others on the verge of the abyss.

“This letter concludes that the financial flows within the game are in need of an overhaul. However, restoring the balance cannot be left solely to the leagues themselves – the very organizations that have brought us to where we are. are now.

“English football has become a siren for players. As the letter rightly points out, too many clubs regularly spend well above recommended levels for player salaries.

“Owners should no longer be allowed to play Russian roulette with the history and traditions of football clubs.”

“I don’t want problems, give me solutions” – Analysis

BBC Sport football writer Simon Stone:

The initial sounds I took from people in the game were mixed. An independent regulator is something that has been talked about for so long, therefore, that it comes as no surprise.

The issues of fundraising and fan participation were also well publicized.

There was almost an instruction for the National League to remove the composition of its board of directors, which dates back to the acrimony around the league’s chaotic state last season and calls for the resignation of the president of the League. then Brian Barwick, who has now left the organization.

While reading the review, I remembered something my mother used to say to me when I was a child: “I don’t want problems, I have plenty, give me solutions”.

For all of the well-researched questions raised in Tracey Crouch’s review, the fundamentals remain. Most of English football’s income comes from a collection of top clubs, all of which are privately owned. The current structure allows them to keep most of it, the rest is filtered.

By definition, this makes some clubs exceptionally wealthy and other aspects of the game less. Also, none of the people who run the organizations in question think they are doing a bad job.

As Crouch says, “this is just the start”. But she’s going to need a lot of determination – and the support of the government – to implement the change that many see as long overdue.

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