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The Fan-led Review of Football Governance is undoubtedly a welcome and much needed step towards the reform of football – but challenges remain.

26th November 2021
Sport and fitnessHomepage - News - Standard

The publication of the Fan-led Review of Football Governance is undoubtedly a welcome and much needed step towards the reform of football, write Dr David Webber, Course Leader of the BSc (Hons) Football Studies degree, and Dr Mark Turner, a Senior Research Fellow here at Solent University, Southampton.

The Review, coming in the wake of the failed European Super League last April, is certainly wide-ranging and makes several recommendations actions to give more power to supporters, central to which is an Independent Regulator to oversee the governance of the game.

One interesting recommendation is for a ‘Premier League Solidarity Tax’, originally proposed by Dr Webber in written evidence to a DCMS Select Committee inquiry twelve months ago. This hypothecated tax on transfer fees – much like a ‘stamp duty’ – would see a progressive distribution of the wealth enjoyed by England’s wealthiest clubs downwards and across the football pyramid.

This, Dr Webber argues, is long overdue, and urgently needed in the wake of the Covid pandemic. While lower league clubs struggled to survive the lockdown, England’s Premier League clubs spent over a £1bn acquiring new players. While not a panacea, this duty would go some way in recalibrating football’s lop-sided financial structure.

As Dr Turner notes, however, there are also a series of missed opportunities and omissions in the Review, not least around English football’s rich fan culture, and how this has been impacted by the game’s 30-year march to capitalism.

“The Super League protests reminded us that football without its fans is nothing. It is somewhat disappointing then, that the significance of fan culture was not acknowledged within the report. The right to stand at football matches was not mentioned, nor was the way fans are disproportionately policed and their behaviour highly regulated.”

“The decades-old ban on alcohol ‘within the sight of the pitch’ was revisited – but only in the context of providing an extra revenue stream to clubs. This concession misses the point. For a report ‘led by fans’, it was disappointing to note how little the Review acknowledged this rich fan culture, and its importance to football and wider society.”

In terms of what it does recommend, the Fan-led Review signals a clear change in the direction of travel. The recommendations of a ‘golden share’, greater transparency for supporters to be able to engage with their clubs, and the appointment of an independent regulator should all be welcomed. Together with the Premier League Solidarity Tax, these measures, if implemented fully, offer the very real prospect of genuine and meaningful change in terms of how the game is organised and run.

Challenges clearly remain, however.

These are only recommendations, and it will be down to the government to legislate and enshrine these measures in law. Central to these reforms must be the demands of fans and democratisation of clubs. Fans – and by extension of this, fan culture – are at the heart of clubs, and are at the heart of football. Their voice and this culture cannot be allowed to be co-opted by clubs or the game’s governing bodies. Meaningful fan representation at every level of governance is essential in creating a more democratic, more diverse game; one that is fairer and fit for the twenty-first century.

This review forms part of a longer-term research project that Dr Turner and Dr Webber will be undertaking over the next three years.

Dr David Webber is a Course Leader and Senior Lecturer on the BSc (Hons) Football Studies degree.

Dr Mark Turner is a Senior Research Fellow within the Southampton School of Sport and a member of the Research Advisory group within the Faculty of Sport, Health and Social Science.