Football Supporters' Association logoGovernance: a hot topic

The well-publicised crises at Bolton Wanderers and Bury are far from isolated cases. The founding of the Football Supporters Association is a potential watershed in the governance of clubs, says Dons Trust Board member Hannah Kitcher.

On Saturday 29 June 2019, the hottest day of the year up to that point at a mere 33 degrees, Dons Trust Board (DTB) vice-chair Rob Crane and I enjoyed the air conditioning of a conference room in central London.

We were there, along with other fan representatives from Premier League to non-league clubs, for the first annual general meeting of the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), formed last November by the merger of the Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct.

The AGM took place just a few days after doubts first arose over whether Bury’s first match of the 2019/20 season would go ahead, and before the mercury rose even further. Just as the issue of climate change isn’t going anywhere fast, neither, it seems, is the threat to the existence of clubs throughout the football pyramid.

Fans are seeing their clubs being harmed by the way they are run. Damage can be done long before this becomes a legal issue: it’s not illegal for owners to make decisions that threaten the future of the clubs they run, but the consequences are enormous.

At the AGM, it was a privilege to witness Christine Seddon, Chair of the Blackpool Supporters Trust, receive the Jacqui Forster Memorial Award for her work on the long campaign to remove the Oyston family from Blackpool FC.

We also discussed a motion relating to the major issues of governance facing football. Chris Matheson MP spoke about his ten-minute rule bill which calls for robust independent regulation in football. Whilst the work of Christine and the Oyston Out campaign deserves all the credit it gets, there needs to be regulation and good governance to ensure that the actions of a handful of rogue owners do not overshadow the good work being done at the majority of clubs.

We were asked to endorse the proposals the FSA Council have put to the FA Board for better regulation to protect our clubs. The FSA see the FA as the ideal body to act as this ruling regulatory force and have been lobbying them to take on this role for some time.

The FSA say their proposals rest on the following two principles:

  • Football clubs are the biggest expression of community identity in our society and should be afforded levels of protection in keeping with listed buildings or conservation areas.
  • Massive conflicts of interest exist within the game and they must be removed. Leagues are effectively private companies and self-regulation does not work. The not-for-profit FA should be the game’s regulator.

As we take the final steps on our journey to play back at Plough Lane, in the community where the club belongs, we are seeing other clubs in crisis. This is why the FSA are working hard, along with supporters’ trusts, in calling for an independent regulator within the FA to oversee a licensing system for all clubs.

Not all clubs that go out of existence are able to replicate our remarkable resurrection, and not all clubs in crisis will have people like Christine Seddon to fight for them. Clubs should not have to rely on the ability of a determined group of supporters to monitor financial dealings, preserve their heritage and keep them where they rightly belong – at the heart of their community.

I am so proud to represent the Dons Trust today. Through being on the DTB I’ve met so many talented people who have worked so hard to make the club what it is. I am also honoured to be getting involved in wider issues of football governance and supporting the campaign of the FSA.

Next month, the trust’s Election Steering Group will be seeking nominations for election to the DTB. If you’re a Dons Trust member and have some ideas, and the time and energy, to turn them into actions, I would urge you to consider standing.

If you have any questions, please do come and talk to me, or any of my DTB colleagues, in the Dons Trust kiosk on match days. You can also contact me via hannah.kitcher@thedonstrust.org.uk.

This article originally appeared in the matchday programme for the game against Accrington Stanley, played on 17 August 2019.

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