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Call to Government to end potential crisis in football

Fair Game Letter to Michelle Donelan November 2022

An independent regulator seen as only way forward

The growing crisis in football has led to a dramatic intervention from Tonbridge Angels and 25 other football clubs. The 26, including almost a third of clubs in League One and League Two, have sent an urgent call to the Government demanding reform to football.

The 26 want the immediate introduction of a White Paper into football governance and a commitment to a new independent regulator in the next King’s Speech. The White Paper is the final parliamentary process required to bring in legislation.

Here is the letter to new Sports Minister Michelle Donelan MP.   

Dear Michelle Donelan MP,

Congratulations on your recent appointment as the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

We listened with interest to your speech at the Conservative Party conference. It was great to hear your recognition of the power of football to do good “…having seen the impact that Chippenham Town and Melksham Town have had on my local community”.

And also your passion for your new role “…[I could] not be happier to be the Secretary of State in charge of sport at a time where British sporting excellence is all around us”.

You are right football is incredible, but all those great things you mentioned are at risk. Football is at a crossroads and the future of the game hangs in the balance.   

We have seen over a third of clubs go into administration since the turn of the century. And in 2020, 52% of clubs were technically insolvent. Since then the pandemic has left clubs on their knees and the cost-of-living crisis threatens to deliver a knockout blow.

In the wake of the European Super League debacle, and the loss of Bury and Macclesfield, football has increasingly come together to call for change. 

Clubs, their supporters and the public are calling for change. In fact, a recent survey by a national Sunday newspaper found 85% of Premier League football fans want an independent regulator.

Football clubs are at the heart of our communities, with numerous local businesses dependent on them. Inaction now could lead directly to clubs being wiped off the map and local economies and communities being devastated.

Politicians from all sides back the need for change, but the Government has the power to enact change and Conservative politicians in and out of government have been among those at the forefront. A pledge to a thorough review was in the last manifesto. And that subsequent review, led by Tracey Crouch, concluded that the game needed a significant overhaul – a conclusion that was officially endorsed by the Government earlier this year.

We are asking you to listen to the voice of football and implement the findings of that review in full.

We need fairer financial flow in football to ensure the long-term health of our national game.

We need a new independent regulator for English football to:

  • Oversee financial regulation

  • Ensure there is a fair distribution of the game’s revenues across the football pyramid

  •  Run a new owners’ and directors’ test for clubs, replacing the three existing tests and ensuring that only good custodians and qualified directors can run these vital assets

  • Set a new approach to corporate governance to support the long-term sustainable future of the game

  • Assess and help introduce new equality, diversity and inclusion action plans for football

  • Ensure that key items of club heritage are protected

The football authorities have had numerous opportunities to act. The first notable call for change came back over 50 years ago, with the Chester Committee Report in 1969, and more recently in 2011 when the DCMS Select Committee report set out a package of recommendations on reform in football. Yet each time the recommendations were largely ignored.  

Tracey Crouch called on the football authorities to reach agreement on a model for financial distributions before the end of 2021. The Government’s response to the Fan Led Review in April stated that “the ideal outcome is for football to arrive at an answer which is mutually agreeable to the bodies which comprise it.” But there remains no sign of a solution.  

In fact, it appears that the Premier League seems increasingly unwilling to discuss the matter at all, with EFL Chair Rick Parry recently stating in a recent newspaper interview that Premier League clubs acknowledge: “something needs to be done but can’t get agreement on how, who or when. Without external intervention from Government we’re not going to get anywhere.”

To save football we need the independent regulator. Any further delay is simply not in the wider interests of football – and crucially the communities they serve.

We await the White Paper on football governance with interest and we implore you to commit to immediate legislation for a regulator in the next King’s Speech.

Yours sincerely

David Burgess, Managing Director, Accrington Stanley
Kris Stewart, Chair of the Dons Trust, owners of AFC Wimbledon
Bill Waterson, Co-chair, Altrincham FC
Michael Gilham, Director of Football, Basingstoke Town
Tom Gorringe, CEO, Bristol Rovers
Alex Tunbridge, CEO, Cambridge United
Nigel Clibbens, CEO, Carlisle United
Mike Vickers, Chair of City Fans United, owners of Chester FC
John Croot, Chief Executive, Chesterfield FC
Wayne Salkeld, Chair, Curzon Ashton
David Johnston, CEO, Darlington FC
Shaun Lockwood, CEO, Doncaster Rovers
David Blackmore, Chair, Eastbourne Borough
Damian Irvine, Chief Executive, Ebbsfleet United
Neil Pinkerton, Chair, Gateshead
Jason Stockwood, Chair, Grimsby Town
Patrick Chambers, Chair, Hungerford Town
Nigel Travis, Owner, Leyton Orient
Clive Nates, Owner, Lincoln City
Oliver Ash, Co-owner, Maidstone United
Rod Taylor, Co-chair, Morecambe
Gavin Foxall, Chair, Newport County AFC
Simon Gauge, Chair, Rochdale AFC
Brian Caldwell, CEO, Shrewsbury Town
Jonathan Vaughan, CEO, Stockport County
David Netherstreet, Chair, Tonbridge Angels
Mark Palios, Chair, Tranmere Rovers
Luke Cox, Director, Worcester City

Published Tuesday 1st November 2022