Give football fans a stake in their clubs, say MPs and peers

Hull City supporters protest against the changing of the club's name to Hull City Tigers during a match between Everton and Hull City (file photo) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fans of Hull City are unhappy over plans to rebrand the club as Hull Tigers

Laws are needed to make it easier for football fans to buy a stake in their club, says a group of MPs and peers.

The group argues that wealthy financiers have plunged some clubs into crisis.

The Football Association, the Premier League and Football League are accused of failing to promote supporter ownership.

The football authorities say they do not favour one type of ownership over another.

"Our priority, whatever their ownership structure, is that clubs are financially sustainable and that they make a positive contribution to the competitions they play in, the wider community and domestic football," a statement from the Premier League and Football League said.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Mutuals has released a report on ownership, which says: "At all levels, clubs are prone to sudden changes of fortune and financial crises brought about not by their fortunes on the pitch but by the capricious behaviour of many owners of clubs."

The group has stinging criticism for the football authorities for maintaining a position of not favouring any one form of club ownership structure and so not promoting supporter ownership.

"We encountered a complacent attitude to supporter ownership from the Football Association, Premier League and Football League, which each insist on maintaining their 'neutrality' on issues of ownership," said Jonathan Evans MP, chair of the group.

"This cannot be allowed to continue. Supporters are the lifeblood of the game and yet we see their interests take second place to even the most transient of club owners," he added.

The FA declined to comment on the report.

There have been a number of high-profile rows where supporters say club owners are making decisions that are not acting in the best interests of the club.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some Coventry City fans have boycotted their team's home games at Northampton Town's ground

Leeds United fans are angry over the decision by the club's owners to sell a controlling stake to the Italian tycoon Massimo Cellino, who has faced questions over his financial dealings.

And Coventry City fans now have to travel 35 miles to Northampton to watch their team play home matches after a rent dispute between the owners of the Ricoh Arena and the club's owners left City without a home ground of their own.

The all-party group says it is "dismayed" that no action has been taken to ensure the long-term financial security of Supporters Direct, a body set up to advise and assist fans on how to run supporters' trusts.

The group points to a recommendation from MPs on the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee a year ago for long-term funding of Supporters Direct to be sorted out. But it says the Premier League did not see this as its responsibility.

Kevin Rye, a spokesman from Supporters Direct, said the group was disappointed at the slow pace of reform.

"Are we going to give up arguing that simple rules should be adopted to ensure that football clubs are owned by people who are going to run them properly, not bankrupt them, change them beyond recognition or move them? Of course we're not.

Good governance

The case for reform is made by just what's happened in the last year at Cardiff City, Hull City, Coventry City, Leeds United, Hereford United. It's now about what it looks like and when it happens," Mr Rye said.

The Premier and Football Leagues maintain that "progress has been made across all the areas identified by the committee's report including financial regulations and greater supporter engagement".

The all-party group is also calling for football "assets" with a value to the community - such as club colours, club name and home ground ownership - to be protected by law.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport told the BBC it had made it clear to football authorities that good governance was vital for the game to prosper.

"They have responded and made changes, with independent directors introduced on to the FA board and the Premier League and Football League strengthening their financial regulations.

We are speaking to... the football authorities about setting up an expert group on fan engagement that could look at ways in which we could encourage supporter ownership at clubs where that is a viable, workable option," it said in a statement.

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