Football Governance

Written evidence submitted by the Isthmian Football League, known as the Ryman Football League (FG 89)

Who are we?

The Isthmian Football League – founded 1905 for amateur players only: professionals were not allowed to play in the League until 1974 when The Football Association removed the amateur status. In this submission referred to as "the League".

In 1905 the League had 6 Clubs – in 2011 the League has 66 clubs.

In 1973 the League was the first league in England with a major sponsorship – Rothmans of Pall Mall

Also in 1973 the League was the first in the country to adopt 3 points for a win and to adopt Goal Difference as opposed to Goal Average for deciding places in a division where clubs have equal points – both of which have become universally accepted.

In 1989 the League was the first league outside the Football League to become a limited company.

The League is positioned at levels 7 and 8 of the national structure – see Appendix 1.

The League is positioned at Steps 3 and 4 of the National League System – see Appendix 2.

Our clubs are allocated by The Football Association on a geographical basis and currently cover an area from Lowestoft in the East and across through Harlow, Harrow, round to Fleet in Hampshire, south to Bognor Regis and along the coast to Hastings and taking in the whole of Kent and Essex back up to Suffolk – see Appendix 3.

Our highest placed Clubs are promoted to the Football Conference regional divisions (subject to compliance with ground requirements) and our lowest placed Clubs are relegated to the appropriate Senior Feeder League on a geographical basis and are replaced by clubs from those leagues.

We are a limited company with 9 directors of whom 2 are independent and 7 are on the Boards or Management Committees of our member clubs. We also have the benefit of Lord Rosser as a Vice President of the League and he attends all Board Meetings.

We have a full time Administrator. The present incumbent has been in the post for 6 years and has decided to retire. He will be succeeded in June by our first female League Secretary, Ms Kellie Discipline, who has an impressive CV in football administration. We also have a part-time administrator and pay honoraria to the Chairman and Company Secretary.

We have over 3,500 players registered with the League of whom only 195 are contract players. Most of our Clubs do not have the financial resources to have players on contract and, with it, the commitment to continue to pay them as well as a replacement player if they suffer a long term injury. The downside of this is that a player not on a contract can be signed by another club without a transfer fee being paid.

Many players from our Clubs move on to Clubs in the Premier League or the Football League. A recent prominent move was Chris Smalling who was signed by Fulham from Maidstone in 2009 and has since been transferred for a significant sum to Manchester United.

Our income in 2009 was £269,111 of which the principal contributions were £87,029 from sponsorship, £38,000 from an FA grant and £58,300 from Clubs by way of subscription. We spent £247,986 of which £73,148 was given by way of benefits to Clubs (e.g. paying for floodlight inspections, pitch maintenance, public liability insurance and the provision of free footballs) with £43,543 being paid by way of cash awards to Clubs and £46,219 on administrative salaries.

Questions to be considered by the Committee:

SHOULD FOOTBALL CLUBS IN THE UK BE TREATED DIFFERENTLY FROM OTHER ORGANISATIONS?

We say that football clubs are currently treated differently from other commercial organisations and we believe that they should continue to be so treated.

Currently there is little adverse effect on a limited company outside football which suffers an insolvency event; however, within the football industry it is a very serious matter for a Club which can result in points being deducted and, in certain cases, relegation.

Under present provisions, football creditors are protected and have to be paid in full if clubs want to retain the position they presently hold in the structure. We do not believe that this is correct and believe that all creditors should be treated the same whether they are former employees or local traders who have provided goods and services for the club.

It is acknowledged that HMR&C lost its preferred creditor status when the Enterprise Act 2006 came into force and we believe that the preferred status of football creditors should now be removed.

Our clubs are community clubs; in many cases they are a substantial focal point in the community. The vast majority of our clubs are non-profit making organisations; they are dependent on local volunteers for the administration of the club, for the staging of matches (stewards, programme sellers etc) and the running of sides below the first team. Incredibly our 66 member clubs provide 746 sides which include junior teams, women’s teams, veterans and disability sides. See Appendix 4.

We are concerned there is not a consistent approach by local authorities to our clubs. Dartford FC were members of our league at the time when they received substantial local authority support and funding to enable them to re-establish themselves as a focal point in the community through the building of a new stadium. This assistance enabled the Club to progress from our Division 1 South to our Premier Division and Dartford FC are now playing in the Football Conference South. However, there are numerous other instances where local authorities will not give any support at all even to the extent of refusing to give business rate relief to clubs.

The overwhelming majority of our clubs are not fully amateur and indeed could not survive at the levels we operate unless some payments were made to managers and players. The levels are such that a Premier Division side would pay on average wages in the region of £3,000 per week to its whole team and managers whereas a team in the regional divisions would pay, on average, less than a fifth of this. These figures are for the 40 weeks of the average football season rather than for all 52 weeks of the year. A number of clubs pay just expenses to players travelling to matches and a few clubs pay nothing at all and can truly be said to be amateur clubs.

It can be seen therefore that it is right with the diverse nature of clubs that they be treated differently from other commercial organisations.

