Friday, 21 January 2011

The Government and football – strong words need to be followed up with action

Sports Minister Hugh Robertson had some harsh words to say about the governance of English football yesterday:

"If you look across sport, it is very clear to me that football is the worst-governed sport in this country, without a shadow of a doubt. The levels of corporate governance that apply to football, a point often addressed by [Labour], lag far behind other sports, and other sports are by no means beacons in this regard."

Not only did Robertson (correctly) identify the problem, he promised action.

"So, action is needed and the Government will take it, but it wants to see the results of [the Department of Culture Media and Sport] select committee first."

That's quite a bold statement, and also very clear. Football supporters need to hold that promise to account. Here is my list of what's wrong with football. Others may agree or disagree and no doubt views on the relative importance of each problem will differ:

Debt and financial mismanagement
How is it that no Bundesliga club has ever gone bust or into administration yet dozens of English clubs have?

Leveraged buyouts
Impossible in most European leagues, banned in the NFL(!). Adding debt to a club for the privilege of having new owners. Nothing added, nothing invested. 

Supporter ownership
Why is there no help (or even preference) for the most natural owners to take a stake in their clubs? Instead we end up with the crooks, carpetbaggers and dodgy dealers who have ruined so many.

Ticket prices
Record income flows into our game and yet prices rise inexorably upwards with supporters priced out. £100 for a non-executive ticket at Arsenal? Laughable.

The FA
Responsible for the debt ridden shambles of "Nu Wembley", the decline of the FA Cup and the shambolic England team and its manager. Not fit for purpose.

Financial inequality in the game – Champions League qualification makes you rich, PL mid-table makes you worry, relegation could send you broke. Lower than that clubs fight for scraps.

Why hasn't there been a proper debate on this? Visit a German stadium and see how they do it (no doubt they would sell us some of their highly engineered safe standing barriers).

You may have your own issues you would add to the list. Some, such as the level of player wages, seem to me to stem from the no. 1 problem, financial mismanagement.

I believe that if Hugh Robertson is serious about taking action on football "governance", these are the issues and benchmarks against which he and the government must be measured.

Over to you Hugh.