Guest blog: Fair Game – changing the structure of football

Niall Couper, Director at Fair Game, outlines the organisation’s mission to transform football’s structure, creating a solid and sustainable foundation enabling clubs to survive and even prosper.

In the last few weeks, a quiet revolution has been unfolding amongst the football clubs of England and Wales.

Disgruntled with the governance of our national game, a growing group of clubs have come together with a simple goal of creating a better future – under the umbrella of a new organisation called Fair Game. I am their director.

Football governance

When I set out as a newly elected board member of the Dons Trust, owners of AFC Wimbledon, in November, I was given the remit to see what difference my club could make in the wider world. The message that came back from the 30 or so people I spoke to – journalist, academic, board members, sports professionals – was clear: change the governance of football.

Ever since the pandemic struck, and the country has lurched from one lockdown to another, the way football is financed, structured and governed has been exposed like never before. It is abundantly clear that the fundamental model on which the game is based is unfit for purpose.

Football is littered with fallen giants, famous clubs who once graced the top of the game now floundering or, worse, extinguished. In 2019 we witnessed the sad demise of Bury, while once-mighty Bolton have fallen into our basement division.

It is simply a matter of time before the next catastrophe strikes and another community is deprived of one of its most-precious assets. Football clubs have a straight-forward choice. Do nothing until we all go under, or get our house in order. And it is the latter path that Fair Game have chosen.

Fair Game want to transform football’s structure so it has a solid, sustainable foundation capable of helping clubs survive and even prosper.

Together we believe we can apply the pressure needed to deliver real and sustainable change for the better of football.

As a priority, we want to see the game governed with fairness, openness and transparency. Sustainability is the key.

Football regulation

And while, it may seem unpalatable to some, that does mean we need to open ourselves up to scrutiny. Football needs to be better regulated. The current authorities have failed in this duty and we want the Government and key decision makers to install a new legislative regulator. We need greater transparency on financial reporting and ownership structures with a far more rigorous ‘fit-and-proper-person’ test.

Football needs to be better regulated. The current authorities have failed in this duty and we want the Government and key decision makers to install a new legislative regulator.

If football is serious about addressing and safeguarding smaller clubs then it also needs to look at how to address over-spending and offer proper support and encouragement to clubs that choose to run on a sustainable basis. And that means a fresh approach to parachute payments and squad salary caps and a ban on leveraged debt.

Out on the pitch, we want to protect the integrity of our most-cherished tournaments by stopping clubs treating them with contempt. The debacle of the European Super League shows the real risk we face. And equally we don’t want B teams competing at any level of the pyramid and we don’t want to see the removal of relegation or promotion at any level.

Partnerships between clubs and local communities

Finally, we want to foster much deeper partnerships between clubs and their local communities.

My club is owned by its fans and we would like to see far more structured supporter engagement at all clubs, and greater involvement with local councils, politicians and leaders so we can effectively combat all forms of discrimination and social problems together. Economically it makes sense too. Communities are the lifeblood of a local football club. Fair Game believes that should be enshrined.

All of these things are achievable and all of them can transform our game for the good.

Let’s not wait for bad stuff to happen. Let’s not be dictated to. Let’s implement a structure that is more responsible, fairer and more equitable.

It is a quiet revolution.

 

For comments or feedback, contact Greg Campbell on: greg.campbell@campbelltickell.com or Radojka Miljevic on: radojka.miljevic@campbelltickell.com

Campbell Tickell is an endorsee of Fair Game. Find out moreRead our report: English Football regulation – the problem and the potential solution

Find out more about our work with sports and leisure organisations.

 

Disclaimer: We welcome guest blogs and articles for our website and CT Brief. The views, opinions and positions expressed in such blogs and articles represent those of the authors and do not represent those of Campbell Tickell.


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