ARE FOOTBALL GOVERNANCE RULES IN ENGLAND AND WALES, AND THE GOVERNING BODIES WHICH SET AND APPLY THEM, FIT FOR PURPOSE?

Of our current 66 clubs, 38 are limited companies and 28 are members clubs or other structures such as members clubs, community interest clubs and community amateur sports companies.

Football Governance Rules are confusing; the overall body is The Football Association but every club in England must affiliate to its local county association and without that it cannot play football in this Country. Some clubs are full or associate members of the Football Association in addition to being members of their local county association. Membership of the Football Association is not seen to be relevant in this regard because the Governance Rules apply through the leagues irrespective of whether the individual clubs are full members of The Football Association.

We believe that there should be clear and unambiguous lines of reporting and we do not comprehend, particularly with current technology why there needs to be more than one governing body and why a club should therefore have to pay more than one affiliation fee.

This then leads on to the question as to whether the governing bodies are fit for purpose. County Football Associations are limited companies themselves but are, in effect, regional offices of The Football Association and we believe that the roles and responsibilities of those County Associations should come under the umbrella of The Football Association. In business parlance, and in terms of governance, the parent body would be the holding company and the County Associations would be wholly owned subsidiaries. This enables the question as to representation on Football Association Boards and Committees to be reviewed. We believe that there should be greater emphasis on leagues being represented with a number of independent appointees to give balance. Most clubs belong to several leagues (depending on the number of sides they run) as well as more than one Association and some clubs even affiliate to more than one county association. We believe that a club should be responsible to one overall governing body, namely The Football Association, and the league in which it plays. That way the governing body can set out the overall structure and the league, working in harness with the governing body can, if required, apply the Governance rules.

IS THERE TOO MUCH DEBT IN THE PROFESSIONAL GAME?

In playing season 2009-10 we were unfortunate to have two clubs which suffered insolvency events. In the case of Folkestone Invicta FC they went into a Company Voluntary Arrangement and as result of that were deducted ten points. The club was still good enough to win enough points to qualify for the play offs in our regional division and by winning the play offs were promoted to our Premier Division; Harlow Town FC were in a similar situation and as a result of their CVA were deducted ten points and were placed in a relegation position as a result of this deduction. However, as a result of other clubs throughout the Country going into liquidation the club were reprieved from relegation and remain members of our regional division.

In the current playing season we started with problems with Croydon Athletic FC which required very careful management and with great help from the League the club were able to continue in the Premier Division having gained promotion last season; the final example we can give is that this playing season we have Leyton FC who have suffered many financial problems as well as facing a Court case over the future of their ground and have been unable to pay monies due to the League. As a result they were expelled from the League, following a vote by the other 65 Clubs, at a general meeting held in February 2011.

It could be said that one club in difficulty is one club too many; we certainly see far too many clubs in financial difficulties.

We believe that there is too much debt in the game in general not just the full time professional game. We believe that what is needed are financial initiatives such as are currently being exercised by the Football League (in part) and the Football Conference. We believe that there are two ways of approaching this, one is to have a salary cap on Clubs and the other is to have restrictions on budgets. We tend to favour restrictions on budgets but this, in itself, creates a problem for a League such as ours because of the cost of the structure required to administer the enforcement of the requirements.

In recent years the Football Regulatory Authority has been established and has a degree of autonomy and independence within the game and has recently shown that it can enforce financial regulations by the deduction of ten points from St Albans City FC. We believe that this is a positive but what we believe is that the procedures must be transparent and must apply to all so that it is not a case of being "unlucky" to be caught out. It should apply across the whole game, at the higher levels as well as the lower levels. It does appear that there are different rules depending on whether a club is a limited company or not; for instance the Fit and Proper Persons Test only applies to directors in limited companies and as we have said earlier we have 28 clubs which are not limited companies and therefore there is no fit and proper persons test applied to those clubs. This, in our submission, is wrong and the fit and proper persons test should immediately be extended to all clubs down to Step 4.

WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF THE SUPPORTER TRUST SHAREHOLDING MODEL

We welcome the involvement of all community groups in our clubs which as we have already said are community clubs.

We do not believe that any one such group should have either a power of veto or a majority vote over other interests on the Board or Committee.

Where there is not a full compliance with the supporter trust shareholding model then the other community interests should be consultative since it would have a counter-productive effect on encouraging people to invest in clubs if they could be outvoted by those not investing their own monies.

IS GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION JUSTIFIED AND, IF SO, WHAT FORM SHOULD IT TAKE?

The Burns Report was a Government initiative and has not been fully implemented. We believe that the remainder of that report should be looked at and the parts which have not been applied should be further considered. In particular we support the introduction of independent non-executive directors. We believe that Government intervention should be limited to getting the structure right and then leaving the industry to run itself.

