- Birmingham City
- Current Squad
- Development Squad
- Out on Loan
- Former Players
- The Board
- Chinese Connections
- Appearance Data
- Website Information
- Media Mentions
- Contact Me
Ownership in Football – an OP editorial
If there is one thing I have noticed this season, it’s the preponderance of clubs who have problematic owners. Our opponents today, Coventry City, are also under a transfer embargo as they haven’t agreed funding for next year with their owners. Portsmouth are in administration; Leeds United fans are protesting against Ken Bates. It got me to thinking about the fit and proper persons test, and what’s wrong with it.
First of all, what is the fit and proper persons test? Well, you can have a read of it yourself here on the Football League’s website. What it boils down to is simple; if you’ve either have an unspent conviction, a conviction spent or otherwise for a dishonest act or have had problems with insolvency in your business life before, you’re not allowed to own or be a director of a Football League club. The test, which was adopted in March 2005 have been failed twice – by Rotherham United Director Dennis Coleman in 2008 and by Chester City owner Stephen Vaughan in 2009. Bearing in mind some of the farces we have seen in football since 2005 – take for instance the Munto Finance affair at Notts County – that amount seems unfeasibly low.
It also strikes me as bizarre that one of the ways you can fail the test is for:
(v) dishonestly receiving a programme broadcast from within the UK with intent to avoid payment under Section 297 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988;
In other words, for being caught and convicted for watching a dodgy football stream on the internet or similar. Clearly what we don’t need in an owner.
So, okay, the test seems pretty useless – it’s not stopping some of the misfortunes we’ve seen in football and it seems ludicrously easy to pass. How does football change that? What reassurances would football fans want from an owner? What should be tested to see if an owner is right for a club? I’ve thought about this for a while, and I came up with this:
- Football club owners mustn’t be dodgy. So, the stuff about no convictions etc has to stay, even if it doesn’t seem to catch many out
- Football club owners need to have the money that they say that they have
- Football club owners need to have a clue about what they’re doing, business-wise.
- And ideally, football club owners need to have the best interests of the club at heart.
The next question is how do the football authorities test potential and current owners for this?
I think in addition to the current declarations, there have to be some other measures put into place. For instance, I think every professional club in the league should be forced to lodge a bond with the Football League in return for its place. The bonds could be on a sliding scale; say £250k for a League two side, £500k for a league one side and £1mil for a Championship side (Note I have pulled these figures out of thin air for demonstration’s sake). Thus before a prospective owner can take full ownership of a club, then they have to lodge that cash with the FL. If things go wrong, then the FL has some money to give back to the club to help keep things going until the end of the season. Furthermore, it’s a token that an owner has some money to put into the club.
I also would like to see a system whereby directors have to take a course in football administration. For instance, coaches in the Premier League have to have a UEFA “A” coaching badge, so why not force directors to either have or be on a course for a qualification – such as this an MBA in Football Industries at Liverpool Uni – something the FA clearly have a high regard for. If people who are directors of clubs have at least studied how the football business works, then maybe clubs might be run better?
The hardest thing to test is if football club owners have the best interests of a club at heart; that is something that is fairly intangible and as such isn’t testable – and of course, it’s probably the most important thing. My hope would be that by forcing clubs to have qualified directors and a bond system in place it would scare off at least some chancers – if it cleaned up football a bit, surely that would be a good thing?
The key is it has to come from the FL, and that is something I cannot see coming any time soon. There seems to be a very laissez-faire attitude at the FL that they cannot get involved in how clubs are run at all and thus by washing their hands of the situation the FL aren’t helping it. That has to change first if football ownership is to become better for all concerned.