As chanting fans head back to the stands to make their voices heard at the ground, what to they need to do to make their presence felt in the boardroom?
The unsuccessful plot of the European Super League has seemed strengthened the case for reform that supporters’ groups have been making for a generation.
The attempted withdrawal of the top Premier League clubs to the European Super League foregrounds the need to examine the governance of English football in the 21st Century. Lifelong supporters were outraged by owners who went behind their backs to change the rules, making fans even more determined to wrest back control of the clubs they love after a generation of seeing their power ebb away.
The Super League was intended to be similar to the Champions League in that it was a tournament featuring some Europe’s best clubs. However, the league would have practically been a “closed shop” as none of the 12 founding teams would have been able to be relegated, therefore gaining an endless supply of cashflow each and every year. The proposals would have harmed the finances of smaller clubs and would have made domestic football pretty much irrelevant.
This came just weeks after the proposed “Project Big Picture” was soundly rejected by fans and clubs alike. Project big picture would have given more voting rights to the higher placed teams in the Premier League and would have seen them get a higher distribution of money than what they currently get.
Snubbed supporters who have put up with growing commercialisation are saying the owners have gone too far this time.
Sometimes it takes something like the Super League or Project Big Picture to spark change.
Michael Brunskill is on the board of the Football Supporters Assosiation and believes there are five steps needed in bringing about change and power back to the fans.
“With a lot of work, I believe that is possible and desirable to bring power back to the fans” said Mr Brunskill.
“A more equal sharing of the huge sums of money that are paid to Football by the broadcasters, throughout the football pyramid would help stabilise many clubs and this should allow fans priorities to come more to the fore.
“We also need to start being represented in the boardroom. Sure, after this past month fans may think they have the power over their clubs. But in reality, unless we see more representatives on the board, clubs can simply do as they please without their fans consent.
“An independent regulator also needs to be brought in to protect the spirit of the game, as well as bogus owners who only buy clubs solely to make money.”
The UK culture secretary pledged to overhaul English football governance. “It’s very important that we don’t see this as the end of the process. What this is highlighting, more than ever, is the need to look at the wider governance of football … to look at how we address local governance, football finance and indeed the whole fan experience.”
Fairer distribution of money
The distribution of money is one of the most important components of any sporting competition; the sharing of gate receipts by all clubs was agreed at the Football League’s very founding in 1888 and has been a staple of the English game ever since. While this solution seems simple on paper, it would be tough to persuade the Premier League to share out more of its revenue. Currently, distributions to the rest of the game it has amounted to approximately only 7% of the Premier League’s TV income in total.
This would also lead to cheaper ticket pricing all round. Fans that live in and work in the communities that clubs are situated shouldn’t have to spend most of their income just to see their team play. The fairer distribution of money could help resolve this issue.
Supporter representatives on club boards
In a lot of ways, the FA started this fiasco by creating, then quickly losing control of the then First Division back in 1992 to now what we call the Premier League.
Bringing fans’ reps onto their board and reform their archaic council into a football parliament that looks and feels like something fit for 2021. However, work remains to be done to develop a proposal, including how a supporter representative would be appointed, presumably involving some democratic election.
Strengthen the ‘fit and proper persons’ test
The current “fit and proper test” for owners and directors is in itself an illustration of the football authorities being pressurised and pushed by campaigners into reform. The current rule, which bans people who are insolvent or have zero convictions, is currently the minimum safeguard requirement. As the past has shown, this is simply not enough.
A further idea is for the test to be ongoing, so that owners sign up to abiding by all agreed rules and governance, and are punished if they fail to do so.
An independent regulator
Supporters of Bury FC will tell you why English football needs an independent regulator. An independent regulator could work by formally holding the game to abiding to abiding laws and introduce reforming structures. These could also include the game’s current supporters issues, including making tickets and televised matches cheaper and allowing a supporters association voice onto the reform panel. Something as special as the English Football League can’t be left to the unbridled free market.
As clubs are becoming more franchised, fans becoming even more disenfranchised. Fans are striking while the iron is hot and it is safe to say that there is no return to business as usual for the wealthy owners of these clubs.