The past year has seen continued problems with a number of football clubs whose owners seem intent on running the club into the ground, making a quick buck at the expense of the club or going to war with its fans, in some cases all three. Clearly there have been improvements around the governance of the game and luckily the majority of fans can support a club without harbouring these sort of concerns, yet there is more work to do. We should all care about what is happening at these clubs, the integrity and future of the game is at stake and you never know which club might be next.
A recent court case may mean that fans of Blackpool have some light at the end of the tunnel but I fear they may have a few more difficult times before things truly start to improve. Boycotting home matches, which many Blackpool fans have been doing is one of the hardest things for any fans to do but they saw it as their only option. The board and activists of the Blackpool Supporters Trust have been doing incredible work over the last few years, highlighting the wrongdoing of their owners, leading protests, informing fans, lobbying politicians, challenging the EFL and tracking legal proceedings. It has taken a High Court judge to rule against the Oystons, producing a lengthy report detailing ways in which money has been extracted and ordering them to make significant payments to another leading shareholder. The question we have to ask is why are the football governing bodies powerless to intervene?
Further south the Sky Blue Trust at Coventry have been fighting their own battles with owners SISU. Football clubs began life in the heart of their communities, typically owned by a number of successful local businessman, albeit they sometimes made mistakes, they understood the meaning of the club to its supporters. Yet with SISU we have an offshore Hedge Fund,whose investors are unknown due to the lack of transparency of the relevant jurisdiction. SISU’s interest appears to be more focused on pursuing damages regarding tenancy of the Ricoh Arena, and whilst this continues the clock ticks down for Coventry FC. As it stands the club has nowhere to play from the start of next season, again we wait for the outcome of the courts while the football governing bodies appear powerless to intervene.
Further south still, Leyton Orient came close to disappearing, an Italian owner with a rather interesting backstory and some strange management practices, slowly strangling the club until luckily a saviour was found. The club survived but has seen a fall through the leagues that now sees them in the National League. Again, the local Trust, LOFT, have been active in ousting the old owner and finding a new one. Off the pitch at least things are now on the turn, with news of a supporter Director being important and owners who wish to engage with their fans rather than disenfranchise them.
There is no shortage of others, Dulwich, Hull,Charlton, Bolton, Basingstoke are just a few more who currently need the help of SD, and why we’ve been raising awareness through our “Fans not numbers” campaign.We believe its time for stronger regulation of the game, we must act to protect our clubs, and to stop money and assets being extracted from the game and will continue to work with both Government and the football authorities to lobby for further reform of the game.
On a positive note the past year has seen significant take up from EPL & EFL clubs of the structured dialogue engagement process,something which we will also kick off with the National League in 2018. We are encouraged by the results and will be producing a number of case studies highlighting clubs who we believe are leading the way. The background of this,is that it stems from the Expert Working Group where SD pushed for its inclusion in league rules and we continue to work with each of the leagues to improve the process.
Look out for our full annual report in January where you can find out more about SD’s activity in football and other sports. For now have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year