In four minutes! Let me be clear at the outset that I want the FA to succeed. I want to be able to hold them up as an example of good—indeed, exemplary—governance across this country and beyond. I am not saying that everything that the FA does is wrong; it does many good things, which I will touch on in the time available.
The wording of the motion is strong and robust, and although it challenges the FA in the strongest terms, in many ways it echoes the frustration felt by football fans in the High Peak and beyond who have written to me and to colleagues. I was going to talk at great length about my history as a football supporter, but we do not have time—I am too old.
As a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I too received the letter from the three previous FA chairmen, an ex-chief executive and a previous executive director. Collectively they delivered a withering view of the intransigence of the FA and its inability to change its governance. Those men have worked within the FA: they seem to have become disillusioned and frustrated by that intransigence and have just walked away. In their words, the FA’s decision-making structure has become
“arcane and convoluted leading to a lack of clarity about the role and purpose of these structures.”
They also claim that there are examples of “short-termism” and “vested interests”, with veiled and unveiled references to the FA’s relationship with the Premier League.
The letter reeks of all these senior figures’ frustration at their inability to get the FA to reform. As they say, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee concluded in 2011 and 2013—before my time as a member of that Committee, but when the current sports Minister was one—that the FA did need reform, yet it has not been done. It is right that we have tabled the motion for debate, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Damian Collins, the Chairman of the Committee, for leading it, and to the Select Committee for having proposed it to the Backbench Business Committee.
I do not deny that the FA does good work, such as the good community work it does through the Football Foundation. We have benefited from significant funds across the High Peak, not least for the new changing rooms for Tintwistle Athletic at a cost of £300,000 to £400,000. I acknowledge that. The FA also acknowledges that there is need for governance reform, as the present chairman, Greg Clarke, said in his statement published on Tuesday evening.
I respect and have a lot of faith in Mr Clarke. He is combative in his defence of the FA, and I do not blame him. He says that the FA has a set of proposals to present to the Minister for her approval and I am interested to hear what she is looking for from those. However, as a fervent football supporter, I hope that Mr Clarke can resolve the matter without our having to get too heavily involved. I urge him to do so and to do so quickly.
Football is the people’s game. In recent years, as we have heard, it has had a huge influx of cash, with players earning eye-watering amounts of money, but it is still a game with 22 men—or indeed, women—kicking a football about, trying to get it into the opposition’s net. The FA is the organisation that oversees that, and it has all this growth in the football family to deal with.
On the 20th of this month, it will be the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Premier League—the juggernaut that has precipitated much of this growth. The FA has to deal with that, but the relationship has been called into question. The game is seemingly in rude health, so why is it being called into question today? There is support for the lower league. Glossop North End, in my constituency, has been in two FA Vase finals, in 2009 and 2015. In 2015, they could not sell the tickets direct and get a commission, as they did in 2009; it was done by the FA. Glossop North End got less money. It lowered the prices, but the gates were less, because of the FA. Sam Allardyce managed England for 67 days and one game, and allegedly walked away with £1 million.
Such things are destroying people’s faith in football. The FA is the governing body. It needs to address this matter, and quickly, starting with governance.