rose to call attention to the state of English football; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, this is the first debate on football that we have held in the House since the Unstarred Question asked by my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere on the ownership of Football League clubs in July 2002. Many of the structural weaknesses in the English game identified in that debate by my noble friend and other speakers remain, but a number of positive points about the state of football today are worth making at the outset.
First, on the playing side, we can take pride in the fact that no fewer than four English clubs have progressed to the knockout stage of the UEFA championship. Despite the disappointments of Euro 2004 in Portugal, the England national side seems to be on track, for the moment at least, for qualification in the 2006 World Cup.
Linked to that, the reputation of England fans abroad has improved considerably and the incidence of disorder at domestic matches is now relatively rare. To a great extent, this is due to the success of the banning order measures in the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 and the subsequent amendment Act of 2002. An example of how crowd behaviour has improved is the almost universal abhorrence of racism in the sport. On the few occasions that it does occur, as happened at Blackburn recently, it is dealt with firmly and effectively—with those guilty held to account and banned from the game. Would that foreign football associations were as conscientious as ours are! The treatment of black English players in club matches and internationals in certain parts of Europe remains a disgrace.
One significant problem remains at home—the serious under-representation of ethnic minorities in the management and administration of the game. There are few in club management and none on the FA Council. In that context, I pay tribute to the work of the Independent Football Commission, whose work in this area has led to the publication of a 10 point plan on tackling diversity in football, enlisting the help of the Commission for Racial Equality in the process. We are light years away from where we were in March 1998, when the Football Task Force, on which I served as vice-chairman, published its first report on Eliminating racism from football, which successive Ministers for Sport endorsed wholeheartedly and whose recommendations the game, to its credit, has largely adopted.
There has also been significant progress in implementing the recommendations in the task force's second report on disabled access and involvement in football—another positive tick in the box. The Supporters Trust movement continues to grow. According to the excellent paper, published on
There are three further positives which I will mention before I turn to the problems. The first is the decision by the football authorities to extend the life of the Independent Football Commission indefinitely. Unfortunately, they have not yet agreed to review its terms of reference or extend its investigatory powers. But given the reluctance to set up the commission in the first place and the obstacles that were placed in its path in the early days, the football authorities' decision marks a step forward. I was told last week by the IFC chairman, Professor Derek Fraser, that between two-thirds and three-quarters of its 57 recommendations have been accepted. One of the most important was the "fit and proper person" test for directors—now, at last, accepted by the FA, the Premier League and the Football League. This recommendation was also contained in the report of the All-Party Group on Football on English football and its finances, published in February.
The Football League has made real progress over the past year on a range of other governance issues, which I welcome. These include sporting sanctions—deductions of points—from clubs entering administration, a wage cap on clubs in the two lower divisions, the registration and publication of fees paid by clubs to agents and improvements to the corporate governance of the Football League board. This concentration on better governance has taken place under Sir Brian Mawhinney's chairmanship of the Football League, and I congratulate him for what he has achieved thus far.
The Football Association has also made some progress in these areas. Its Financial Advisory Unit is up and running, and the Financial Advisory Committee to which it reports has at last been established, under the independent chairmanship of Kate Barker. The FA Annual Review tells us that it has an extensive work programme for the coming year, covering a range of issues similar to those already addressed by the Football League, including a code of corporate governance and good practice, on which all directors must report and research into a domestic licensing system.
The Football League has also proposed new safeguards regarding clubs' security of tenure at their home grounds and rules to prevent a repetition of the scandalous decision by the owners of Wimbledon Football Club to abandon the community in south-west London which had supported the club for over 100 years and move to a hockey stadium in Milton Keynes. As a former director of that club, I feel particularly bitter about that; however, I rejoice in the success of the new club—AFC Wimbledon—started and owned by the supporters, which is now making its way up the pyramid of non-league football. On
The FA is also calling for greater transparency in the role of agents and their relationships with managers and coaching staff. This cannot come a moment too soon. We can glimpse at the scale of the problem following Manchester United's decision to reveal that it paid £5.5 million to agents last year; £1.2 million of that went to Ruud van Nistelrooy's agent, Rodger Linse, for negotiating his new five-year contract and was on top of the £468,000 the club still owes him for doing the last one.