In previous years Government funding was available for improvements in grounds but that has been withdrawn and the only funding now comes from the Premier League. Whilst the money is welcome, the fact that it is coming from the Premier league only strengthens the influence of that body to the exclusion of what we say should be the governing body, The Football Association. If Government wants to intervene then it should be prepared to go back to the time when it committed funds for ground improvements and for that money to be distributed through FA channels or FA approved channels.

ARE THERE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM FOOTBALL GOVERNANCE MODELS ACROSS THE UK AND ABROAD, AND FROM GOVERNANCE MODELS IN OTHER SPORTS?

It is difficult for us to give any considered response to this question as we only have experience of the existing Football Association model and can really only react to that.

We believe from our level of the game that the problem is that we fall in between the Professional Game Board and the National Game Board because we are neither fulltime professionals nor basic grass roots football. As such we believe that there should be a much clearer and more specific place created for levels 5 to 8 or even levels 5 to 9 so that "grass roots" can truly be the grass roots levels of the game and we can then deal with matters which are truly applicable to our respective levels of the game.

This league wishes to stress and emphasise to the Committee the point that there is a third level, that is not The Premier League nor The Football League nor "grass roots" football played in the parks and that any report on football and football governance should recognise and reflect that fact.

The Isthmian Football League Limited Incorporated in England and Wales Company Registration Number 23922631

Registered Office: Triumph House, Station Approach, Sanderstead Road, South Croydon CR2 0PL


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Analysis of Club Teams - October 2010

Total

Senior Mens 11

Youth Under 18/19

Other Junior Football

Womens

Veterans

Disability

Totals

746

115

100

454

47

18

12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFC Hornchurch

5

2

1

2

 

 

 

AFC Sudbury

18

3

 

14

1

 

 

Aveley

16

2

1

11

2

 

 

Billericay Town

7

2

1

2

2

 

 

Bognor Regis Town

10

1

 

8

 

1

 

Brentwood Town

4

2

1

1

 

 

 

Burgess Hill Town

3

1

1

 

1

 

 

Bury Town

23

1

3

14

1

1

3

Canvey Island

19

2

17

 

 

 

 

Carshalton Atheltic

16

2

2

10

2

 

 

Chatham Town

11

2

2

7

 

 

 

Cheshunt

13

3

1

9

 

 

 

Chipstead

15

3

1

11

 

 

 

Concord Rangers

6

1

1

3

 

1

 

Corinthian-Casuals

14

2

 

11

 

1

 

Cray Wanderers

13

2

1

10

 

 

 

Croydon Athletic

14

1

2

10

1

 

 

Dulwich Hamlet

4

1

2

 

 

 

1

East Thurrock United

17

1

1

13

2

 

 

Eastbourne Town

37

3

2

30

1

1

 

Enfield Town

19

2

 

6

11

 

 

Faversham Town

4

2

1

 

 

1

 

Fleet Town

3

2

1

 

 

 

 

Folkestone Invicta

13

2

1

9

 

 

1

Godalming Town

3

1

1

 

1

 

 

Grays Athletic

11

1

2

7

 

1

 

Great Wakering Rovers

5

2

 

 

 

3

 

Harlow Town

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

Harrow Borough

3

2

1

 

 

 

 

Hastings United

15

1

2

12

 

 

 

Hendon

4

1

2

1

 

 

 

Heybridge Swifts

4

2

2

 

 

 

 

Horsham

6

1

1

4

 

 

 

Horsham YMCA

2

1

1

 

 

 

 

Ilford

6

1

1

4

 

 

 

Kingstonian

24

1

2

14

6

1

 

Leatherhead

25

3

2

20

 

 

 

Leyton

7

1

1

4

1

 

 

Lowestoft Town

5

2

1

2

 

 

 

Maidstone United

31

3

2

15

4

1

6

Maldon Town

17

1

1

15

 

 

 

Margate

21

2

1

18

 

 

 

Merstham

20

5

1

12

2

 

 

Metropolitan Police

5

2

1

 

1

1

 

Needham Market

3

2

1

 

 

 

 

Potters Bar Town

7

2

1

1

1

1

1

Ramsgate

15

2

2

10

1

 

 

Redbridge

5

2

 

3

 

 

 

Romford

4

2

1

1

 

 

 

Sittingbourne

4

1

2

1

 

 

 

Sutton United

3

2

1

 

 

 

 

Thamesmead Town

11

2

1

6

1

1

0

Tilbury

7

1

2

4

 

 

 

Tonbridge Angels

13

2

2

9

 

 

 

Tooting & Mitcham United

32

2

3

24

3

 

 

Waltham Abbey

12

2

1

8

 

1

 

Waltham Forest

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

Walton & Hersham

4

2

1

1

 

 

 

Walton Casuals

17

1

 

15

 

1

 

Ware

4

1

2

1

 

 

 

Wealdstone

23

2

3

17

1

 

 

Whitstable Town

15

2

1

12

 

 

 

Whytehawk

24

2

3

18

1

 

 

Whyteleafe

12

1

1

9

 

1

 

Wingate & Finchley

9

1

3

5

 

 

 

Worthing

2

1

1

 

 

 

 

February 2011