Football fans encouraged by Tracey Crouch’s initial reaction to the Government’s Fan-Led Review
The review was promised in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto but kick-started by the threat of a breakaway European league.
A final report is not due until the autumn but the MP heading it last week gave her detailed thoughts after hearing over 100 hours of evidence, reading over 70 written documents and conducting a fan survey which has had over 16,000 responses.
Crouch will push for an independent regulator and argue for fans holding “golden shares” in clubs. The review will also look further into “one of the most difficult issues”, unequal revenue-sharing, with parachute payments to relegated clubs “a symptom and cause”.
Crouch also called for “urgent reform” of how the National League - non-league football’s top three divisions - is run.
Leeds United and Halifax Town are less than 20 miles apart but worlds away in footballing terms, one pushing to qualify for Europe, the other to get into the Football League. For fans of both to be enthusiastic is a good sign.
“If it makes only a quarter of the changes it talks about, that will be good,” says Rob Brown of Halifax’s supporters club. “Change is necessary.”
Adam Willerton, secretary of Leeds United Supporters’ Trust and interviewed by the committee, adds: “We’re quite pleased to see some strong recommendations. We’re hoping they’ll be actioned after a strong final report.
“One of the things we’re most glad about is the panel recognised football clubs are not ordinary businesses, they’re key institutions at the heart of communities that need to be protected.”
FC Halifax Town are only 13 years-old, successors to 97-year-old Halifax Town AFC, dissolved in 2008. Leeds avoided a similar fate but sailed dangerously close to the wind after the gambles involved in reaching the Champions League semi-finals.
“Fans rely on goodwill and the assumption people running clubs know what they’re doing and have good intentions,” says Willerton. “At Leeds we’ve seen two decades of mismanagement.
“Owners not properly engaging with fans leads to problems down the line. That the review’s come to fans first is welcome. We’ve the most at stake but we’ve got most knowledge and insight.”
The financial inequality that increasingly shapes the Premier League is a concern even in the Conference, where Halifax play.
“We’ve seen clubs like Salford come from lower down all the way through (to the Football League) because owners have thrown money at it but how sustainable is that?” asks Brown. “Grimsby and Southend are coming down with parachute payments probably similar size to our budget, let alone the income they bring in.
“Five or six clubs are really going for it but only two can be promoted. It’s nice to know clubs will spend big money but won’t go up.”
Willerton and Brown see an independent regulator as a priority, but Brown stresses it must have genuine clout. Willerton is pleased “a lot of things will be taken into account by the regulator, not just financial issues.”
He points proudly to how Leeds changed their approach to allocating away tickets last week after consulting fans but warns: “If there’s a change of ownership or a change of heart, that goodwill can just be whipped out with no accountability or repercussions.”
Brown thinks engagement is something clubs higher up can learn from non-league.
“Our club raised getting on for £50,000 in a few weeks (last season) to pay for Covid tests and help us take part in the play-offs. You don’t get that if you’re not engaged with local fans,” he argues.
“Communities will always own their football clubs but I do think there could be more of a barrier between our league and the Football League because of money.”
Clearing those barriers to create a game more in tune with fans’ wishes is daunting, but there seems genuine hope Crouch will attack them the right way.