League wary of Labour proposals

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Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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The Football League has sounded a note of caution over Labour’s proposals for fans to have a new right to representation on their club’s board and the chance to buy up to 10 per cent of the shares.

Under the proposed new laws, which will be in Labour’s election manifesto, football supporters’ trusts would be able to appoint and remove at least two members and up to a quarter of their club’s board in an effort to ensure their voices are heard by owners.

Fans will also be given a right to purchase up to 10 per cent of the shares whenever a stake of at least 30 per cent is put up for sale, capped at a maximum of 10 per cent of the total shareholding of the club.

Although the plan would not give fans the power to block takeovers or change corporate strategy, Labour insists clubs would be made more accountable.

But the Football League’s chief executive Shaun Harvey has stressed care needs to be taken to ensure potential owners – who may well be fans themselves – are not put off, and also pointed out the financial risk supporters becoming shareholders through the scheme could be exposed to.

He said in a statement: “As ever, we welcome dialogue with the political parties regarding football, as our clubs represent communities across England and Wales.

“Many of the individuals that choose to invest in football do so without expecting any financial return on their investment, as they too are supporters of their club.

“Instead, they do so for a variety of different reasons and we have to be careful not to create barriers that act as a disincentive to the next generation of owners and directors, as the game will only suffer as a consequence.

“It is also important to understand any proposal for supporters to have a legal right to purchase a stake in a club within the context of the obligations that come with it.

“For example, the average annual loss of a Championship club in 2012-13 was more than £13million with that shortfall having to be met by the club’s shareholders to enable it to continue playing football.

“Improved communications with supporters shouldn’t come at the cost of exposing those same supporters to unacceptable levels of financial risk.

“From personal experience and that of club directors that I speak with, there is no surer way of jeopardising a Saturday afternoon’s enjoyment than being responsible for it on a Monday morning.”

Giving its reaction to Labour’s proposals, the Premier League welcomed the chance to discuss the ideas, while also emphasising its own work towards the good of the game.

A Premier League statement said: “We welcome the invitation to discuss with the Labour Party their ideas on football governance.

“The Premier League has a strong track record on meeting governance challenges that have the potential to damage the long-term good health of English football.

“Banning third party ownership and influence of players, introducing financial sustainability measures to ensure investment in clubs is handled responsibly, and placing into Premier League rules requirements for Supporter Liaison Officers and mandatory fan consultation are amongst the numerous substantial and practical measures introduced over recent years.

“Both we and our clubs work hard to keep in touch with fans, seek their views and respond, one of the many reasons why we currently enjoy the highest stadium occupancy in Europe.

“The Premier League has a significant fan research programme to that effect, and continues to fund the Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct, with whom we have regular, open and constructive dialogue.”

Meanwhile, former Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester City midfielder Dietmar Hamman has questioned the concept of fans being on club boards mandatorily and feels what really needs looking at is the rising cost of match tickets.

Ex-Germany international Hamman told Sky Sports News: “If you make it mandatory that two fans are on the board, I don’t see any reason to do that.

“You don’t want to see fans on the board just for the sake of it – if a club decides it’s right to have one or two fans on the board then they should do it, but I don’t think you can make them do it.

“I think the whole discussion has come about now because of the ticket prices situation. I think (it would be better) if the clubs had a closer relationship with the fans and talked and sorted that out. I think it is getting out of hand.

“It is unreasonable and something should be done about that rather than artificially putting people on the board, where they might not have much influence.”

Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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