Reclaiming football for all: a manifesto for a better game

April 1, 2015

The Football Action Network’s manifesto for change – This Game is Our Game – puts forward principles aimed at reclaiming and transforming football.

See David Goldblatt’s full article in the Guardian here.

HCST had a small part in shaping this manifesto; you may recognise a key issue in point 6…

1. TIME TO LEGISLATE: PASS A FOOTBALL REFORM BILL

In 2011 Hugh Robertson, then minister for sport, said: “If football proves unable to sort this out itself then the government may have to legislate.” Four years later football has not sorted itself out and there has been no legislation.

Whoever is the next secretary of state for culture, media and sport must make the introduction of a Football Reform Bill a departmental priority.

This would serve as the final opportunity for the Football Association to complete its process of internal reform. Either way, there must be legislation to ensure the reform of club ownership, taxation and governance.

2. DO THE UNTHINKABLE: PAY THE LIVING WAGE

At the leading clubs, players, coaches and chief executives earn more in a day than those on the minimum wage earn in a year. Some clubs have tried to make their contract staff buy their own uniforms. Yet without the army of stewards, ticket takers and catering staff, the show cannot go on, however good the football. If the Premier League can now pay full-time staff the living wage, please pay all the part-timers the same. If FC United of Manchester and Dulwich Hamlet, six levels below them, pay the living wage then everyone in between can too; and that should include the FA and the Football League.

3. STOP FLEECING FANS: SET FAIR TICKET PRICES

In the past 20 years, at every level, tickets have increased in price faster than inflation many times over. In the Premier League the real rate of inflation at some clubs has been close to 1,000%. This is shameless rent-seeking by effective monopolies over people’s football affections. If you want to watch Spurs, there’s no option but to go to Spurs. This is particularly unfair given that the value of the game’s media rights is underwritten by the ebullience of crowds. Supporters are not just customers, but critics and chorus. Away fans, vital in sustaining a meaningful atmosphere, have been treated shamelessly. We call for the Premier League to collectively freeze ticket prices for the duration of the next television deal, set a maximum price for away fans’ tickets and increase the number of cheaper seats. We call for clubs at every level to ensure that a reasonable number of cheaper tickets are available.

4. STOP DITHERING: INTRODUCE SAFE STANDING

If football fans were customers, if football really was a free market, then presumably fans would get what they wanted and they were ready to pay for. The introduction of safe standing has been researched, tested, found safe and acquired considerable support from fans and their clubs. It is an effective way to improve the atmosphere at matches and to lower ticket prices. It is in operation in Germany with great success. Yet still government and clubs dither. This requires no more than a simple amendment to the Football Spectators Act to allow the licensing authorities to permit the introduction of safe standing. Do it now.

5. MODERNISE, AT LAST: TIME FOR A FIT AND PROPER FA

The FA’s record of internal reform has been so tortuously slow that this must be considered the last opportunity for it to complete the process itself rather than it being imposed by the Reform Bill. At the very minimum the FA needs to:

■ Reform the composition of the FA board, reducing the number of representatives of the professional game and the national game and replace them with independent directors and a supporters representative.

■ Reform the FA council so it actually looks and sounds like the wider football nation.

■ Establish and fund a system of club licensing and regulation with teeth.

■ The Freedom of Information Act should be applicable to the FA.

6 TAKE BACK POWER: WITH TRANSPARENT CLUB OWNERSHIP

Central to the Reform Bill, a proper set of rules on transparent club ownership:

■ All shareholdings in football clubs will be made public, including full disclosure of any beneficial owners and holding companies behind which the unscrupulous have hidden.

■ The introduction of a new club licensing scheme overseen by a reformed FA that would make clubs’ financial dealings transparent; strengthen the fit and proper persons test and make its workings public; require all new owners to meet a club’s supporters’ trust before acquiring shares; and protect key aspects of the club – such as its main strip and its name – in law.

■ Reform the composition of club boards and the duties of directors through changes in corporate law. This would include making the interests of the club paramount over those of shareholders; require a majority of independent directors on boards with a legal responsibility to encourage supporter ownership, and include a minimum of two directors from a club’s supporters’ trust.

■ A statutory right to buy for supporters’ trusts whenever a club faces insolvency, its shares are going to be sold or new ones issued.

