Football Association Governance

Part of Occupied Palestinian Territories: Israeli Settlements – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 9th February 2017.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester 4:27 pm, 9th February 2017

I do not think that Greg Clarke is out of touch or that he believes otherwise. He has clarity of purpose, but the structures are inflexible and unbudging.

On the one hand we have the juggernaut of the Premier League, as my fellow member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Andrew Bingham has described it. The league is a success and it attracts the best players. Speaking of which, was it not magnificent to be at Goodison on Saturday to see Romelu Lukaku score four, Mr Speaker? But I digress. The Select Committee was told in a letter that Premier League representatives

“regularly use their position on the FA Board” and “their financial might” to “maintain their position”.

On the other side are the elderly gentlemen, the 25 life presidents on the FA council, whom my Committee Chairman, Damian Collins, eloquently described earlier. They are known the blazers, not to be confused with the Glazers, as any Manchester United fans in the Chamber will know. That description reminds me of Will Carling’s famous description of the leadership of the Rugby Football Union in 1995 as “57 old farts”. That was a coarse term, Mr Speaker, but it seemed to move things on, and the RFU has since brought its governance up to date. There are arguments against the Premier League and the so-called “blazers”, but for me this is about the combination of both, so it is clear that legislation might be the only way of breaking the logjam of self-interest.

If I may digress slightly, there is one area on which I disagree with my hon. Friend Clive Efford. When the structures at the top are not right, the management below does not fall into place. For example, we know that the FA is failing to regulate both the power of football agents—I am told that the agent exam can be passed by an 11-year-old—and transfer negotiations, leaving the potential for a bung culture. The structures are not right, so the management and the enforcement below is not right.

The problems involving the great club of Coventry City and Sisu were mentioned earlier. Greg Clarke told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that although there are fit and proper person tests for directors and officers, there is no test of whether someone actually has the ability to run a club, which is another example of management structures not being good enough. During the Select Committee session, I talked about the tentacles of offshore ownership and untraceable money, which the FA is unable to manage. I also mentioned Vibrac Corporation, which used its base in the British Virgin Islands to loan millions of pounds to Everton, West Ham, Fulham, Reading and Southampton between 2011 and 2013 despite a lack of clarity about who actually owns it. A further problem is that the FA has little control over financial matters and appears to rely on little more than signed declarations from clubs or interested parties to say that they are fit and proper, which allows the FA to avoid responsibility. Good governance depends on the right structures at the top and on allowing the management to enforce rules that have been put in place correctly.

Greg Clarke is a good man who will fight hard to achieve his reforms. He has won friends in the amateur game by visiting every county FA in England, but he needs support and I am unsure whether he has that at the moment.