How a radical rescue plan could put fans at the heart of a revival

The view from the away stand at Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium at half-time during their 2-3 loss to Doncaster Rovers in League Two

With the prospect of several fan-free months becoming an increasing reality, thoughts have turned to how lower league clubs, the majority of whom are dependent on gate receipts for survival, will make it out of the current pandemic unscathed.

Last week Gavin Baldwin, Doncaster Rovers’ Chief Executive, sent out a letter reassuring Rovers fans, detailing moves by the squad to defer a portion of their wage until football can be played in front of crowds again, along with further investment from club directors.

But with income streams cut off these are at best short-term solutions.

Like many clubs in League One and League Two, and unlike the big wigs of the Premier League who are propped up by TV money, Doncaster Rovers is financed by bums on seats. It relies on a bumper June when season ticket holders renew, and week-on-week matchday receipts to stay afloat. Neither of which are viable means of financing the club in the mid to long-term future.

So we must look elsewhere.

A novel approach coming out of Parliament, which I believe is deserving of our consideration, is one tabled by the MP for Folkstone and Hythe, Damien Collins.

The MP has warned that we only have “a few weeks to save football in this country as we know it”, calling for a government-backed rescue package for clubs in financial distress to help prevent them following in the footsteps of Bury FC.

A letter addressed to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, along with the FA and the Football League, outlines a six-point plan to address this which would provide both financial stability as well as laying the foundations for long-term sustainability.

But most importantly it includes measures to place fans at the heart of the revival by moving gradually towards a German model where communities own 50 per cent of their local club.

The proposals, outlined below, have been backed by the Football Supporters Association, along with the smarmy one from Sunderland ‘Til I Die part II.

In the words of Malcolm Clarke, the FSA chair, football now has a “unique opportunity to reset and adopt new ideas, which not only secure the short-term future of clubs, but help them thrive in the seasons ahead.

“These proposals would be a huge step in the right direction and chime with the FSA’s core beliefs – that fans have a key role to play in football governance and ownership models.

“The idea of an independent unit, embedded within the FA, which exists to protect clubs is an idea we’ve championed for some time. It receives our full support.”

I believe it should get out backing too.

Below are the six points in the plan.

• A ‘Football Finance Authority’ (FFA) scheme should be created by the Football Association – but working with and backed financially by the government – to provide financial assistance to EFL clubs.

• Funds should be provided by the FFA to allow clubs to meet their short-term liabilities and provide them enough breathing space to restructure their finances, but couldn’t be used to invest in recruiting new players or improving the club’s infrastructure. Rather than being offered as loans, these funds would instead be exchanged for a minority shareholding in the club, of between 10 per cent to 49 per cent, depending on the level of investment required and the value of the club.

• Independent directors would be appointed to the boards of clubs as representatives for this minority shareholding. These directors can be nominated by either a registered Supporters Trust, or by the relevant local government authority, but they must be non-political and subject to approval as ‘Fit and Proper’ by the FFA.

• These Independent Directors shall have real-time access to the financial records of their club and can report their concerns back to the FFA. Clubs that continue to trade outside the rules of the EFL would be put into a form of administration by the FFA, where a credible plan would be implemented by independent auditors to bring the financial affairs of the club back in line with the League’s rules.

• Either a recognised Supporters’ Trust or a local authority can subsequently acquire the FFA shareholding in their club at a discount to market value, and funds raised in this way would be returned to the government to help repay the public investment in this scheme.

• The EFL’s financial regulations should be set and enforced by the FFA, the governing body of which should include representation from the EFL, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), the Football Supporters Association (FSA) and the clubs themselves, but with an independent majority.

by Jack Peat

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