Last week saw the publication of a report by the Expert Working Group on supporter ownership & engagement for football. The report is available here. The EWG was formed after a recommendation in the Government's 2013 response to the 2011 Football Governance Review to look at barriers and incentives for supporter ownership and supporter involvement and engagement.
Supporters Direct were invited by the Government to be a standing member on the group alongside the Football Supporters Federation, and expert witness members - supporters trusts at Pompey, Swansea City, AFC Wimbledon and ourselves at Wrexham Supporters Trust through independent secretary, Alan Fox and Rob Parry. It was independently chaired by Joanna Manning-Cooper a Pompey season ticket holder. The rest of the group was made up of representatives from the football authorities – The Premier League, The Football League, The National League and the Football Association – as well as the Department of Culture Media and Sport, with support from appropriate Government departments when required.
The group recommended that:
-In the event of a club becoming insolvent, administrators would be required to meet with Supporters Trusts with a credible Trust given an opportunity to bid for the club
- In such a situation, the Premier League and Fans Fund Panel would consider bids for assistance from Supporters Trusts of clubs in the National League, Football League and Premier League to help with professional fees to build a credible bid
-The Premier League has also agreed to provide an extra £1 million in funding over the next three years, via the Fans Fund, to recognise football supporter organisations which provide a voice for supporters on ownership issues
-Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation to develop a database of suitable professional experts who are football fans who would be willing to provide pro-bono advice to supporters' bids
-The Owners and Directors Test to be kept under constant review by the Football Authorities including having structured dialogue with Supporters Direct, Football Supporters Federation and fans groups on the issue
- Government should look at Social Investment Tax Relief with regards to Supporters Trusts and if this would provide a tax-efficient way for them to accrue funds to prepare for a future bid
- Government should consider if a Community Owned Sports Club model, similar to the Community Amateur Sport Club (CASC) scheme, should be accepted as a legitimate operating model giving supporter owned clubs tax breaks
- Any planned substantial changes to club colours or crests to be discussed with fans
- The FA to consider greater supporter representation on the FA Council
- With regards to the football creditors rule, the Football Authorities have indicated that they are willing to hold discussions on the potential for agreeing a compromise solution with players and representatives if the money owed to them as football creditors is acting as an insurmountable barrier to a bid succeeding
Whilst we believe that there is still a long way to go before supporters interests are properly represented in football, if the recommendations (agreed by the football authorities) that have made the report are implemented as we would like, we believe the report does represent a significant step forward both at a local level for Supporters Trusts and at national level between Supporters Direct and the football authorities.
Supporters Direct Chairman Brian Burgess said:
“This report has the potential to mark the start of a new era of structured meaningful dialogue between clubs and Trusts, supported by changes which will lead to more opportunities for supporter ownership. Implemented correctly it can be a welcome step forward in a long-term process of reform, helping to reconnect clubs with their communities”.