■ Changes in the tax regime. These would be designed to support social ownership and deter carpetbaggers – for example, removing tax relief on leveraged buy-outs and making it easier for supporters’ trusts to obtain it.

7. REAL REDISTRIBUTION: A WINDFALL TAX ON THE PREMIER LEAGUE

In the absence of wage controls the massive windfall that is coming the Premier League’s way will almost entirely disappear into players’ wages and agents’ fees. No one can say that these groups have not been generously rewarded. Some of that windfall needs to go elsewhere.

The Premier League’s pledge last week to give more generously to the rest of the game is welcome. Uefa takes nearly 10% of the money generated by the Champions League for solidarity payments. Fifa, for all its faults, has allocated 20% of its budget to development projects.

We want the Premier League to raise its contribution to 15%. Half of this should be spent on grassroots, non-league football and social projects and half allocated to a supporters’ ownership fund that will underwrite supporter trust buy-outs and rescues.

8. CLAIM CASHBACK: BOOKIES TO PAY THEIR SHARE

Bookmakers and broadcasters have made a lot of money out of the football boom. Profits have been very healthy and in the case of offshore gambling sites, taxes have been very low. Neither industry, despite a garlanding of corporate social responsibility projects, has returned a fraction of the value it has extracted from the game.

The gambling industry already pays a levy to the horse racing industry; it would be administratively very simple to impose a small percentage turnover tax on every football bet, and more equitable if there were to be a levy on bookmakers’ football profits too.

When football media rights are sold, by the FA or the leagues, the bidders should pay some pro-rata rate to social projects.

9. SHIFT THE FOCUS: TO GRASSROOTS AND NON-LEAGUE

If the grassroots of football received one pound every time the professional game praised it, it would be rich beyond all imagination. But the grassroots – including the youth, women’s and non‑league games – are not rich.

The state of the nation’s facilities is poor, the provision of changing rooms and toilets for women and girls is worse, and the massive squeeze of local authority expenditure has led to a collapse in the maintenance budgets of established grounds. For those who can find a decent pitch, the number of trained coaches per capita is a quarter of Germany’s where the costs are subsidised. Yet football’s private opulence feeds on the enormous pool of enthusiasm and talent that grassroots football generates.

The windfall taxes should be spent here, focused on: subsidising coaching education, supporting struggling clubs, building pitches in the poorest areas and making sure every single playing field has women’s changing rooms.

10. SWEEP AWAY FIFA: CLEAN UP THE GLOBAL GAME

The FA has been a hapless operator within Fifa; the Premier League’s lust for foreign markets is simply shameless. We want a football foreign policy that is a smart, effective voice for reform, not a marketing operation. Smart means working with Europe and acquiring a leading place in Uefa; the FA needs to be part of an effective coalition, not an ineffective independent. It goes without saying that both the FA and government must actively support international efforts to see the complete reconstitution of Fifa, and to insist on models of tournament hosting that are sustainable and carnivalesque.

11. A NEW CULTURE: A REAL FIGHT FOR EQUALITY

If football is the people’s game it needs to look like the people. Football’s diversity campaigns have had real successes getting racism, sexism and homophobia out of the stands, disabled fans into seats that work for them and women on to the pitch. Yet as recent accounts of racist fans on the Paris metro and sexist chants in stadiums remind us, there remains much to be done.

The problem is not just in the stands. The words and then tortuous apologies of, among others, Dave Whelan, Malky Mackay and Richard Scudamore demonstrate that the upper echelon of the football establishment holds attitudes to difference, to gender, ethnicity and sexuality that are at best antiquated and at worst discriminatory. It is this culture that is responsible for the scandalous under-representation of minority coaches at every level, and everyone other than old white men on football boards. If aiming for a quarter of company boards to be women is a good enough model for the FTSE 250, it’s good enough for football, too. There should be two years’ grace before legally backed gender quotas are required. And if the Rooney rule, ensuring a qualified minority candidate is seen by interview panels, works for the NFL, why not here? Football should introduce the Rooney rule immediately.

Football Action Network is an open, unbureaucratic network of football activists – including supporters’ trusts, independent fan groups, fanzines, campaigners in the women’s game and advocates for grassroots football