An independent regulator of English football may be rendered toothless by conflicting aims, says a legal expert on the running of the sport.
The Government last week announced plans to create a regulator as part of its response to former sports minister Tracey Crouch’s Fan-Led Review of Football Governance.
But Stuart Hatcher, a corporate lawyer and board member of the Brentford Supporters’ Trust, believes a regulator may find itself unable to exercise the ultimate punishment.
“It’s going to be a big call for a regulator to remove a club’s licence, because that means they can’t play football any more and potentially goes against trying to protect a club,” he told City A.M.
If a club refused to comply with the rules, the regulator could end up “putting a bullet to the head that you’re never going to pull the trigger on”, Hatcher added. “The proposal could be workable but the devil is in the detail.”
While steps to better protect football clubs from financial distress have been welcomed, the Government’s lack of urgency has been criticised.
The only time scale given so far is for a white paper providing further detail to be published this summer, adding to fears that a regulator may be one or two years away.
“It feels like they’re just kicking the can down the road,” said Hatcher, a partner at Mayfair law firm Forsters.
“You can push legislation through much quicker. The hard work, to my mind, has already been done. If they were really serious about it they would get on with it.”
The delay in implementation gives the Premier League, which has said it opposes a regulator with legally enforceable powers, and the Football Association additional time to address the Government’s concerns and potentially head off the threat of legislation.
“I do wonder whether it’s the Government doing what they seem to do quite often: make it look like there’s an announcement and then hope to not actually have to do it,” said Hatcher.
Brentford have shown the value for all parties of a club and supporters working closely.
Through their ‘golden share’ – which Hatcher advised on when the Bees were bought by current owner Matthew Benham – the supporters’ trust had veto over the club’s move to a new stadium in 2020.
More recently, fans’ groups have helped shape Brentford’s season ticket policy by providing feedback on the club’s proposals.
“I think it’s a model that is worth replicating and I think Tracey Crouch’s report validated that,” said Hatcher. “They heard from a lot of people and liked what we were doing.”
Despite designating supporter engagement as a key plank of its response to the Crouch review, the Government said it would not mandate a golden share due to the legal complexities.
“I thought it was slightly strange,” said Hatcher. “They oversold the complexity.”
The Government also deemed ‘shadow boards’ unsuitable for some teams because of the administrative burden, despite recognising their benefits for all parties.
“I think the shadow board, or supervisory board, concept is quite a good one, where there is a commitment from key personnel within the club to consult with fans on a regular basis,” said Hatcher.
“I don’t think engagement is as scary as it might sound. [Manchester United’s owners] the Glazers could pull a lot of goodwill back if they just spoke with fans more.”