Playing by new rules
Football needs help to reform and the fan-led review of the beautiful game will play a significant role in this process
Head of Governance and Supporter Engagement, Football Supporters’ Association
The Football Supporters’ Association is the only national body to represent supporters. Membership is made up not just of individuals but also of supporter groups, social media pages, online forums and other supporter collectives.
We work in many of the areas you might expect, such as campaigning for safe standing or on ticketing issues, representing supporters in dispute scenarios, promoting club/supporter engagement, inclusion and diversity projects, and all match-day related topics. We also work on football governance and how to reform and improve it. While most football fans would see this latter point as the less glamorous side of our operations, we have members across the country who recognise its importance. So what are the key issues here?
Tackling club crises
A number of our staff have worked in this area for years, many driven to it by a variety of crises at the clubs they support. While a number have hit the national headlines – such as Portsmouth, Blackpool, Wigan and Bury – sadly many other crises have gone unnoticed at clubs like Basingstoke, Macclesfield, Gateshead and Whyteleafe. Each one of these clubs has supporters who care passionately about it, and in many cases it is those very fans who in some way trigger a turnaround in its fortunes.
At the core of the problem in football governance is the fact that club owners regulate themselves. Whether it is the leagues or the Football Association – whose influence on the professional game is effectively driven by the leagues – football is in the control of a handful of people. Engagement with supporters has improved in recent years, but even as key stakeholders, their ability to influence at either club or national level is limited.
Football has had a habit of bringing its problems to the surface, often managing to kick itself in the foot. Whether it be the disappearance of clubs such as Bury and Macclesfield, inappropriate remarks by senior people at the FA, the secret plotting of ‘Project Big Picture’ and the European Super League, or just the ridiculous amount of debt a huge cash-generating business still manages to build, you can rely on football keeping the newspapers full of crisis stories as well as match reports.
“At the core of the problem in football governance is the fact that club owners regulate themselves. Whether it is the leagues or the Football Association, football is in the control of a handful of people. Engagement with supporters has improved in recent years, but even as key stakeholders, their ability to influence at either club or national level is limited.”
It is the combination of a run of such stories and the impact of COVID-19 that has kicked off the government’s long-promised fan-led review of football governance, with the hope for the widespread reform that is needed. The FSA is playing a significant role in the review, not only submitting its own detailed evidence, but also ensuring that supporters’ voices across the country and throughout the ‘football pyramid’ are heard. Tracey Crouch MP, who is Chair of the review, has promised action. Following a number of toothless reviews of football in the past, we are hopeful that she will make the difference that is required, and that this will be backed by the government.
Central to our recommendations is a new independent regulator of football, its remit to oversee all aspects of the elite men’s and women’s game (covering the top six tiers). The regulator would not replace the FA or the leagues but it will oversee them and take away certain of their current responsibilities. Alongside this, we need to address financial solidarity, embed tougher financial controls, protect football assets, and ensure reporting in both a transparent and standardised manner.
Supporters on boards
For the FSA, supporters are of course a key part of our recommendations. We want to see improved engagement locally and nationally, and fan representatives on the boards of clubs and governing bodies. We believe this type of stakeholder representation will be beneficial to every club and the game as a whole.
In summary, we want to ensure that our national game and the hundreds of clubs that make up the football pyramid are future-proofed, and to ensure we have a sport that is inclusive, diverse, financially sustainable, climate-aware, properly governed, and for the people.