I would like to thank all the constituents who have contacted me recently about football club ownership reform and the related Vote Football campaign.
Football is an important part of our cultural life and our identity. I understand how disappointing it is for supporters when football club owners are not financially responsible, or do not respect a club’s history or fan base. I appreciate that many feel the current safeguards are too weak.
For someone to become a director or owner of a football club, they have to satisfy the Owners’ and Directors’ Test set out by the Football Association (FA). However, I know that the Vote Football campaign has called on the Government to enforce a “genuine fit and proper persons” test, ensuring that any prospective or current club owner’s ability and willingness to pay creditors is robustly checked on a regular basis. The cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee has long called for a strong fit and proper persons test, consistently applied throughout the professional game with the FA having a strong scrutiny and oversight role.
Labour have long recognised that this is an issue and I know our current leader Keir Starmer MP, is a keen football fan, who feels strongly about football reform. In the midst of the English Super League fiasco he met with supporter’s trusts and has called for parliament to legislate so that fans have ‘a much greater degree of control over the control of clubs’ alongside greater support for grassroots and lower league football.
In February, the House of Commons discussed a ‘no confidence’ motion in the FA’s ability to reform itself. The debate included a discussion of club ownership issues. The FA has outlined plans for reform that will be voted on by the shareholders at its Annual General Meeting in May. I believe it must be given the opportunity to reform itself and that the Government should only step in if this is insufficient.
I agree that football clubs are much more than just businesses and I have long believed that supporters should have a genuine voice in their club. Indeed, I think legislation should be introduced, as Labour called for in our 2019 manifesto, to enable accredited supporters trusts to appoint and remove at least two of the directors of a football club and to purchase shares when the club changes hands.
Following the ESL fiasco and significant pressure the Government announced the fan-led football review. Jo Stevens MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport wrote to the Government after the announcement with concerns about its terms of reference, pressing for an explanation of how it would be ‘fan-led’ and asking that they publish a timescale. Last month, the membership of the review’s panel was revealed. As a member of the Shadow front bench I am unable to sign EDMs but I can assure I will follow any developments closely to ensure that this review, which was delayed for two years, is meaningful and genuinely centres the demands of fans.