Monday, 31 January 2011

Football governance - learning from the Edwardians

With a Commons Select Committee investigating football's governance and ministers railing against the way the game is run, the latest edition of United fanzine Red News, had an interesting press clipping showing how things were done back in 1909.

Having finished Champions in 1907/08 (see photo), United won the FA Cup in the 1908/09 season and had upset the FA in various ways (including outrageously having a replica of the FA Cup made). This was also the time of the ill-fated player rebellion over their attempt to unionise. United were being bankrolled by local brewer John Henry Davies who put up the £60,000 to build Old Trafford. As you can see from the clipping from the Daily Sketch on 7th December 1909 below (reproduced with kind permission), the FA had suspicions that United were not a "genuine" club under its rules.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of United's actions in 1909, it is worth noting what the FA rules said at the time.

On what made a club "genuine":
"...that is to say, that it was formed by the voluntary effort of a number of people resident in the locality of its headquarters, and that there were many shareholders who, with separate interests, had the right to elect directors."
And on what sort of ownership was permissible:
"The Football Association does not allow the private proprietorship of clubs carried on for the purpose of speculation and profit."
And finally on financial monitoring:
"they [the FA] have been prosecuting inquiries. They demanded the balance-sheet, which is never made public. The share list has been examined [any Qataris on there?]. The increases of capital, the alteration of the articles of association (without permission), and the alleged issue of debentures [bonds] for large sums in connection with the building of the new ground at Old Trafford have been matters for consideration."
None of the stipulations above exist in the current FA rules of course, but wouldn't the game be better off if they did? Why were restrictions on "speculation and profit" removed? Why are individuals allowed to own clubs, rather than diverse groups of supporters? Why is there so little financial scrutiny of debt and accounts? 

When we scratch our heads as to how to improve the governance of football, perhaps we should start with the FA rules of Edwardian England and see how they did it....