Written evidence submitted by The Football
THE FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
A BRIEF HISTORY
Football Conference was formed in 1979 with 22 Clubs in one National
Division (later extended to 24 Clubs).
automatic promotion place to Football League (subject to meeting
Ground Grading criteria) in 1987.
second automatic promotion place to Football League (subject to
criteria) from Play-Off system in 2003.
instrumental role with the FA in the re-structure of the National
League System in 2004.
Competition to 68 Clubs in three Divisions by the formation of
Conference North & Conference South for start of 2004-05 season.
seasonintroduced an "Approved Playing Budget"
system to monitor member Clubs' expenditure on players' wages
against Club turnover.
After successive sponsorships, concluding with 12 continuous years
with Nationwide Building Society, engaged new Title sponsor in
Blue Square for three years.
Engaged new Broadcast Partner (Setanta) for five years. (Broadcaster
went into Administration at end of 2008-09 season.)
seasondeveloped and extended Approved Playing Budget system
into a Financial Reporting Initiative to monitor and control debt,
particularly Crown debt.
Renewed Title sponsorship with Blue Square Bet for three further
Engaged with new Broadcast Partner (Premier Sports Television)
for three years.
Support received from The Premier League (PL) and The Professional
Footballers' Association (PFA) to organise and manage a Club Community
Development Fund. At present 34 member Clubs are involved in scheme
encompassing health education; literacy and disabled groups.
media exposurePress, Radio and Television.
working relationship with the Football Association, The Premier
League, and The Football League.
status on the Professional Game Board.
link with Football League.
with three Feeder Leagues in National League System.
Clubswell established and progressive Clubs representing
large areas, towns or cities, in most cases as important a part
of local and community life as larger clubs in the Premier League
and the Football League.
Clubs providing a highly competent level of football in three
Divisions of the Football Conference; the FA Cup, eg Crawley Town,
and the FA Trophy.
Players of member Clubs are selected for the England "C"
team in European Championship matches.
60 England "C" players from the Football Conference
have progressed to Football League Clubs.
FC has frequently had players selected to represent Wales at all
levels, including Full Internationals.
agreement between the FC and the Football League has worked well
since its establishment 23 years ago.
FC has a successful record of promoting its Clubs to the Football
League in a stable condition meriting further promotion, eg Doncaster,
Rushden & Diamonds, Wycombe Wanderers and Yeovil Town.
FC had a successful record of returning Clubs relegated from the
Football League to their former status, in a "rehabilitated"
condition, eg Exeter City, Oxford United and Torquay United.
development of young talent, eg Stuart Pearce (Wealdstone to Coventry
City & England); Graham Roberts (Yeovil Town to Tottenham
Hotspur & England); Andrew Townsend (Weymouth to Southampton
& Republic of Ireland).
ability to rebuild playing careers, eg Michael Kightley (Southend
to Grays Athletic to Wolverhampton Wanderers); Andy Drury (Luton
Town to Ipswich Town).
grounding for Managers, eg Nigel Clough (Burton Albion to Derby
County), Mark Yates (Kidderminster Harriers to Cheltenham Town),
Neil Warnock (Scarborough to Notts. County), Steve Cotterill (Cheltenham
Town to Stoke City).
relationships, and financial support with/from the Premier League,
the Football League, the Professional Footballers' Association
and the League Managers' Association.
centralised administration in middle of operating area with small
of Directors & Officers comprising a mix of professional personnel
with current and/or past Club & Competition experience together
with independent personnel which provides good governance.
on the FA Counciltwo delegates.
Financial Reporting Initiative to assist Clubs to "live within
their means". This Initiative has been very successful at
reducing HMRC debt.
known sponsor which is part of internationally known company.
to attract Broadcast Partner (Radio & Television).
Community Development Fund (see above)funded by PL and
Clubs "buddying" with Premier League clubs eg Altrincham
with Manchester United & Manchester City.
of strong Football Conference Youth Alliance (68 Clubs) developing
education and football.
Competition gives rise to travel difficulties.
Football Conference feels "betwixt & between" the
Professional Game and the National Game. With its amalgam of predominantly
full-time professional Club in its Premier Division and it predominantly
part-time professional Clubs in its North & South Divisions
it is the "meat in the sandwich" between the Professional
Game and the National Game.
Clubs in current economic climate.
time administration of most Clubs creates communication difficulties
and reduces training opportunities that would raise ability to
work effectively and efficiently.
without potential or ambition to progress.
losing young players after investing in development, to professional
clubs, without receiving compensation.
financial grant aid from the Football Foundation (FF) and the
Football Stadium Improvement Fund (FSIF), grant levels have decreased.
