TIM HILLYER OF THE DONS TRUST BOARD LOOKS AT THE RECENTLY PUBLISHED FAN-LED REVIEW.
As a reminder, the government had been prompted to fulfil their electoral manifesto promise by the abortive move of certain major European clubs to break away in the form of the European Super League.
It is not an overstatement to say that this document has the potential to be the biggest upheaval in football governance in a generation. Nothing of this magnitude has been seen in English football since the evolution of the supporters’ trust movement, set up in 1997 by the Football Task Force.
The review process was undertaken with admirable haste and energy. The Fan-led Review panel heard more than 100 hours of oral evidence from fan groups, leagues, the FA, clubs at every level of the pyramid, representatives of players and managers, supporters of the women’s game, academics, German supporter groups and many more. The chair Tracey Crouch, MP, made it very clear that she drafted the report and owns it. There are 47 recommendations of which these are the most notable:
• The Government should create a new independent regulator for English football (IREF) established by an Act of Parliament. IREF should operate a licensing system for professional men’s football.
• To ensure financial sustainability of the professional game, IREF should oversee financial regulation in football recognising that football is sport but also big business.
• New owners’ and directors’ tests for clubs should be established replacing the existing tests to ensure that only good custodians and qualified directors can run these vitally important community and cultural assets.
• There should be a new corporate governance code to support a long-term sustainable future of the game. This should be mandatory for all professional clubs with common requirements tailored to different leagues.
• Equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) plans should be mandatory for all clubs with EDI Action Plans regularly assessed.
• As every club’s most important stakeholder, supporters should be properly consulted by their clubs in taking key decisions by means of a Shadow Board. Effective supporter engagement should be a license condition.
• There should be additional protection for key items of club heritage through a “Golden Share” requiring supporter consent.
• The Premier League should further support the future of the football pyramid by a new solidarity transfer levy paid by top-flight clubs on buying players from overseas or from other Premier League clubs.
• Women’s football should be treated with parity and given its own dedicated review to guarantee its future, recognising the significant steps forward already taken but also the unique challenges facing the game.
• The welfare of players exiting the game needs to be better protected – particularly at a young age, including the provision of proactive mental health care and support.
In July, Tracey Crouch sent the minister an interim report:
“In order to protect the future key aspects of our national game a new independent regulator for English football (IREF) is needed,” Crouch told the then secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden MP. “Football clubs are not ordinary businesses. They play a critical social, civic, and cultural role in their local communities. They need to be protected.”
“It is the voice of fans that has been loudest and clearest,” Crouch said. “It is absolutely evident from our sessions that the football authorities have lost the trust and confidence of the fans as have, in a number of cases, clubs themselves.” That was a clear hint that The Football Association would not be trusted to be the independent regulator.
These reforms would also be coupled with significant changes to the game’s financial distribution and how it currently shares wealth from top-to-bottom – the recommendations would see an end to parachute payments and replace them with more equitable distribution from the Premier League down the pyramid.
We shall soon find out how the report is received by the leagues and clubs, and their response.