Supporter representatives have told MPs that football urgently needs regulatory reform to prevent more clubs falling into crisis.
Speaking at a hearing into the demise of Bury FC, FSA chair Malcolm Clarke and vice-chair Tom Greatrex told MPs that independent regulation was needed to prevent clubs, as in the case of Bury FC, going to the wall. “This is the first time an FA Cup winner has been expelled from the EFL,” Tom told the Department of Digital, Media & Sport (DCMS) Select Committee. “This is a real wake up call for the football authorities, there really needs to be change.”
Greatrex said that football’s self-regulation was failing and that club owners should not be left to set their own rules. “Fundamentally having the people run the competition deciding the rules for every other club isn’t tenable. There needs to be a degree of independence. The real issue with the EFL is the breadth of clubs, the breadth of interest. Currently the people who decide the rules are the owners. That needs to be addressed.”
Prior to the hearing, MPs received our policy paper which sets out our proposals on improving the regulation of professional football clubs.
“We love the game of football, we want to see it survive. The pyramid we have is uniquely valuable – and we want to see it preserved.” – FSA chair Malcolm Clarke. “Our proposals are a package of measures that can stop this cycle of despair re-appearing somewhere else in the next few years. It should be about prevention, not just acting in a crisis.”
MPs also questioned leading figures from the football authorities about their rules and regulations – DCMS Select Committee chair Damian Collins was particularly damning of the EFL’s failures around Bury.
“Fans of Bury FC listening to you now will be thinking the league failed in its duty,” he told the EFL’s executive chair Debbie Jevans. “It seems that the rules that are there aren’t rigorously enforced.”
Jevans said the EFL had to take the “incredibly difficult decision” to expel Bury from the league, while Ian Lucas MP criticised the league for allowing the club to be bought by Steve Dale in the first place. “The aim of the EFL is to ensure clubs have a long-term ambition to play in the league,” Jevans said.
Jevans also re-iterated that supporters would be thoroughly involved in the EFL’s upcoming review, to be led by Jonathan Taylor QC, which will investigate its rules around acquisition and ownership.
“We have to understand what has happened and learn lessons from that,” she said. “Our ambition is the review will result in change.”
Though expressing regret at Bury FC’s plight, Jevans said they remained committed to self-regulation, as did FA chairman Greg Clarke – who indicated the FA would be maintaining its hands-off approach.
“The people running the competitions are the closest to how they are evolving” Clarke said. “It’s difficult for the FA to be close enough to any competition to spot the latest tricks being used by unscrupulous owners.”
Despite Clarke’s comments, the FSA’s motion to the FA Council encouraging them to take up the role of independent regulator was passed unopposed by the Council last week.
The DCMS Select Committee will be continuing its investigation into football administration with a visit to Gigg Lane.