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English football enters last chance saloon as Parliament issues final deadline for reform

By Tony Attwood

There’s no Ministry of Football in Britain, but there is a Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport and it has been running a Select Committee.  That Committee has clearly had enough of the Football Association (endlessly tainted by its own incompetence and its association with Fifa), and the Premier League (endlessly tainted by its inability to get its members financial affairs under control, and its association with Uefa).

In July 2011 the Ministry produced a report on football – a report which Untold Arsenal (through the hard work of Phil Gregory) gave evidence – evidence that was (we were delighted to see) made it into the final report.  The Committee has now attacked these august bodies, deploring their failure to sort of finances and to increase the influence of fans following that 2011 report.

The Ministry has now said that unless some fairly major changes occur then the UK government will pass legislation to sort things out.

The notion of the FA changing anything seems highly unlikely, and the chance of it becoming more representative, introducing tough rules on finances, and increasing the influence of supporters on how clubs are run is somewhere below zero.   Likewise the advent of a transparent set of finances seems a billion miles away. As does a notion of football “driven from the grassroots”.

In particular, he said, the committee was very disappointed with football’s response to the call for a new licensing system run by the FA to bring some sanity to football’s overheated finances.  The last set of reforms proposed went only about 1% of the way of what is demanded now, and they have been on the table since 2005.

In the sort of semi-crazed statement that politicians are famous for the committee wants the FA to go back to what it was before the Football League was introduced in the 19th century – “an over-arching regulator for the game, able to dictate long-term strategy and direction.”   Can you imagine the Premier League ever giving in to that?   They would, in a trice, remove themselves from the FA, and set up their own competitions, inviting the rest of Europe to join them.

The MPs are of course right in saying that the Premier League has gained so much power that “the regulated [are] controlling the regulator”.  But that’s where we are.  Whoever heard of any millionaires giving up power?

MPs now say that  government should set up a working group on the issue of fan involvement by August of this year, sort out the funding of Supporters Direct.  In his evidence relating to Supporters Direct, which promotes democratic supporter ownership and involvement in clubs, Peter Scudamore said this involves the league asking “20 owners to fund an organisation whose avowed intent in some cases is to remove the owners of the clubs that funded them in the first place”.
What is even more bizarre is the fact that MPs were embarrassed over the 2018 World Cup bid which got two votes (England and Australia), and yet still want the FA (which ran the bid) to be central to its thinking.   The FA is called dysfunctional by MPs, which is about right.  But can it really be reformed?

As for the Premier League it says it has made progress, but until something stops player wage inflation, and deals with the ability of a country-owned club like Man City, or an individual owned club like Chelsea, to have vast sums of money for players, there will be no real progress on anything.  The Committee did at least say that the Premier League’s own FFP rules would not go far enough to satisfy it.

In a joint statement, the FA, the Football League and the Premier League said: “The football authorities continue to work towards the final approval and implementation of the governance reform proposals as outlined in February 2012. Significant headway has already been made on many of these proposed reforms, not least on sustainability and transparency.

“The remaining reform proposals are the subject of consultation within the game and we are confident that the necessary progress will be made.”

Which leads one to think of phrases such as “Sweet FA”.

The report’s statement that “As the governing body of football in England the Football Association should take the lead in decision-making for the game,” cannot be taken seriously as long as the FA associates itself with the utterly corrupt and racist Fifa.  And the FA has no way out of the mess it has got itself in, first loving Fifa (with the World Cup bid) and then criticising Fifa (after not winning the World Cup bid).

So what is to be done with the FA?  It exists because it created the first rules of the game in 1863, and the first competition with the FA Cup.  But the Premier League sees it now as “an association of interests” not a body capable of laying down laws, and seeing them obeyed.

But the Premier League is still some way from bringing in rigorous financial fair play proposals, and the FA has no link to that activity.

What makes all this even more of a cock up is the fact that the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, actually welcomed the FA and PL responses to the government’s demands last year.And what of the response at Arsenal.  Mr Wenger said, “There’s two things. That the Government wants clear rules for football to be managed, I agree completely. But politics rule football, I am not for it.  “Football, for me, is a company like any company who is in entertainment and has to be managed in a clear way.

“I always defended that. Government has a view on that and how it has to be managed and how the sustainability of the club is of course supported. That’s very important.  But apart from that it has to be managed in an independent way.

“I think, personally, the real pride of a football club is to be independent.”