Funding required to raise ground standards to meet legislative
demands, and the requirements for promotion, particularly to the
Football League, is difficult for Clubs to find.
is a lack of support for facilities, eg 3G artificial surface
pitches, in the FC community of its 68 member Clubs, where these
Clubs are well positioned to deliver these projects.
of direction from the FA leads over use of artificial surfaces
in competition matches leads to confusion, eg selective use in
the FA Trophy and FA Cup (not beyond First Round) but use is permitted
in European competitions.
for Youth Development schemes organised by Football League clubs
relegated to the Football Conference cease after two years.
common with all levels of football in Britain there is a lack
of ethnic and gender diversity in the administration of the game.
to call upon governing body and senior football competitions and
organizations for help and advice.
competition gives greater scope to sponsors & partners for
FA Cup and the FA Trophy. Clubs welcome the opportunity to play
in these competitions and the Football Conference consistently
provides both Finalists in the FA Trophy.
Division Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium. The 2009-10 Final
attracted 42,669 spectators.
to extend promotion/relegation agreement with the Football League
from the current two Clubs promoted & two Clubs relegated
to four each way, in line with arrangement between Divisions within
the Football League.
have the opportunity to represent their country.
for former Premier League and Football League players to prolong
and/or resurrect their careers.
Club Community scheme provides players with the opportunity to
identify different career paths.
the Club, Club sponsors have opportunity to engage with local
in Leagues above taking top Clubs from Football Conference.
interest, eg falling gates.
media coverage of most senior Clubs and Leagues.
coverage and scheduling of senior Competitions.
of season movement of Clubs affects stability and consistency
cost of travel impinges on visiting supporters' ability to travel,
thereby reducing attendances.
of personal funding provided by ambitious Owners/Directors.
1. Should football clubs in the UK be treated
differently from other commercial organisations?
Football Clubs must be compliant with UK Company
Law and meet all their commercial and legal responsibilities.
It is acknowledged football clubs trade, and are
often funded, differently to normal commercial organisations.
Unlike conventional companies football clubs engage more deeply
within their local communities and carry with them the history
of the area they represent and long standing allegiances and hopes
of their local (and often large) supporter base. Clubs compete
against one another in competitions; despite variances in their
structure, eg constitution of club, amount of resources available,
and size of support. They must, however, meet all liabilities
and responsibilities as expected of any other trading company.
Like Companies with responsibilities to shareholders,
football clubs have responsibilities to meet with their supporters,
communities and fellow participants. The difficulties of cash
flow forecasting are understood, where "revenue gathering"
home matches can be postponed by inclement weather and opponents
having Cup commitments, but these variances are well known within
the industry and must be budgeted for. To suggest treating clubs
differently from other commercial organisations creates the possibility
of treating those trading (and paying their bills) differently
from those that are not meeting their creditors in full and in
a timely manner. This disparity will affect the competitive integrity
of the competition. The FC has adopted financial systems which
implement effectively the Competitions belief Clubs should be
responsible for all their debts, in full.
2. Are football governance rules in England
and Wales, and the governing bodies which set and apply then,
fit for purpose?
The answer to this question is possibly relative
to a Competition's position within the game's structure.
Historically, the FA has successfully governed football
through a culture of Committees reporting to a Full Council comprising
representatives from across the whole football spectrum, but predominantly
from County Football Associations. But the game has moved on.
Its evolution over the past 20 years has been rapid, particularly
since the formation of the Premier League. Competitions, Clubs
and participants have become more professional. They have become
lean organisations, requiring quick incisive decisions. Levels
of bureaucracy, with time consuming decision making processes,
slow the fast moving industry football has become.
The progression of the Premier League into an organisation
commanding global appeal raising millions of pounds, enables it
to fund many aspects of the game and communities. The funding
of several community based schemes, as well as many of footballs
stakeholders including Competitions (and therefore, indirectly,
clubs) puts the Premier League in a position of immense strength,
and largely autonomous from the Football Association. The effect
has enabled the Football League to reach up with its own development
of the Championship, League One and League Two. These organisations
comprise the Professional Game Board. Although the Football Conference
has observer status on the Board, it heads the remainder of the
football structure, under the control of the Football Association's
National Game Board.
The Football Conference understands this position
and welcomes the involvement from the FA. The Competition worked
closely with the FA to restructure the National League System
in 2004. But the Competition now has 19 of its 24 Premier Division
Clubs with a full-time playing staff. Its Premier Division is
required to comply with many regulations, including FIFA dictates,
with which no other Competition in the National League System
(NLS) needs to comply. The Football Conference has reached the
stage where it, too, needs to reach up. It requires a degree of
autonomy from the NLS, within its Rules and procedures, to fulfil
its responsibilities and objectives.
The Football Conference feels it is "the meat
in the sandwich", between the Professional Game and the National
Game. The Burns Report addressed the organisation of the game
and it was left to the FA to implement the recommendations. The
FC would like to see the Report fully implemented.
The FC is content when matters of governance arise,
that may concern it, they are dealt with fairly, but procedures
could be made leaner to increase the efficiency and effectiveness
3. Is there too much debt in the National
There is nothing wrong with debt, eg borrowing money,
providing resources are in place (or are expected to be in place)
to repay it. Put another way, "there is nothing wrong in
paying your bills". For this reason the FC does not accept
"football creditors" should receive preferential treatment.
