Governance & Government: Time for legislation in Football?

Back in TNT2 we published an article which referenced a Supporters Direct lobby of Parliament to be held on the 5th of that month


The lobby attended by several of our number, called for the implementation of two main action points which were highlighted by the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee’s review of the football ownership structure and the relationship of football clubs with their supporters.

The lobby agenda called for the following points to be acted upon immediately;

  1. That The FA needs to include a rule as part of the new football club licensing arrangements that guarantees a Structured Relationship between supporters and clubs; and
  2. That DCMS needs to establish the Government Expert Group before the beginning of next season (2013/2014) to explore methods of removing barriers to increased collective supporter share ownership in their football clubs.

parlIn addition, the lobby called for the designation of sports stadia as Assets of Community Value, as detailed in the 2011 Localism Act.

From a Charlton point of view the interesting political involvement saw Clive Efford, MP for Eltham and shadow Sports Minister chair the lobby.

In a follow up, Efford chaired a further meeting a fortnight ago entitled “Football – Owning and Belonging” designed to help shape Labours One Nation policy blueprint to discuss how the party should “encourage and develop supporter and community ownership in football”. This is a question supporter’s trusts have been trying to answer for some time.

Alison McGovern, Labour's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Wirral SouthOther guests on the panel included David Conn (Guardian journalist), Labour MP Alison McGovern and David Lampitt (Chief Executive of Supporters Direct).

The Owning and Belonging meeting comes amidst increasing political pressure from both Government and Opposition, for football to get its house in order. The problem is we’ve been here before, haven’t we ?

David-Conn1Conn pointed this out by producing a 1997 Labour party Football Task Force document which identified four areas for attention, two of which were to find a way to give fans the a greater say (i.e. ownership opportunities) in the running of their club and to bring ticket prices back to a realistic amount – incidentally the fact that ticket prices had reached £20 in the Premier League back then was seen as scandalous.

Supporters Trusts would generally support both of these points* but thus far the only way we’ve seen any progress in terms of fans owning a stake in their club have come via financial catastrophes, where the businessmen owning a club have failed and the fans, who that same businessman probably treated with contempt whilst he held the keys, have had to step in as saviours.

Clive Efford and Alison McGovern deserve respect for putting their head above the parapet; both have lots of passion and that’s a good start, but it’s time for answers. Mr Efford (despite being a Millwall supporter!) and Ms McGovern seem genuine in their love for the game and hopefully this will translate into action because what is clear is that football absolutely will not regulate itself. If we want to get close to achieving either of the two goals highlighted from the 1997 report or the proposals made by the lobby legislation will be needed. Football will not, and is probably incapable of, regulating itself.

Government involvement in football is abhorrent to many, but there are positive precedents for this, which David Lampitt from SD highlighted. Clubs were reluctant to modernise their stadiums in the wake of the stadium disasters that occurred from Ibrox to Hillsborough, it took government intervention to ensure this and now the all seated, safe stadia of England’s top flight is used by the Premier League as a way of selling the competition around the world.


Lampitt also highlighted the growing trend for Supporters Trusts' to nominate their team’s stadium as an Asset of Community Value under the 2011 Localism Act. This was successfully achieved by Oxford United’s trust (the only trust to have been through the process so far) and there are currently applications being considered on behalf of the Manchester United and Liverpool supporter’s trusts with more to follow this summer. When given the tools by government, supporters will respond to protect their clubs.

I don’t believe that all clubs our out to swindle their fans. I believe most are simply playing by the rules which are in place and those rules offer no consideration towards fans - so none is paid. I believe, as David Lampitt stated, football will thank us – as it did after the Hillsborough tragedy – for the intervention it so desperately requires.

CASTrust are now attempting to leverage the tools which are currently in place to give our supporters a say in the affairs of their club with our nomination of the Valley as an Asset of Community Value.

houseHowever the legislation which is currently in place is not enough and more is required of both the Government and the Opposition to give football fans in this country a greater stake in their clubs. As was stated at the meeting, the Premier League has a vociferous lobby in Parliament, but MPs make the law, not the Premier League. MPs represent the people of this country, not the Premier League. Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson advised earlier this year that he would legislate “as soon as practically possible” if football had not taken steps to improve supporter engagement. The Telegraph reported () on Wednesday that this deadline has been extended to the Autumn to give new FA chief Greg Dyke the opportunity to implement suitable reforms. Lets hope the Minister for Sport is true to his word and legislates if we haven’t seen sign of improvement by the Autumn.

The time for discussion has ended. Both sides of the political spectrum are convinced that something must be done – if they are considering what this may be they would be well guided by their own documentation, now 16 years old.

*Equally as depressing, the other two key points the Football Task Force highlighted in 1997 was to encourage greater attendance at football amongst the UKs ethnic minority population and ensuring facilities were accessible for the disabled, unfortunately these are also areas which require much more work. 

Craig Sloman