So, what is the government likely to do?
Most likely nothing, because that is what often happens.  But what they are talking about, and what could be rather good is
  • Full information on the ownership of clubs should be made publicly available.
  • If spending controls such as financial fair play are not adopted by the clubs, legislation should be brought in to impose financial discipline.
  • The Football Creditors’ Rule, which gives clubs’ preferred creditor status, should be banned “at the earliest opportunity” by the Government.
  • Long-term funding plans should be agreed for Supporters Direct

In a joint statement, the FA, Premier League and Football League said that, “Significant headway has already been made on many of these proposed reforms, not least on sustainability and transparency.  The remaining reform proposals are the subject of consultation within the game and we are confident that the necessary progress will be made.”

We will wait and see, but supporters are advised not to hold their breath.

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22 comments to English football enters last chance saloon as Parliament issues final deadline for reform

  • Tasos

    Slightly off topic but no so much.

    Arsenal freeze prices for 2013/14 campaign.

    Arsenal Football Club has announced it will not be making any ticket price increases next season.

    The move follows a full review by the Arsenal Board which included an assessment of the current economic environment and feedback from fans’ groups.

    The price freeze means Arsenal will have made only two across the board inflation-linked price increases in the eight years since it has been at Emirates Stadium.

  • goooner

    Good write up Tony. If we’re lucky Uefa/Fifa will through out the FA on grounds of government interference 🙂 Sure the Romans and Sheiks will then up sticks and look for clubs who are playing in the CL.

  • dan

    Just a case of the corrupt running the corrupt.

  • nicky

    While it’s just possible that Parliament can bring the FA to order, the totally corrupt FIFA will carry on….until some brave country’s football legislative body withdraws from the Association. This will be followed, I fancy, by the “domino effect” and the inevitable demise of FIFA will be assured.
    It’s too much to expect that the weak and vacillating FA will become that brave body but as long as it joins the leavers, the means to an end will be achieved.

  • Mandy Dodd

    This lot will probably appoint fergie, mike riley, and arry to oversee reform……….

  • Florian

    Re getting the club’s finances in order: In a post some time ago, it was highlighted that a business losing money regularly is basically a tax-evasion scheme. It would perhaps be interesting to have HMRS look into the clubs’ balance sheets.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A few comments from people who have been there and done it !

    1.) In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a congress. — John Adams
    And what does that say about the FA ?

    2) I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. — Will Rogers .
    Don’t we all ?

    3) The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools. — Herbert Spencer , English Philosopher (1820-1903)
    Too late !

    4) Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. — P.J. O’Rourke , Civil Libertarian
    No !

  • Mike T

    Will anything happen? I wouldnt hold your breath after all the self serving idiot MPs cant even vote for their own body to be reformed.In truth proffesional football clubs are all limited companies and will the governmnet force the same restrictions on say Rugby? If not why not?
    The FA is out of touch as are UEFA as are FIFA but the most likely outcome if the regulators become too involved is that the big clubs will break from their affiliation to the current football structures and form a pan eurepean league.It seems that there is constant discussion amongst the top 20 -40 clubs or so clubs in Europe (although a few ) are sitting on the fence but it seems that some in UEFA fear that this may well happen sooner rather than later.

  • Shard

    Mike T’s mention of rugby just got me thinking. I think Rugby clubs operate under a system where wage caps are enforced. Can anyone confirm this? And if this is true, then why are matters of European Law etc brought into it where football is concerned?

  • bob

    Tasos,
    Regarding the ticket price freeze:
    I pray I’m wrong; but this is my sixth sense: That this announcement (AFC bowing to necessity) will be the consolation (and excuse) for a barren transfer window. No ticket rise = no purchases. (AFC ignoring football reality) That means no needs to be filled on the pitch, I fear.

  • Mike T

    Shrad

    Yes both Union and League have a wage cap. Interesting is that the cap isnt a% of income but a fixed sum. I think Union is about £4 million.
    I know many want to clip Chelsea & Man Citys wing but how would you Arsenal supporters feel if you couldnt spend more than say Stoke on players wasges which in efect is the model used in most sports where a salary cap exists.
    When I mentioned Rugby I mean more in terms of club ownership etc

  • Tasos

    @bob

    You old, or maybe not so old, cynic. LOL

    The way I see it Arsenal had two options;

    1. Rise the price on season tickets
    2. Freeze the price on season tickets.

    Of the two options they choose the the best economical one for the fans. I fail to see why everything the club does must viewed as evil. Maybe they actually listened to groups involved in the discussions, unlike other clubs.

    And if that is the case then surely the club must come in for some praise also.

    Finally I believe season tickets prices went up some 11% in general throughout all the English leagues last season alone.

