As the coverage focus in the UK media shifts more and more to the financial element of football fans of the game will be hearing terms like FFP, Fan Led Review, Fair Market Deal and a lot of talk about fitness to be the owner of a UK based Football team. We are breaking down some of the key talking points, in our sites this week is the fan led review of football. What on earth is it?
What is the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance from 2021? The Fan Led review of Football Governance was organized by the UK government in 2021 in response to 3 critical failures in the game. The collapse of Bury (est 1885) in 2019, the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic and the rise (and narrow thwarting) of the European Super League. It was headed by Member of Parliament Tracey Crouch and published in November 2021.
You can read the entire Fan Led Review of Football Governance by clicking here. If 162 pages of government funded rambling isn’t your bag, we’ve summarized what the average football fan might want to know below.
Why was a government funded fan led review of UK Football required?
In the UK Football teams are seen as a major part of our cultural heritage. Some of the clubs that play in the English football pyramid can claim to be the oldest in the world. Generations of families are steeped in decades of history. To those most passionate about a club, changing stadium, city, club colors, club badge, club name or even going out of business entirely is completely unthinkable. This is the reason the government felt the need to step in and set in motion the fan led review of football. To understand what matters to the people that love the game the most and what can be done about securing its future for everyone.
The triggers that meant this long promised review would take place were 3 fold, referred to as “the three points of crisis in our national game.”
The first point of crisis relates to one of those very old clubs, from the dawn of football itself. In 2019 Bury FC were expelled from the football league for financial reasons. A club founded in 1885, which had existed through countless economic cycles, several wars and 26 different Prime Ministers collapsed with a devastating impact on the local economy and leaving behind a devastated fan base and community. This led to the original commitment in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto to ‘set up a fan-led review of football governance…’ as they strove for re-election to the UK government.
The next point of crisis was the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time since the Second World War, club football was brought to a complete halt, threatening the continued existence of many professional football clubs. Fortunately, the clubs survived and the season resumed, football returned to fanless stadiums across the country and eventually as the pandemic subsided fans returned to flock through the turnstile in great numbers. However, the pandemic and its effects laid bare the fragile nature of the finances of many clubs, as well as the structural challenges of the existing domestic football authorities.
The final point of crisis was the attempt by the biggest clubs in Europe to set up a European Super League in April 2021. This new competition would have involved the six biggest English clubs as founding members in a closed league with no relegation. It was a threat to the entire English football pyramid and led to an unprecedented outpouring of protests from fans, commentators, clubs and Government. The super league faded away to become nothing more than a side story working its way through the courts as several of Europe’s clubs refused to let the idea die. But the message was clear, no clubs from England would be permitted to join such a league by the fans.
Finally the long awaited Fan led review was announced in this statement to Parliament in April 2021.
“.. it’s clearer than ever that we need a proper examination of the long term future of football. To many fans in this country, the game is now almost unrecognizable from a few decades ago. Season after season, year after year, football fans demonstrate unwavering loyalty and passion by sticking by their clubs. But their loyalty is being abused by a small number of individuals who wield an incredible amount of power and influence. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that football is nothing without its fans. These owners should remember that they are only temporary custodians of their clubs, and they forget fans at their peril. That’s why over the past few months I have been meeting with fans and representative organizations to develop our proposals for a fan-led review. I had always been clear that I didn’t want to launch this until football had returned to normal following the pandemic. Sadly, these clubs have made it clear that I have no choice. They have decided to put money before fans. So today I have been left with no choice but to formally trigger the launch of our fan-led review of football.”
- the Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to Parliament on 19 April 2021
How was the Fan Led Review of Football conducted?
The terms of reference for the Review were issued on 22 April 2021. These charged the Review with the aim to:
“Explore ways of improving the governance, ownership and financial sustainability of clubs in English football, building on the strengths of the football pyramid.”
Tracey Crouch was appointed to chair the review and the panel met for the first time in late May 2021. Evidence was heard from a wide range of football stakeholders and representatives, summarized below:
Supporters groups from over 130 football clubs
Football Supporters’ Association (FSA)
Kick it Out
the Football Association (FA)
the Premier League
English Football League (EFL)
League Managers’ Association
Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA)
Club owners, including the “Big Six” and others throughout the pyramid
Our Beautiful Game
FA Equality Now
Evidence sessions were also held with experts in finance, law and other relevant areas, amassing over 100 hours of information presented to the Chair and Review Panel.
In July 2021 the Review conducted an online survey seeking views from fans and interested individuals across the nation. This received over 20,000 responses.
Following this initial phase the preliminary findings of the Review were published on 22 July 2021, while the review panel continued to investigate the issues and seek expert advice on the issues raised.
While the review was set up to address the challenges encountered in the men’s professional game, the passion of those involved and their commitment to the development of women’s football was seen as incredible and the unique issues of women’s football in the UK was specifically addressed by the review.
In November 2021 the Review published its findings to the government and the public. Making 10 recommendations for the government to consider taking forward and enshrining in law.
What did the Fan led review of football find?
The review made 10 Strategic Recommendations. We have listed them below:
1. To ensure the long-term sustainability of football, the Government should create a
new Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF).
2. To ensure financial sustainability of the professional game, the new IREF should oversee
financial regulation in football.
3. New owners’ and directors’ tests for clubs should be established by the new IREF replacing
the three existing tests and ensuring that only good custodians and qualified
directors can run these vital assets.
4. Football needs a new approach to corporate governance to support long-term
sustainable future of the game.
5. Football needs to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in clubs with committed
EDI Action Plans regularly assessed by the new IREF.
6. As a uniquely important stakeholder, supporters should be properly consulted by
their clubs in taking key decisions by means of a Shadow Board.
7. Football clubs are a vital part of their local communities, in recognition of this there
should be additional protection for key items of club heritage.
8. Fair distributions are vital to the long term health of football. The Premier League
should guarantee its support to the pyramid and make additional, proportionate
contributions to further support football.
9. Women’s football should be treated with parity and given its own dedicated review.
10. As an urgent matter, the welfare of players exiting the game needs to be better
protected – particularly at a young age.
These recommendations were well received by the majority of English Football and the UK Government. The creation of the an Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF) would be the first major step and would make Men’s Football in England a regulated industry, meaning like teaching, finance or the energy sector the government would have huge powers to step in and make dramatic interventions or changes to ensure it’s smooth running for the benefit of England, it’s people and culture.
From here the other 9 recommendations would cascade out.
It is important to note that while there has been little disagreement on the validity and importance of the recommendations, criticism has come that a failing UK Government is probably not the best body to enforce regulation upon the English game.
The majority of the changes are common sense and things that the football world are working together to move towards anyway. UEFA and the Premier League both have strong and increasingly enforceable Financial Fair Play (FFP) measures aimed at promoting sustainability within football clubs. The Premier League is one of the most successful sporting leagues in the world, both financially and on the field of play. In addition the Premier League pays unprecedented sums of money down the football pyramid, supporting the game from the ground up and has shown a passion and willingness to alter where and how this money is delivered when presented with evidence and a persuasive argument.
The world of English football agrees in unison that change is necessary, the disagreement falls on whether government regulation is required to achieve it.
What actions has the government taken since the fan led review of football?
On the 23rd February 2023 the government Department for Culture, Media and Sport published a “White Paper” laying out it’s planned policy action in response to the Fan Led Review of Football.
The headline takeaway was the announcement of the intent to appoint an Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF). This is slated to happen sometime in 2024, but no firm time scales were laid out.