Football Governance - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Dr Malcolm Clarke, FRSA, supporter representative on the FA Council


1.  I have been a match-going football fan for about 50 years, attending approximately 50 games per season. I am Chair of the Football Supporters Federation but in carrying out my duties on the FA Council, which I joined in 2007 as the first ever supporter representative following the Burns review, I liaise with and reports back to other specialist national supporters organisations.

2.  I am a former NHS Chief Executive and Local Authority Chief Officer, who is now a self-employed quality consultant and policy analyst. I hold or have held a range of public appointments including sitting on two national Tribunals; sitting as a member of the General Social Care Council, the regulator for the social care workforce; sitting as an NHS Non-executive Director and acting as Trustee of a Charity. In these roles, in my former employment and in my consultancy work I have had extensive experience of both regulation and governance issues.


—  Further detailed review of FA regulatory processes and the role and composition of the Football Regulatory Authority (paras 5-6).

—  Consideration of measures to improve diversity on the FA Council (para 13).

—  Immediate appointment of two independent non-executive directors to the FA Board (paras 15-17).

—  Inclusion of the Alliance as part of the professional game (para 21).

—  Removal of second class status by enfranchisement of the six "Football family" representatives (para 22).

—  Alignment into a single body of the shareholders and Council (para 24).

—  Consideration of new independent FA Board composition (para 25).

—  Consideration of new smaller "Council" (or some other name) to enable effective representation of all stakeholders and advise the Board and hold it to account (paras 26-27).


3.  I endorse the evidence of the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct. This is a statement of evidence based specifically on my experience as the supporter representative on the FA Council.

4.  There are many dedicated staff working for the FA who produce high quality work across the enormous range of activities which are necessary for the promotion, development, regulation and governance of the game in England, much of it out of the public eye. Similarly, on the FA Council, there are many members who make a valuable input at Council and Committee level based on a wealth of experience of running football in a wide range of roles. My views on the need for reform are based on structural arguments not personalities.

5.  The former Chief Executive, Ian Whatmore, gave an (in my view) insightful presentation to the FA Council on the problems, weaknesses and conflicts with the current regulatory arrangements in the FA, at what turned out, unfortunately in my view, to be his last FA Council meeting before he resigned for reasons which were never reported to the Council. Neither did we hear his proposed solutions. I believe that there is a case for a further detailed review of the regulatory processes, in the light of the experience since the changes introduced following the Burns changes.

6.  This should include a review of the effectiveness of The Football Regulatory Authority which was set up as an arms length unit in pursuance of Burns recommendations, but the interesting, and often unnoticed thing, is that its role is different to that envisage by Burns, who saw it as a regulation and compliance unit, not one which determined regulatory policy.


7.  Lord Burns envisaged two roles for the FA Council. First, that of holding the Board to account and, second, acting as the Parliament of Football to debate key issues in the game. I agree with that analysis. Unfortunately, at present Council does not, because it cannot, fulfil either role effectively, for several reasons.

8.  First, it is far too big. There are 118 members of Council. This inevitably means that such discussions as occur on decisions or recommendations of the Board or Committees are based around formal questions to the top table, and that it is very difficult for a member to pursue a point or engage in exploratory dialogue with the Board members, the executive or Committee Chairmen.

9.  Twenty-five of these, ie almost a quarter of Council, are Vice-Presidents or Life Vice-Presidents. There are six Vice-Presidents and 19 life Vice Presidents. Life Vice-Presidents are those who have served 20 years on Council and, somewhat bizarrely, have reached the age of 72 (ageism in reverse !). Their appointing body can the backfill the resultant vacancy, thus increasing the size of Council considerably. Burns suggested a Council of Honour to recognise the contribution of longstanding members of Council, but this was not adopted.

10.  Second, the format of the meeting is the approval or otherwise of a large number of sets of Board and Committee minutes. The Council does not receive detailed written reports from the executive on key issues and does not routinely see the background papers which went to the Board or committees. It is therefore very difficult for Council members to brief themselves on the background to key decisions before Council meetings. This means that it is very difficult for the Board to "report on its activities and performance and to be questioned and challenged" (to use Burns' language) at the Council.

11.  Third, it only meets five times a year. This means that sometimes the minutes of the Board and Committees refer to meetings which took place literally months previously, and the matter has passed or developed significantly.

