A radical support package which puts football fans at the heart of a post-Covid revival has got the backing of Grimsby Town chairman Philip Day.
Speaking to The London Economic he urged football bosses and MPs to get behind a plan tabled by Damian Collins to provide essential funding during the coronavirus crisis as well as re-shape the way clubs are run.
He said we have arrived at a “golden opportunity to get this right” by restoring the “critical” relationship between fans and the club in the community.
“We don’t own football clubs as assets we own them as custodians for the future,” Day said, emphasising how clubs must be run like social institutions.
“Grimsby has been here since 1878 and it will be here for a long time after I’ve gone”, he added.
The comments come after the football season in League 1 and 2 was curtailed to allow clubs to offset the losses that would have been incurred by playing the remainder of the games out.
While clubs like Forest Green, which reported an operating loss of £785k in 2019, were happy to let games be played behind closed doors, most teams were relieved by the decision to suspend the season.
New Covid-19 requirements would have required a huge financial outlay to run tests and bring staff on furlough back onto the books, while social distancing rules would also have been problematic.
Day projected that Grimsby Town would have faced a £400,000 black hole to complete season had the decision gone that way.
He said many of the new rules had also been designed for Premier League clubs, many of whom don’t have cramped changing rooms that date back to the 19th century.
But with the prospect of a long summer ahead thoughts have already started to turn to next season.
At Grimsby, approximately 65 per cent of their income comes from season tickets (which are mostly sold in the off-season months), tickets sold on matchdays and related commercial activity.
Day has predicted a fan-free future which could stretch into 2021 at great expense to clubs, many of whom may not survive the next few weeks without financial support, according to Collins.
Local rivals Scunthorpe have said that a big tax bill due at the end of June could put the club in a perilous position if there is no financial help from the league.
They join as many as ten other football league clubs which could go bust within the next few weeks if nothing is done.
As Leagues One & Two vote to cancel their seasons, our @BBCNews at 6 report from Port Vale, which like many other clubs up and down the country, faces an uncertain future after 144 years of history. pic.twitter.com/yspMHl4Jzw— Dan Roan (@danroan) June 9, 2020
A letter addressed to culture secretary Oliver Dowden along with the FA and the Football League has looked to address the issue before it gets out of hand, outlining a six-point plan which would provide both financial stability as well as laying the foundations for long-term sustainability.
Crucially, it includes measures to force clubs to behave like the social institutions they are, rather than a rich man’s plaything, by moving gradually towards a German model where communities own 50 per cent of their local club.
At Grimsby, the Mariners Trust (supporters organisation) already owns 14 per cent of the shares in the club and has two seats on the Board, so they are already a long way down the road in meeting the suggestions in the letter.
The proposals, outlined below, have been endorsed by Day along with a number of MPs:
In their open letter, the six-point plan advocates…
• A ‘Football Finance Authority’ (FFA) scheme should be created by the Football Association – but working with and backed financially by the government – to provide financial assistance to EFL clubs.
• Funds should be provided by the FFA to allow clubs to meet their short-term liabilities and provide them enough breathing space to restructure their finances, but couldn’t be used to invest in recruiting new players or improving the club’s infrastructure. Rather than being offered as loans, these funds would instead be exchanged for a minority shareholding in the club, of between 10 per cent to 49 per cent, depending on the level of investment required and the value of the club.
• Independent directors would be appointed to the boards of clubs as representatives for this minority shareholding. These directors can be nominated by either a registered Supporters Trust or by the relevant local government authority, but they must be non-political and subject to approval as ‘Fit and Proper’ by the FFA.
• These Independent Directors shall have real-time access to the financial records of their club and can report their concerns back to the FFA. Clubs that continue to trade outside the rules of the EFL would be put into a form of administration by the FFA, where a credible plan would be implemented by independent auditors to bring the financial affairs of the club back in line with the League’s rules.
• Either a recognised Supporters Trust or a local authority can subsequently acquire the FFA shareholding in their club at a discount to market value, and funds raised in this way would be returned to the government to help repay the public investment in this scheme.
• The EFL’s financial regulations should be set and enforced by the FFA, the governing body of which should include representation from the EFL, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), the Football Supporters Association (FSA) and the clubs themselves, but with an independent majority.
Read more about “A way forward for football” here.