Stephen Cleeve: Where are the real changes in the fan-led review?

King's Lynn Town's Michael Clunan went close with this effort in the first half at Notts County

Michael Clunan in action against Notts County last season - on Boxing Day, Lynn will be wearing the black and white kit - Credit: Ian Burt

Our next home game at The Walks is on Boxing Day against Notts County and it is a game that I am looking forward to immensely.  

All match day hospitality has been sold, our visitors have snapped up 550 tickets and hopefully a big crowd will be served a feast of football.

Tickets will be available on the day at the box office and online, but one change that may surprise fans is seeing King’s Lynn Town playing in their third kit - which just happens to be the black and white stripes that usually adorn Notts County when they play at home.

The reason for the change is to support the #NoHomeKit campaign by the charity Shelter and helping to highlight the fact that 180,000 families have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic. Hopefully the publicity generated will help raise much-needed funds for and help to put some of these families back into permanent homes.

At our last home game, I was delighted that Tyler Knowles came off the bench to make his debut for the first team. He is at our booming academy at King Edward School and another student, Nicolas Dias Da Costa, was also a named substitute that day.  The pathway from academy to first team in just 14 months is bearing the signs of its first fruit.

I have had a brief look at the Fan Led Review of Football Governance, and it is probably a subject that will feature on my podcast in some depth as the document is some 162 pages long.

The Review came about for several reasons, but one of the premises being that many clubs are poorly run with reckless decision-making and chasing success at all costs. One of my podcasts that sadly never saw the light of day due to technical issues was with Stefan Szymanski, professor, author and expert witness on the economics of sport.  

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His view was very much that football has far fewer casualties than one would expect in the commercial world and when you think about it, he has a point. There have been many clubs that have dissolved and reformed, but how many have disappeared altogether? You may or may not be able to argue that this could apply to Bury FC, but let’s see what happens with Gigg Lane in the future. Putting Bury to the side I can only think of Third Lanark, New Brighton and Thames FC as clubs that have gone for ever; there are very few that have failed to start again under reincarnation.

The issue the report fails to address is that clubs have a duty to be competitive in their league.  When King’s Lynn are faced with teams that have £4m budgets, teams paying £250,000 for a single player and other teams buying League One players and paying them higher salaries than they would be earning two levels higher, then surely the administrators are hardly acting as moderators. Clubs cannot be blamed for this; the fault lies with the rules that allow these lop-sided leagues within leagues to develop.

Another recommendation is to create a Golden Share which requires democratic consent for certain identified heritage items and a creation of a shadow board of directors made up of fans. Some of these consents seem entirely sensible, such as for the sale of stadiums, joining a non-approved Fifa, Uefa or FA competition and playing colours needing approval before being altered. Another item subject to the Golden Share is the club badge. Here we are into an entirely different territory. Manchester United was formed when Newton Heath was served a winding up order in 1902 and the name gave the club a fresh start (these financial issues seem to have been around for a while). A new badge was created in 1902, but it was changed in 1960, 1970, 1973 and 1998. Chelsea’s badge started as a pensioner and that lasted for 47 years, but that was dropped in 1952, changed again in 1953 when it adopted the lion from the Cadogan family crest and has changed eight times since. 

Indeed, I had to change King’s Lynn Town FC’s badge as we were previously using the town’s crest and to control our trademark a new badge was developed, which was much more in keeping with a dynamic modern football club.

There will also be a shadow board of directors created of fans and some have expressed concerns about the legality of such a board. Not being trained in law I cannot give a definitive view on this, but anyone on the shadow board will certainly be responsible legally for anything that happens to the club on their watch.

A new owners and directors test should also be established according to the report. Club owners will need to prove they have professional qualifications to run the club. I bet there are several club owners running big businesses that have hardly a qualification to their name, so I am not sure about this point and frankly it seems to miss the issue.

The key characteristic with any football club owner is their intentions; are they in it for the right reasons? This cannot be provided by a qualification or a test, it goes far deeper than that, and in my opinion, it is incumbent on the seller that they are passing the baton on to an appropriate custodian. Putting it another way, a group of bankers could form a consortium to buy a club, they would all pass the test as they would all be registered by the Financial Conduct Authority, but they may not have the club’s best interests in mind; they could simply be looking at the club as an asset that could be broken up to create more value. It is what is in their hearts that matters more than what is written on their CVs.

What the report misses totally is its ability to look after grassroots clubs which is meant to be one of its main objectives. The academy system is not fit for purpose outside (and arguably inside) of the football league. King’s Lynn has some great youngsters and every month we lose players to professional clubs in the area, and even though we have played a part in developing these players we get nothing at all for doing so. There should be a simple model put in place where a decent percentage of all future transfer fees are shared with those non-league clubs that started that player’s journey. A quick and easy solution to a problem that seemingly does not exist in the report.

Then there are the academy footballers the system is failing and for some reason this too has been missed by those putting the report together. If a youngster at a league academy wants to leave that club and the club refuses to release him, he cannot join another league club without a fee being paid. Essentially, league clubs own that player and can use them as bargaining chips - can that be right in today’s age?  Then there is the question of parental input, success rates of academies and many other issues that the report misses.

A new regulator that is truly independent is a good idea if it does not generate reams of extra administration for smaller clubs and hefty fees to pay for them. I also like the idea of a small transfer levy to re-distribute wealth downwards.

Clearly the report has a few snappy headlines, but the bigger clubs have managed to keep many of the real changes that need to happen out of the report or maybe those conducting it simply did not know where to look.

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