12.  Fourth, significant time is not allocated for debate on the key issues facing football. There are sometimes presentations on particular topics, followed by questions but there is rarely time for extended debate on these topics. The meetings start at 11.00 am and finish with lunch. Considering that it costs about £20k to stage the meeting and bring members from all over the country, it would seem appropriate to at least allocate a whole day to it.

13.  Fifth, there are legitimate questions about the diversity of Council. Out of the 118 members, 114 are white men, two are women and two are non-white. Although there is an age limit of 75 for membership of Council, it does not apply to the currently 24 members who were on the Council in 1990. I am aged 64 and two-thirds of the members of Council are older than me.


14.  The Board comprises the Independent Chairman, the General Secretary, five members from the professional game (three from the Premier League; two from the Football League) and five members from the National Game.

15.  I believe that the Board would benefit from additional independent non-executive input, in line with Burns' recommendation and good governance practice. I can do no better than repeat Lord Burns' words on this "The essence of being independent is that such directors do not face conflicts of interest, unlike other members of the Board, whether they be executive, from the national game or from the professional game………being independent they are uniquely well-placed to judge difficult issues from the perspective of the FA, rather than that of the bodies represented on the FA".

16.  Therefore last autumn I asked the Board to place a proposal to add two additional independent non-executive directors, on the agenda of the special shareholders meeting called to abolish the so-called one-year rule (which required the independent chairman to have not held another role in football in the previous year). The Board did not agree to do so. I therefore wrote to all shareholders in an attempt to gain support from the 5% of shareholders necessary to have it placed on the agenda. I only succeeded in gaining the support of approximately 1%, although this may, in part, have been for two reasons. First, Recipients only had seven days in which to respond, and therefore little time to consult their own Boards, and second, this was an unusual process to launch.

17.  I have repeated the exercise for the AGM on 25 May 2011, this time giving respondents three months in which to reply. I am hopeful that on this occasion I will succeed in at least getting the issue on to the AGM agenda for debate, although it would require 75% support from shareholders to make the change.

18.  For the reasons outlined above, effective power on key strategic issues in the FA lies with the Board rather than the Council and it is almost impossible for the Council to hold the Board to account in any meaningful way.

19.  I believe that there are issues of conflicts of interest in the composition of the Board. To take one example, the FA is the governing body of the game which regulates and sanctions leagues. One of the current Vice-chairmen of the FA is also the Chairman of the Premier League. I believe this is undesirable and contrary to the practice of good governance.

20.  The Board is based on a representative principle, with equal numbers of representatives from, the professional and national games. However, there are some deficiencies in this. I give two examples.

21.  First, the so-called Alliance leagues, the leagues immediately below the Football League (The Football Conference and the leagues below it) comprise full-time and part-time professional clubs. They are however classed as part of the national game, not the professional game, which seems clearly inappropriate. The national game representatives elected to the Board all come from the county FAs who hold the larger voting power, and so the Alliance, despite their importance to the football pyramid, are effectively unrepresented on the Board.

22.  Second, the six representatives of the wider football family, myself as the supporter representative, together with the representatives of the professional players, the managers, the referees, the Disability Equality Advisory Group and the Race Equality Advisory Group, are the only category of Council members who are not represented on the Board, and cannot stand for it, nominate for it or vote for it. In that sense we are second class members of Council.


23.  Space does not permit the detailed exposition of alternative models for the FA, but I present the outline of a possible alternative approach.

24.  I support Lord Burns' view that there is a case for reviewing the potentially confusing situation of having two oversight bodies, the shareholders and the Council, and aligning the two.

25.  I think there is a strong case for the Board to be comprised of only independent members and executive directors, along the lines of the Australian Football League Commission as outlined in the submission from the Football Supporters Federation. This would remove the conflicts of interest.

26.  There is a need for a much smaller body to effectively represent the range of stakeholders of the game. This could be called the "Council" or some other name if the name "Council" were retained for the newly-aligned shareholding body. If the Board was comprised as outlined above, this could be a largely advisory body. If the current Board structure or some variant of it were retained, then this body would, in my view need to have a strengthened role of holding the Board to account, as envisaged by Burns.

27.  It would be important that such a body could not be dominated by any single interest group. A possible composition of such a body might be:

County FAs12
Premier League4
Football League4
Football Supporters Federation1
Supporters Direct1
Professional referees1
Amateur referees1
League managers1
National coaching system2
Disability Equality Advisory group 1
Race Euality Advisory group1

January 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 29 July 2011