Fair Game

A new umbrella organisation wants to transform football governance to create a more sustainable and secure future for clubs and their communities


Image: Istock

Niall Couper

Director, Fair Game

In the last few weeks, while attention was focused on England’s run to the final of Euro 2020, a quiet revolution was unfolding among 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 its director. So what is Fair Game and what are our aims?

Time for change

In November, when I set out as a newly elected board member of the Dons Trust, owners of AFC Wimbledon, 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 – journalists, academics, board members, sports professionals, etc – 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.

Get our house in order

Football clubs have a straightforward choice. Do nothing until we all go under, or get our house in order. And it is the latter path that Fair Game has chosen. Fair Game wants 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.

While it may be unpalatable to some, this 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.

As a first step, we need greater transparency on financial reporting and ownership structures, with a far more rigorous ‘fit-and-proper-person’ test.

Second, 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. That means a fresh approach to parachute payments when clubs are relegated, squad salary caps and a ban on leveraged debt (where clubs borrow against their assets and revenue streams to dangerous levels).

“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.”

Protect integrity

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 earlier this year shows the real risk we face. And equally we don’t want B teams competing at any level of the football pyramid, or for relegation or promotion to be removed at any level.

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. In addition, there should be greater involvement with local councils, politicians and leaders so we can effectively combat all forms of discrimination and social problems together. This also makes sound economic sense. 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 better. 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.

To discuss this article, click here to email Greg Campbell or Radojka Miljevic

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