Reform of the English Football Association (FA) is well overdue. The organisation receives £30m to £40m of public investment, yet remains opaque, lacks diversity and resists public scrutiny.
But now it seems that action is now on the agenda.
Over the weekend Sports Minister Tracey Crouch MP indicated that reform is imminent, telling the FA to reform its governance structures, or risk seeing public funds sent elsewhere:
“If you [the FA] don’t reform your governance structures, I will give that money to other bodies that deliver football”
But if reform of the FA is going to change football for the better, then the voice of supporters is crucial. Only fan involvement will ensure that a reformed FA reflects the huge role the football plays in our national life, and in the cultural and local identity of communities across England. By putting supporters at the heart of football’s governing body, we can ensure that the FA acts in the interests of the Game, rather than the increasingly narrow financial interests who currently dominate.
We know that co-operative advantage for football works, having delivered results for Spanish and German teams. Fans of most teams in the Bundesliga own at least by 51% of their club, preventing any single individual from taking a controlling stake. At Bayern Munich, 130,000 fans own 84 per cent of the club, and in Barcelona FC, the highest governing body is an assembly of delegates made up of socis, the club’s fan membership.
This vital social, cultural and sporting activity is now big business and clubs have become large PLCs. Alongside increasing commercialisation and a growing divide between the top flight and lower divisions, ticket price increases have priced many traditional fans – and young fans – out of the game.
Since 2000 Supporters Direct has been helping supporters gain influence in the running and ownership of their club across . They have helped establish 192 Football Supporters Trusts, and have worked with supporters to purchase and develop more than 40 community owned clubs. With the help of Supporters Direct, these supporters have raised more than £50m to be reinvested into their clubs and communities, including £6m through community shares projects.
As English football’s apex organisation, the FA can lead the way for the rest of the game. They should support the work of Supporters Direct by recognising the value brought to the game by Football Supporters Trusts. Underpinning this would be a shift in the FA’s approach to ownership of clubs, supporting and celebrating community ownership within football. The FA’s current line of strict neutrality effectively supports the commercialisation of club ownership.
A reformed FA should also emphasise its commitment to developing the whole pyramid of English football. Football Supporters Trust are more likely to prioritise the development of homegrown talent. This benefits the whole game, from the clubs in the lower leagues all the way up to the Premier League and national squad.