The expulsion of Bury FC from the EFL should send a shiver down the spine of every Rovers fan. That Bolton Wanderers seem to have avoided the same fate by a matter of days should have the same effect. That is Bolton Wanderers – founder members of the Football League, White Horse Cup Final, Lion of Vienna, majority of their history in the top tier. Any notion that this is the sort of thing that could not happen to an illustrious club like Blackburn Rovers is naïve.
The way football is regulated is broken – but let’s be clear, posting angry comments on a message board, or sarcastic blog posts, or witty Tweets, or even articles like this, will not change a damned thing about that regulation. The only way forward is through organised pressure and lobbying. This is slow and frustrating work, but fans who care about the health of the game should support these efforts.
As a member of Rovers Trust, which is a member of the Football Supporters Association, you are part of the solution. The FSA argues that the current system, whereby the decisions on the conduct of owners and directors are taken by the owners and directors of other clubs, is a massive conflict of interest and is simply not working. Bad owners need to be rooted out. We need stronger regulation and increased transparency to prevent further insolvencies and to protect our clubs, who should be afforded levels of protection in keeping with listed buildings or conservation areas.
The FSA, as the single recognised supporters’ organisation, has access to the people and resources that can make a difference and is lobbying for these reform proposals:
- Engagement with supporters is key to ensuring transparency and good governance, and they should be involved at a local and national level.
- Regulatory responsibilities should be undertaken by an independent body under the remit of the FA, rather than the individual leagues themselves.
- A rolling review of club finances should take place, with periodically updated sustainable business plans, to help identify problems before they become insurmountable.
- A strengthened single owners and directors test, combining the best elements of existing ones at Premier League, EFL and National League level, should be instituted.
- Each time a significant transfer of ownership (25% or more) of a club takes place, that person should be required to pass the test, and directors of clubs should be required to demonstrate they have the necessary skills and experience for the role.
- There should be an absolute prohibition on offering club property as security unless in connection with a capital expenditure project, such as a new stand or training facility.
- There should also be a prohibition on moving a club out of the area with which it is traditionally associated.
Football has failed to self-regulate, has failed the supporters of Bury, and is failing fans at other clubs where owners are putting their future at risk. If the game is unable to reform itself then the FSA, and its members, like Rovers Trust, will be forced to call on the Government to legislate to ensure that such a situation can never be repeated.