Fans to be given more opportunities to bid to own football clubs as well as more meaningful dialogue with club owners said a Government report published yesterday.
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch announced in a final report of the Government Expert Working Group on Supporter Ownership and Engagement, that supporters of professional clubs across the country should have more opportunities to bid to own their football clubs when suitable opportunities arise, and will also meet with their clubs at least twice a year to discuss issues important to them.
Additionally, the revised Insolvency Policy announced by The Football League in June has helped the Expert Working Group to achieve a number of its objectives on removing barriers to supporter ownership.
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said: “Supporters are the lifeblood of the clubs they support but over time there has been a growing disconnect between them and those that run their clubs. S
“So it was right that government set up this group and brought the football authorities and supporters together to see what more can be done for clubs to engage with fans.
“The agreement to have meaningful dialogue between clubs and supporters on issues that matter to them, which can include strategic and ownership related issues, is a big step forward.”
The Expert Working group, set up by the Government in October 2014, has 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’s 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 that provide a voice for supporters on ownership and related 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 football authorities agreed to keep the Owners and Directors Test under constant review and will take into account any feedback received from the supporter organisations through structured dialogue to ensure it achieves its intended purpose at all times.
– 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 and the football authorities 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 as part of the structured engagement.
– The FA to assess how to best engage with representative supporter groups within its decision making structures as part of its current review process
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.”
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters Federation, added: “A report, endorsed by the football authorities, that requires clubs to listen to supporters on strategic issues including finance, governance and ownership, has to be a step in the right direction.
“All too often, crucial club decisions have been taken over the heads of fans, with the real financial and strategic position of clubs shrouded in mystery.
“We welcome the recommendations in this report that supporters’ representatives should be entitled to regular structured engagement with clubs, and that supporter representation within the FA should be strengthened.”
FA Chief Executive, Martin Glenn, said: “The expert working group has been a really positive way for football to work with supporter groups to develop practical ways to improve supporter engagement and provide assistance for supporter trusts considering bidding for their club.
“Working with the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct, we have created solutions that the supporter groups wanted and that can be implemented.
“Football has changed significantly in recent years with the introduction of financial regulations and sustainability criteria which have helped ensure that clubs at all levels are run more sustainably than ever and are protected for their fans and communities.“
The Football League’s Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey, said: “The Government Expert Working Group’s report delivers a number of sensible and practical measures with regard to supporter ownership and engagement.
“Democratically supporter owned clubs are now an important part of the make-up of professional football with five currently operating in The Football League.
“Given that supporter ownership can be the salvation of clubs in financial distress, it is sensible that the football authorities and the Government seek to remove any unnecessary regulatory and legal barriers to such ownership, although we must always be mindful in doing so that we do not undermine the integrity of league competition or an
“The Football League’s review of its Insolvency Policy, as outlined to the Group at one of its early meetings and voted through by clubs in June 2015, helped deliver a number of tangible changes to the approach that was ultimately taken, which included supporting the continued use of the Football Creditors’ Rule.
“The report also sets new parameters for engagement between clubs and fans. The overwhelming majority of Football League clubs already recognise the value of regular, constructive dialogue with their supporters and it will help shape their work in this important area.”