Party Parliamentary Group for Mutuals Special Hearing “Football Supporters Trusts – What is the vision for the future of supporter-owned football clubs?”House of Parliament – Monday 25th November

Jonathan Evans – MP – Chair
Tom Greatrex MP
Lord Naseby
Adrian Bailey
Steve Baker MP for Wycombe

On the panel

Sean Harvey – Football League
Bill Bush – Premier League
James Dougal – Football Association

The chair opened the session by stating that this is not a formal parliamentary group, but those with a vested interest. The DCMS Select committee report around football governance, examining what has happened since and hopefully reaching some conclusions. Following the report the government were looking to the authorities to act.

The chair asked the panel – Do you recognise the importance of trusts and their work?

Sean Harvey was first to respond, he stated that he was only 6 weeks into role, has some knowledge, of the 72 Football League, 4 were supporter owned, he repeatedly stressed that as an organisation the football league are neutral, encouraging all members to have a full and open dialogue with supporters, trust or not.

Bill Bush stated that the PL encourage best practice, encouraging their clubs to take the issue of fan engagement seriously, the most important role is the SLO, as directed by UEFA, they encourage SLO’s to be that main link between the club and its supporters, this is however often misguided as the legislation is loose and often open to interpretation by individual clubs. The PL are also open to meetings with individual groups, they have in recent times met with the likes of: Spirit of Shankley, Pompey, Blackburn & Cardiff City, amongst others on specific issues.

James Dougal from the FA stated that football for everyone or grass roots football is there main thrust, highlighting that there were in excess of 30k grass roots teams around the UK that they are responsible for. From an ownership perspective they are neutral but concentrate on ensuring the appropriate rules and regulations are in place to create that level playing field. There was a common theme amongst the panellists that was their determination to make the point they were all in fact ‘neutral’, they could not have been more evasive on the question of fan engagement if they had tried.

Tom Greatrex MP then asked: SLO’s clarification on UEFA directive, what does PL do to encourage engagement?

Bill Bush responded by saying the PL like to take a back seat and let clubs manage relationship, there seemed to be a theme developing with the responses from the PL. He talked about the agreement being in good spirit rather than anything that is forced through, claiming to be innocent bystander. He remarked the clubs actually own the PL, so they decide the rules!

Steve Baker MP for Wycombe asked panel to characterise the importance of clubs to the relative communities?
They all talked about relationships and their importance, also talked about was youth team development and the rising transfer costs, Bill Bush talked a lot around this but never really answered the question. Sean Harvey stated that there is nothing better than seeing a local lad playing for their local team. The session then went off on a bit of a tangent, lost in the subject of youth development, not really relevant to the initial subject matter. Raul Uppal MP talked about his son who plays centre half and the tactics employed, so talked about the balance between the local lad and the importance of coaching and the issue of development schemes. Sean Harvey talked about the importance of academies and the future of the national game based on these.

Lord Naseby asked about is there a strong case for the local authority being involved should there be a strong structural relationship between the clubs and their supporters; he does not see much mutuality on the ground between clubs and fans.

This was answered by Bill Bush who said local authorities investing in infrastructure was fine in essence, again he reiterated they were ‘ownership neutral’ and they rely on the rule books to differentiate between good and bad owners.
Tom Greatrex MP used Swansea as an example saying all community owned clubs have only come about after a crisis, is this because too much emphasis in on to clubs to manage that engage, should a more active role be taken. When everyone else walks away it’s normally just the fans that are left to pick up the pieces.

Bill Bush responded by saying the general rule should be governance of the willing, having the clubs regulate themselves, as not one model fits all, a strong rule book is key but cannot be agile enough to legislate for every eventuality, some of the examples of the crisis clubs have led to reviews of these rules and in many cases changes. Again mentioned they were ownership neutral. James Dougal talked about the need for fans to engage earlier in the process.

Jonathan Evans MP asked are you happy with engagement of fans?

James Dougal reminded everyone that the FA is responsible for England fans and they have a good relationship with these fans, at club level there are many supporter groups so which one should be involved, it was not that easy to legislate.

The session ended Bill Bush by having to apologise to Jonathan Evans after he wrongly cited the history of Cardiff City to try and make his point earlier in the debate, all in attendance enjoyed the moment, but the question must be if Bill Bush wrongly references the history of Cardiff City after apparently doing some research, then what else do they get wrong?

Questions then to Supporter representatives

Panel was made up of:

David Lampitt – CEO Supporters Direct
William Gaillard UEFA
Kevin Jacquiss – expert on Coop law from DWF, SD’s lawyers

In summary the panel individually spoke in terms of what had been previously said.

David Lampitt stated that progress on the select committee report has been limited, he mentioned the SLO meeting was only to discuss away fans representation, and actually it was delegated by the SLO’s themselves to other club representatives, therefore extremely diluted. He believes there is still currently little room for supporter interests, more needs to be done to accelerate the process, and engagement in the eyes of many clubs in both the PL and FL is about commercial benefit not of the good of the fans. Fans are the lifeblood of sport and more needs to be done by parliamentarians to assist this. A simple example of this would be to introduce tax relief for 50+1 takeovers or support a football supporter’s fund. Supporters Direct continue to apply pressure to prevent barriers being created that prevent community based ownership.

David also talked about talked about football clubs being the absolute heartbeat of the communities yet we afford more emphasis on protecting pieces of art or historical building than our clubs and their homes, are our clubs not culturally important? He wants the trust movement to be more powerful and those in key places of central government need to help with this. David is of the firm opinion that football authorities are not doing enough to move forward the report from the DCMS select committee, something we think everyone will agree with.

Kevin Jacquiss cited the example of FC United, how successful that project has been; now being a viable club that is currently developing its stadium. Fans need to keep up the pressure on representatives of the government to continue to push the authorities to recognise the importance of community in local sport. He stated it is just not good enough to talk about fan ownership from crises, a structured pathway to ownership is vital.

William Gaillard from UEFA commented on the importance of supporter ownership, stating that just 8 years ago the PL was the best in Europe, but now clearly the German system is top. In Spain there was a move to change clubs from supporter ownership to limited companies, but that has not been very successful and now they are looking at how they change it back.

The meeting was concluded and a report by the chair will be put together for the DCMS

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