Football clubs have as great a duty to ensure their suppliers,
HMRC, and other creditors are treated as fairly as narrowly-defined
Whilst the national debt has increased the FC has
recognised its responsibilities to ensure a financial "level
playing field" exists for all its members. Any Club not meeting
is financial responsibilities gains a pecuniary advantage over
its competitors by having funds available for other purposes,
eg for better players, thereby gaining a competitive advantage.
The FC has installed a quarterly reporting system
whereby expenditure on players' wages can be compared with turnover.
Furthermore, in conjunction with HMRC the FC monitors the payment
of Crown debt. The aims of the FC initiatives in this respect
intend to prepare Clubs for the rigours and risks of the game:
encourage Clubs to live within their means and become financially
sustainable entities; and to ensure, should promotion be achieved,
they are prepared for the increase in costs a higher level of
the game will inevitably bring.
There are many examples of Clubs going into Administration
and incurring a deduction of points. In the case of the FC, Clubs
have been relegated from the Competition for failing to comply
with the League's financial procedures. If Clubs fail to observe
the above measures, which are intended to prevent financial failurewhich
affects the integrity of the Competitionit may be time
to consider more vigorously, cost management systems in relation
to turnover, eg expenditure on the playing squad.
Whilst there have been financial calamities and chaos
in some quarters, football clubs are notably robust. They have
a good survival record. With the help of support from their communities
they continue to play the game, even at an appropriate level,
should circumstances and legislation dictate they cannot sustain
the level they were once at.
The FC proposes to continue it endeavours to create
sustainable Clubs and supports the regulatory changes emanating
from the "top" of the Game.
4. What are the pros & cons of the Supporter
Trust share holding model?
We are all Supporters, in some way shape or form.
Supporters' Clubs have always been around, raising income to support
their Clubs in a tangible way.
Supporters' Trusts (ST) often start from adversity,
eg as a protest or as a result of a Club's failure. There are
examples of ST being emotional and passionate but without the
necessary financial input, responsibility, skills and experience.
On the other hand a ST's run Club is controlled by one of the
key communities it serves, ie the fans. The Club cannot be sold
or mortgaged without the agreement of the fans. And where a Club
has land of its own, asset strippers cannot benefit. Fans have
a closer involvement in how the Club is run, and with key decisions,
meaning greater "buy in" and ownership. Oversight by
fans is more likely to prevent financial over-commitment in search
of success and the stronger links to the Clubs brings greater
benefits to the community. Every Club is, however, unique. Their
constitutions are different: one size does not fit all. Any proper
business model can achieve success, if run correctly. The FC does
not advocate any model in preference to another.
Many Clubs endeavour to live beyond their means:
mortgaging their future in search of success; reluctant to play
at the level their resources more reasonably suit. Promotion and
relegation are the life blood of the modern game, in which Clubs
require considerable sums to survive, let alone progress.
Football is a disease, incurable in many cases. Supporters
are proud of their Clubs; their allegiance stays with them for
life; they want to "belong" to their Club. But they
also want success. Supporters and Supporters organisations want
to be part of a successful Club and have been known to raise funds
for the purchase of a player. They are less well known to raise
funds for that player's wages and are less likely to want to share
in the losses their Club makes. Several professional Clubs now
have a member of the Supporters' Club or Trust on its main Board,
making a valuable contribution.
The game, however, is unique in terms of business
models and there are many ownership styles. There will always
be exceptional Supporters' Trust shareholding models arisen from
failure or an offshoot of legal intervention, eg Exeter City and
AFC Wimbledon. No two models are necessarily the same. Whilst
Supporters' Direct was set up following the Task Force recommendations,
Government has since ceased its financial support.
Supporters are the lifeblood of football and the
FC supports and encourages their involvement in whatever way best
fits the circumstances of each Club. Supporters Trusts are one
important option available to supporters who wish to become more
involved. The FC welcomes this.
5. Is Government intervention justified and,
if so, what form should it take?
Intervention, no. Participation, guidance, advice
and tangible help, as a result of joint discussions amongst agreement
involvement of all major stakeholders, most certainly yes.
The above should be on the understanding the FA and
the major competitions accept the findings of such a Commission
and agree implementation. Representation from the Professional
Game, the present National Game, and Education, as well as selected
individuals must be included.
6. Are there lessons to be learned from football
governance models across the UK and abroad, and from governance
models in other sports?
Financing large increases in salary costs has dramatically
affected football, and other sports, within the UK and Europe.
Whilst in the USA salary/squad "capping" of these costs
has been effective in the management of major sports. The UK has
several foreign Club owners and many more players from overseas
that have influenced the higher levels of football, whilst the
lower levels are drawn into the spiralling cost culture, or simply
follow bad examples.
Football, it seems, is reluctant to look seriously
at examples in other sports which may, if properly tested, positively
influence the game, eg sin bins in hockey & rugby, 10 yard
advancement of free kicks for dissent, technology. Maybe there
is not a lot wrong with the game, certainly nothing that cannot
be put right. But football must not be insular in seeking solutions
for its perceived problems, or simply keeping apace with development
and/or the demands of the spectator. Football should look outward
to keep the game interesting, safe and comfortable for all its
stakeholders. Perhaps the vehicle expressed in the answer to question
5 will provide the mode, but there has to be the will to provide