Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Blake Welton, Editor, First e11even

1. With the Culture Media & Sport Committee Football Governance Report finalised in July 2011 and an official response from the Football Association published soon after, it is an appropriate time to attempt to redress some of the issues and questions that remain unanswered on this increasingly dire matter of Football Governance.

2. Since the report we have seen Portsmouth re-enter Administration; Plymouth Argyle, Darlington and Port Vale enter Administration; Coventry City, Birmingham City and Kettering Town struggle to deal with their financial accounts and Rushden & Diamonds liquidated.

3. Further afield is the well-publicised plight of Glasgow Rangers who, despite being north of the border, will have repercussions for the rest of the British footballing landscape.

4. I, like numerous other individuals, groups and representatives, contributed to the Football Governance Report by written submission and I am sure I speak not only for myself but the majority in saying that the current situation has worsened with the urgency and direction from governing bodies alarmingly slow.

5. Arguably the Culture Media & Sport Committee’s examination into Football Governance too often stated the obvious in an overly-long and drawn out process that shed little new evidence in what many working in and around the football sector didn’t already know.

6. Furthermore, one principle ethos of the investigation “to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters” and “look at the scope for enhancing supporter involvement in decision-making processes” seemed to be lost in exploring the overall failure, incompetence and ineptitude of the current system as it stands.

7. Similarly, it was interesting that Supporters Groups merely provided written evidence to the proceedings, allowing a majority of the usual tired old faces to have egos massaged and old messages rehashed.

8. The state of the nation’s beloved game was, and is, no time for egos and I would have preferred a more prominent role for Supporters Groups either in the form of oral evidence or being actively present on the committee for the duration of the investigation.

9. The fact it is the ordinary football fan who continually foots the bill for the mis-management of a football club either directly (by loyal supporters bailing them out) or indirectly (via Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) being abandoned in place of outdated and archaic footballing philanthropy) was not underlined as greatly as it should have been.

10. The football supporter is an unusual and rare breed of customer whose loyalty, passion and devotion are still being ignored yet exploited by “the beautiful game”.

11. Yet despite these failings, even the Football Governance concurred urgent reforms were needed.

12. However it is of great interest as to how many of these recommendations the Football Association are actually prepared to “see the course” in light of the tepid response published by the Football Association on 29 February 2012.

13. One fundamental issued raised from the Report was the attempt at abolishing the archaic football creditors rule.

14. Certainly the proposal of the Football Licensing was a step in the right direction but it is clear the Football Association could not have this reform without a reform of the football creditors rule with the High Court rejection of this in May 2012 severely damaging progress.

15. Although the Rt. Hon Damian Collins from the House of Commons’ Culture Media and Sport Committee Select vowed to push to legislate the removal of the rule, I would like to know what the current situation is and the contingencies in place should this removal not be possible.

16. Similarly, I would like to know what the Football Association are prepared to do to remove numerous bureaucratic hurdles supporters face when attempting to save their clubs from the brink of extinction.

17. Furthermore, I continue to question how communication with Supporters Clubs has improved in the past 12 months—not just on a national level but at local level and what enforcements are to be implemented to ensure clubs acknowledge fans’ views.

18. Certainly when I wrote to Members of the Culture Media Sport Department; Mr. Clarke, Chairman of the Football Supporters Federation; Mr. Burgess, Acting Chief Executive of Supporters Direct and Mr. Bernstein, Chairman of the Football Association back in March 2012 with my concerns, I received correspondence from all, except the latter.

19. I find it incongruous that the Football Association, an organisation spending the majority of its time on campaigns of RESPECT, could themselves be so devoid of any of the very same quality it is so quick to champion, especially when approached with legitimate and genuine concerns from a “member” it is supposed to serve.

20. Furthermore, I understand contingencies are in place to “rebalance the FA Board” and, with this in mind, I would like to see more representatives from Supporters Groups on both the Board and Council and would ask whether this is something the Football Association is currently looking into.

21. At the time of writing, these fundamental issues have not been correctly addressed whilst the majority of other core essential concerns have been dismissed as being outside the Football Association remit.

22. If the section defined as “Matters outside the scope of the FA” is supposedly out of the FA’s remit, according to their initial response, then where is the overriding control and point of contact for serious exploitative issues and concerns.

23. Perhaps with the Football Association quick to deflect responsibility in these key areas (such as issues of ticket pricing) then perhaps it is time for government intervention here.

24. Certainly when average ticket prices for non-league Conference Football are a minimum of £14 it is evident not only are these clubs heavily over-reliant on supporter income streams but ticket-price greed is just as prevalent at the bottom of the pyramid as it is at the much publicised top.

25. Without anything being done for these such “Matters outside the scope of the FA”, there is a collision course for disaster, the equivalent of a car, without a driver heading for the rocks below the cliff, where there is a great deal of consternation expressed but where no-one comes out with any great deal of credibility due to inactivity.

26. It is about time egos and self-preservation at the Football Association are set aside and commonsense prevails for the good of the game.

27. My experience of this Governance Report so far though suggests the establishment charged with governing football within this country has merely given empty platitudes. Now is the time for greater assurances as well as greater supporter inclusion at the forefront of policy-making so perhaps the state of “the beautiful game” can be salvaged for the greater good of the many, rather than the few.

28. Otherwise we will be left with a myopic, self-serving, self-interested ugly monster of our own creating.

July 2012

Prepared 28th January 2013