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Government sets up experts group to forge stronger links between supporters and professional football clubs

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Supporters Direct, Government and football authorities all represented on group that will look at removing barriers to community-owned clubs and improving fan engagement

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The government and football authorities are to work together to explore ways in which fans can have more engagement in the running of the clubs they support, Sports Minister Helen Grant announced today.

The Supporter Ownership and Engagement Expert group, that will have its first meeting in London next month, has representatives on it from Government, the Premier League, The FA, the Football League, Supporters Direct, the legal profession, insolvency and tax experts and representatives from clubs that are ran by supporters (Portsmouth FC, AFC Wimbledon and Wrexham).

Areas that the group will look at include seeing what more can be done to help supporters groups have stronger links with the executives and owners running clubs, look at removing barriers to clubs becoming community-owned assets, when opportunities arise for that to be a sustainable and viable option.

Helen Grant launched the group on a visit to Portsmouth Football Club, which is owned by its Supporters following a takeover by fans in 2013, after the club had fallen into administration for a second time.

Minister for Sport, Helen Grant said:

Football fans are the lifeblood of the club they support. Owners, executives and managers may come and go but it is the fans that are the constant, loyally following their clubs through thick and thin. We want to see what more we can do to give fans a stronger voice in how their club is run as well as looking at ways in which we can help remove some of the barriers to supporter ownership.

General Secretary of The FA, Alex Horne said:

The Football Association has pushed for an expert review into the barriers to greater supporter representation in the professional game since our first response to the Select Committee in 2011. We welcome the formation of this Group and I am delighted that we will be both represented on it and providing it our full support. Ensuring supporters are uninhibited from opportunities to gain greater representation and ownership within professional clubs is an important challenge for the whole game to address.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said:

The Premier League supports the Government’s plans to remove legal obstacles which make it harder for fans to acquire shares in their clubs and so welcomes the creation of the Expert Working Group. We will play our part in helping the Group in reaching positive conclusions, especially by providing them with our technical expertise.

The Premier League and our member clubs work hard to understand fans’ opinions and respond to the issues they raise trough a mixture of research and consultation. The Premier League funds national fans organisations including Supporters Direct, the Football Supporters Federation and Level Playing Field, meets regularly with club and national fan groups and has set up the Supporter Liaison Officer system to help each club work even more closely with their supporters.

This dialogue with fans has helped shape recent regulatory changes, including stricter Owners and Directors Tests, and tougher financial regulations and we will engage with the Working Group to identify where further improvements in Company Law or Football rules and regulations can be made in removing unintended barriers to fan ownership.

Football League chief executive, Shaun Harvey, said:

We are happy to engage with the Government and relevant football stakeholders on these matters. From our perspective, we are entirely neutral about what constitutes the ideal club ownership model. Different structures will suit different clubs in different circumstances and they are all equally valid. Currently, there are four Football League clubs that are majority owned by supporters’ trusts and others that are either part owned or share a good working relationship. It is therefore sensible to examine the legal and financial hurdles such groups face in order to see what can be achieved for the wider good of football.

Supporters Direct chief executive Robin Osterley said:

It’s very gratifying to see the Government addressing the problems that prevent an increase in supporter ownership. We’re immensely pleased at the cooperation that we’ve seen across the game, and between Government departments, and we’re grateful to the Minister for making this happen. This is something that can directly and tangibly benefit supporters’ trusts, and we look forward to making swift progress on the issues.

Portsmouth FC Supporters Trust chairman Ashley Brown said:

Portsmouth FC are proud to host the launch of this DCMS Expert group. At Pompey we have repeatedly seen the impact of our club being managed poorly by people who did not share our passion for this historic club. Our supporters have shown what is possible when working together for a common cause and we hope our involvement in this group will help to find ways for other clubs to break down barriers between owners, boardroom and supporters.

The group will be chaired by Joanna Manning-Cooper who is a member of the Portsmouth Supporters Trust, a community shareholder in Portsmouth Football Club – the biggest supporter owned club in the country – and a long-term season ticket holder at Portsmouth Football Club. She is also a trustee of Pompey in the Community.

Manning-Cooper has worked in sport for many years and is currently the Director of Marketing and Communications for England Rugby 2015, organisers of next year’s Rugby World Cup. Previously to that she was the Head of Media for LOCOG, organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and, prior to that, Director of Communications for the Financial Times.

The group will make recommendations to government, reporting into the Sports Minister.

Published 21 October 2014