Football blueprint offers EFL clubs a ‘way forward’

The Government has been asked to form a new independent body to bailout and regulate Football League clubs and their “deeply unsustainable culture”.

The AESSEAL New York Stadium, home of Rotherham United football club.

The plan would see supporters’ trusts or local government authorities represented at boardroom level at those clubs which accept its help.

Former chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, MP Damian Collins, has produced a blueprint called “A Way Forward For Football” in conjunction with Sunderland shareholder Charlie Methven. It calls for action to help Football League clubs, “many of whom were already on the edge of bankruptcy” before the coronavirus crisis. Yorkshire has nine Football League clubs.

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Methven believes Covid-19 offers an opportunity to change the way clubs are run and regulated, but only if it moves quickly.

Sunderland's Charlie Methven.

The blueprint lays out a plan to ensure the bailout does not become a “quick fix”.

The pair want the Football Association to create an independent Football Finance Authority (FFA) in conjunction with and financially backed by the Government, to provide financial assistance to Football League clubs, who chairman Rick Parry says are facing a “£200m black hole”. In return for support, clubs would give the FFA a minority shareholding of 10 to 49 per cent, which would allow fans or local politicians to nominate boardroom representatives.

“You have to have external regulators who will make decisions without fear or favour,” argued Methven. “When it comes to commercial deals, media rights, competition rules and things like that, they’re rightly appointed by the clubs but you can’t have regulators who owe their existence to the owners they are supposed to be regulating.

“(Football League chairman) Rick Parry can talk all he likes about sustainability and clubs can even vote the rules through but the next time a club breaks the rules he has to decide if he’s going to put his job on the line and risk the clubs ganging up on him and getting rid of him.

“The structure of football incentivises owners to try and swing the bat. There are no strong mechanisms to stop it because the people who swing the bat are the ones regulating it.

“The Football Supporters Association were already in discussions (about regulation) before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. He saw and felt the impact of Bury’s collapse and told the staff in No 10 we had to stop something like this happening again, and I think that put after-burners under it.

“We have some leverage over the clubs asking, ‘Why should we give powers to someone else?’ and saying it should be up to them how they run their own businesses.

“In terms of the British economy we’re talking about relatively small sums and we’re not talking about the taxpayer giving money away (supporters trusts or local authorities could buy their shareholding at a discount).

“It could be set up very quickly and it would need to be. You would be looking at a statutory instrument which you could set up pretty quickly to be backed up by a body set up in a couple of months’ time. If you took six months to do it some clubs would have gone bust by then, and the ones who survived probably wouldn’t be interested.”

The involvement of Methven, who featured heavily in a recent documentary on Sunderland, will be controversial. His club is one of the “Magic Six” Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart derisively referred to when talking about the clubs whose eagerness to keep the League One season going with an enlarged play-offs has delayed a decision on the division’s conclusion.

Stewart’s Rotherham are in the automatic promotion places, whereas Methven’s Sunderland are outside the promotion places.

“As a sustainably-run club we aren’t under an immediate threat but the clubs we want to play against are saying they can’t afford to play,” complained Methven. “We should soon be back playing and charging people for streaming and sponsorship but we’re being told by other clubs they can’t afford to play, they can’t afford to be football clubs.

“This would be putting money in to cover the costs of testing and so on, on condition that you play.

“There’s a deeply unsustainable culture in football if you’ve got staff on furlough, you’re not paying business rates and you still can’t pay for testing (to allow players to perform behind closed doors).”

Bradford City were one of the League Two clubs who unanimously decided it no longer made financial sense to complete the season behind closed doors, with the director of communications Ryan Sparks describing it as “a very expensive lottery ticket” to try to qualify for the play-offs from ninth place.

A decision on whether League One will try to resume is expected next week.

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