  • Mike T

    tasos

    I note that Arsenal are starting the season ticket renewal process in a week or two. Many have banged the drum saying that the value in the Arsenal season ticket isnt just in the EPL games but that it includes 3 CL games.
    I am not sure how to read this early statement from your club is it cynical or what?

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    @Mike T,
    The French don’t have the same salary cap (~£9 million versus £4 million), hence you get huge numbers of international players plying their trade in the French ‘Union’. I think something like 13 of the nominal starting 15 of Argentina are playing in France.
    Rugby’s salary cap is imposed by the league as grounds for entry into the competition, Clubs are free to spend as much as they like under European law but no-one will play them if they do.
    No-one in football will try this, as there are too many clubs run for reasons of pride rather than profit. If the EPL and the Bundesliga introduce a salary cap, then all the top players will move to Serie A and La Liga (assuming they won’t implement such a thing). Real Madrid are not going to be interested in a salary cap unless their academy is producing world beaters, especially not when Barcelona’s is!

  • Tasos

    Mike T

    Correct.

    In fact the Arsenal season ticket includes seven(7) cup games but not the League cup competition. Tickets for which can be purchased separately for as little as £10 pounds.

    In saying that I do accept that the price of football has risen for the average fan. I have some friends who have supported Arsenal and held a season ticket for some 40 years but they have become disillusioned with the way the game (in general) is going.

    That can’t be good for the game in the long term if these “hard core” fans are feeling disassociated and considering walking away.

  • bob

    Exactly Tasos,
    And AFC management see all this and bow to it. Good on them and on supporters. But let’s not make such a virtue out of necessity or it might (coming from this old/young cynic) might just seem like grasping for straws (as the window closes). We shall see about the window, soon enough: and then perhaps re-evaluate the timing to this early announcement with the actions or inactions at the window. You still have a day’s grace before your re-assessment and before my joy in finding we have spent to meet some actual needs on the pitch (as your friends might have noticed). Cheers.

  • Mike T

    Tasos

    So on that basis have Arsenal said that if you dont qualify for CL there will be a refund?
    Or will you get 3 Euorpa games included?
    Having said that Euoropa qualification this season is going to be more difficult. The raeson for this is because Swansea or Bradford will take one of the Europa League places which means that if you dont win or come runner up in the FA Cup(even then it would depends who wins the cup) you have to improve on your current 6th place to qualify at all for European football next season.
    So I wonder what the real thinking from Arsenals board is?

    Woolich

    UEFA had intended to put in place a wage cap in 2005 but it never happened due to issues such as different tax rates around Europe and also differing exchange rates which is ironic as many of the experts suggest that these two issues will also feature in UEFAs difficuly in enforcing their FFP rules.

    Of cou

  • Tasos

    Mike T

    As has always been the case since the stadium move, qualification for the CL has been the minimum requirement in order for the club to continue along its self sustaining pathway.

    If Arsenal fail to qualify for Europe at all next season then I guess a season ticket review will have to be in order, Yes. Of course Arsenal could yet finish outside the required places and still qualify for next season CL as I’m sure you’re well aware. Unlikely as that appears.

    I don’t expect this price freeze decision to be well received. History dictates that no matter what My club says or does, the media will always take a critical slant on all things Arsenal.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I think the season ticket not includes specific “CL games”.
    I think they include the “first 7 European or FA cup games”

  • Mike T

    Tasos

    Yep as they say you have to be in it to win it and if you get past Bayern then who knows. One thing is for sure you have more chance of winning it than us!

    As for history dictating no matter what you do well I think that applies to most clubs certainly my club.

    Walter

    If thats the case could be a minefield for its impossible to have 7 home games in the FA cup.My guess is that the only way the will get round it is to adjust the next seasons costs.

  • Shard

    Mike T and Woolwich,

    Mike, I wouldn’t mind at all if a hard wage cap came into all of football. It would be great for the competition. Every club’s fans could then truly dream of winning the title, and no club would accumulate all of the best talent. I can’t think of anything better.

    Woolwich,
    So going back to the rugby clubs. It is enforced as a means of qualifying for competing in the league? Yes? Isn’t that similar to what Uefa are trying to do with the FFP? (which many people are saying won’t withstand a challenge in a European Court of Law)

    Also, the Premier League chairmen are talking about enforcing a sort of domestic FFP, but apparently some sort of it has already been agreed to/exists in the Football Leagues below, where clubs can’t make losses of more than 5m (I think) So it’s certainly doable.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Mike T,
    I’m not a season ticket holder (live in another country so not really possible) but I think (or have heard) that if we don’t play those 7 extra games the people get a discount for the next season.