Supporters’ trusts for fans of Birmingham City, Coventry City and Hereford United, alongside umbrella body Supporters Direct, have all called for the Government to back Damian Collins’ attempt to bring in new rules to protect clubs from unfit owners.
All three supporters’ trusts are amongst a number who have been dealing with problems at their own clubs, and have come out in support of his private members bill, which has its second reading this Friday 7th November.
The Conservative MP for Faversham in Kent has highlighted a number of key areas to deal with the problems caused by poor ownership of football clubs:
• Ensuring that all professional and semi-professional football clubs in England disclose the identity of their owners
• Giving the Football Association powers to block the ownership of a club by anyone whom they consider is not a fit and proper person
The Bill also seeks to scrap the Football Creditors Rule, as well as removing the current block on certain types of company, including Community Benefit Societies, from becoming a member of the top four divisions of English football.
All are members of umbrella body Supporters Direct, which alongside helping fans become more involved in the ownership and running of their clubs, campaigns for rules to protect clubs from unfit owners and bad decisions. It has campaigned over cases such as the attempted renaming of Hull City, the forced changes to the identity of Cardiff City; the current problems involving Leeds United and their ownership by Massimo Cellino; as well as historic cases like the takeover of Manchester United by the Glazers in 2005. It helped to pilot through the takeover of Portsmouth Football Club by the Pompey trust two years ago, after a litany of unfit owners left the Club in tatters.
Representatives from the Law Society have been quoted as saying, “it’s standard for professional organisations” to prevent membership of professional organisations by people ‘likely to bring the organisation or industry into disrepute’”, and broadcasting regulator Ofcom operates a similar process. Lord Mawhinney has also revealed that he tried to introduce such a test when he was Football League Chairman, but it was rejected by clubs.
Robin Osterley, Chief Executive of Supporters Direct, said:
“It is because of the work of us and our members collectively that Parliament has been calling, almost non-stop since 2010, for changes to the way that football runs itself. We now need Government to recognise that.
“In an age where we demand transparency in so many areas of public life, knowing who actually owns our clubs, and being content that they are protected from the worst kind of speculator, has to be the minimum standard across the game. The evidence clearly points to the need for these changes, and there is nothing in law preventing it that we can see. The move to set up the Expert Working Group on Supporter Ownership & Engagement is very welcome, and this Bill now stands as an opportunity for the Government to leave a real, tangible legacy on an issue that millions of people care about”.
In a joint statement, the Blues, Sky Blue and Hereford United supporters’ trusts said:
“Regardless of where each club plays in the football pyramid, all of us represent fans that in some way have been victims of the fact that the ‘Owners and Directors Test’ is a failure. We know the excuses; that the rules would be against the law. Yet, we know that this isn’t true. Other organisations can ban people it believes are unfit, so why can’t football make proper decisions to protect itself and its clubs? What football clubs do affects millions of people and millions of fans.
“There’s a renewed interest from politicians about football, and we call on Helen Grant and the Government to use their real power to intervene. We will be campaigning on this, and writing to our own MPs to demand that they support this measure specifically and the Bill more generally.”