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Football Campaigners Want New Independent Regulator To Be Given "Teeth"

(Alamy)

4 min read

Grassroots campaigners have argued a new football regulator must be given “teeth” to hold clubs to account, following reports that a new independent body could be included in the King's Speech.

Earlier this year, a White Paper on Reforming Club Football Governance was published, which set out a plan to govern the top five leagues of English football. 

The Government said in September a new regulator would “have a tightly defined scope focused on financial sustainability”.

Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, was reported to have pressed for new legislation to create a football watchdog, according to the FT. PoliticsHome understands Stuart Andrew, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Sport, has been receptive to MPs’ demands to bring forward a new regulator.

Niall Couper, CEO of Fair Game, which is supported by 33 professional clubs, told PoliticsHome the potential arrival of an independent regulator could be a “historic moment” in English football and said the opportunity should “not be wasted”.

“There will be intense pressure to weaken its remit at the very time when proper protection and scrutiny of our National Game is needed more than ever,” he said.

“Those tasked with setting up the regulator must remain laser-focused on delivering a fairer future for football that delivers a culture change within the game.

“Reckless spending, disconnects between clubs and their communities, and lip service to equality standards must be consigned to the rubbish bin of history.” 

Couper said he believed a new regulator must be truly independent and be able to hold clubs and its owners to account. 

“It must also have the teeth and resources to deliver. As much as possible power must lie with the regulator," he said. 

“But perhaps most important of all, the regulator must provide full support to clubs to be able to implement the changes.

“While it will be a drop in the office to clubs like Manchester City, who have almost unlimited resources, for clubs like Accrington Stanley and Dorking Wanderers, who have only a handful of full-time staff, it could be the difference between survival or not."

More than 60 clubs have entered administration since 1992. Financial problems have particularly affected the lower leagues, with historic clubs including Macclesfield Town, Chester City and Bury FC going out of business in recent years.

In response to the ongoing problem, the Conservative Party promised to reform English football with a new independent regulator. This promise was backed by the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Green Party. 

Sara Britcliffe, Conservative MP for Hyndburn, told PoliticsHome a proposed regulator was at the heart of the White Paper published earlier this year, and would welcome a Bill in the King's Speech which would help put football "at all stages on a sustainable footing”.

Stuart Fuller, former chairman of Lewes Football Club, who contributed to the fan-led report, told PoliticsHome a regulator should primarily look at how clubs are financed before expanding its remit.

“If I was putting a regulator in place, I would be looking at how clubs are financed primarily,” he said.

“After that, I would be looking at how the revenue is shared. What we want to see is a game where clubs are sustainable, so you’re not having instances where clubs are going boom and then bust.

“This doesn’t necessarily impact the Premier League, but it certainly does when you start looking at League One and Two.” 

Fuller argued he would want a new regulator to lift the current ban on selling alcohol in view of the pitch in League Two and National League, which he believed did not make “any sense”.

The former Lewes chairman said he thought a new regulator would be difficult to get up and running by the start of the next football season. 

Andy Walsh, Head of the National Game and Community ownership at the Football Supporters Association, told PoliticsHome in April the existing tests to become an owner in football were “inadequate” and in “serious” need of a review.

He said the fan-led review published earlier this year was a step in the right direction but said he wanted the proposals to go further. 

“We think having an independent regulator is a good thing. Does it cover everything we wanted to see? Does it go far enough? No, but it represents a huge step forward in reforming the game,” Walsh said.

“Clubs going bust and bankrupt have plagued the competition for decades. When a club overstretches, it distorts the competition and market for players.”

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