Football used to be such a simple game, not just on the pitch but off it too, when is it that we started talking about the need for transparency, what changed and why is it important?
Football has become big business, the numbers involved at the top level have grown huge, the trickle economics of football seem to work in a way where a little bit of the money trickles down whilst the costs spiral upwards.
Club owners were traditionally a collection of local businessmen who must of us would have considered to have “done OK”, they certainly were not billionaires. The clubs were structured as you classic limited company, the published accounts, had local shareholders, held AGM’s and sometimes even voted at them. If you look at the professional game these types of club are slowly dying out.
The change in type of owner does not have to be a bad thing, the problem is those clubs where the owners disrespect the club’s fans with the lack of information shared. We currently have clubs where the fans do not actually know who their real owner is, clubs owned by offshore hedge funds, clubs carefully constructed within complex webs of company structures registered in tax havens around the world.
The Sustain the Game campaign asks for clarity not just in the ownership of clubs but throughout the game. What is the now infamous Owners and Directors Test, who passes and who fails? Are the right people being asked to complete the test, or are they just the front men for the shadow Directors who are really pulling the strings? As a football fan who loves the live game I’ve always found it strange that people want to own a football club and yet rarely, or sometimes never actually watch the team, or mix with the fans to whom it means so much.
Transparency is also about the running of clubs, leagues and the game itself. Standardised and regular reporting should be introduced and shared publicly. Supporters deserve to know how their club is being run, how stable it is and where the money is coming from if there happens to be any. Surely this shouldn’t be a big ask, if everyone releases the same information no one club is achieving an edge.
We must acknowledge the progressive clubs who are already championing transparency, those with clear ownership and board structures and with owners happy to engage with the fans and local communities.
Football clubs are community assets, emotionally owned by everyone and financially owned by the few. Even if this is the ownership model that football accepts, we still need a reset on thinking on information shared at every level of football governance. It is our game, as The FA remind us with their “For All” branding.