It is an extraordinary business: agents are paid for bringing a player to a club and then are paid again for negotiating the terms of his contract. As David Conn, the respected writer on the Independent, in his column on
"Football agents are paid mighty commissions on huge sums of money, often earned as middle men, because chairmen won't, or don't, talk to each other. Players' agents are paid by clubs simply for agreeing to sit down and extract millions from them, then paid for that too".
It is a scandal—one that the FA and the Premier League must tackle in the way the Football League has done.
Payments to agents, the inflated transfer market, and the excessive wages paid to some Premiership players, and indeed club directors, are examples of how too much of the extra money that has come into the game, principally from satellite television deals, is being creamed off at the top, with insufficient distributed to football at lower levels. The All-Party Group on Football proposed a doubling from 5 to 10 per cent of the Premiership's total broadcasting revenue to be redistributed to clubs in the Football League and the football Conference.
There are other consequences of so much wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of the Premiership elite. One of these is the growth in the number of non-British players in Premiership teams, because it reduces the opportunity for home-grown players to come through from the ranks of the lower leagues. As an article in the Times on
As anyone who reads the back pages of our newspapers knows very well—and sometimes the front and inside pages too—the Football Association has had a torrid time this year. I wish the new chief executive, Brian Barwick, every success when he starts in the new year. However, it is worrying that the structural review of the FA that was promised in the summer is still not underway.
The most important area that needs to be looked at is the corporate governance arrangements within the FA, particularly the composition of the FA Board. Out of a membership of 12, six come from clubs within the Premier League and the Football League. How can conflicts of interest possibly be avoided when the board is discussing such matters as FA Cup revenue and match arrangements, payments to clubs for players in the England team, punishment of players found guilty of doping or disciplinary offences, the release of players for friendly internationals, and so on?
One of the strongest critics of current governance arrangements seems to be Mr Rupert Lowe, who is chairman of Southampton FC and a member of the FA Board. Back in August, he attempted to persuade the chairmen of the FA, the Premier League and the Football League to sign a letter to FA Council members which contained these interesting words:
"The current structure indubitably fails the accepted tests of Corporate Governance applied outside of sports organisations".
I could not agree more. However, I have difficulty in supporting Mr Lowe's solution, which would have given even more control over the England team, the Community Shield and the FA Cup to the rich and powerful Premier League clubs, especially given their track record of opposition to the Independent Football Commission and, in earlier times, to the FA's financial advisory unit.
There are only two possible ways forward. One is to go down the route of statutory regulation. Because they are so disillusioned with how things are at the moment, that idea is surprisingly backed by a majority of clubs outside the Premier League surveyed in a follow-up to the report of the All-Party Group on Football on the game's finances. It is also backed by the Football Supporters Federation. But it is one which I know that the Government are reluctant to take on, and I can understand why. However, I would say to my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, who is replying to this debate, that the Independent Football Commission, suitably enhanced and independently funded, could undoubtedly do the job of independent regulator, if that is what the Government choose to do.
The alternative is for the FA to do what, so far, divisions within the game have made it impossible for it to do, certainly since the formation of the Premier League, which is to regulate all football in England. I support the call of the Football Supporters' Federation for,
"the creation of one unified governing body to replace the current multiplicity of leagues and associations".
To me that makes so much sense: it would require the Premier League and the Football League to surrender some of the autonomy which they currently enjoy for the FA to establish a supervisory and regulatory board on which there is a majority of non-executive directors with no financial interests that could conflict with their duties, in marked contrast with the FA board of today. It is possible to envisage, with an effective system of self-regulation, the IFC acting as a new board's investigative and reporting agency, but we are a long way from that at the moment. That is why the FA's structural review is so important.
Despite all its difficulties, and thanks to the unsung efforts of thousands of people who give of their time freely and without reward, football in England is astonishingly popular. It is still the national game, played and followed by millions of people, old and young, rich and poor, men and women. But it could be so much better. It is not helped by ambitious individuals using the political dark arts of spin and leak to promote their own cause or to denigrate those who were doing their best. The whispering campaign against Geoff Thompson, the FA's chairman, is but one example.
What I hope that we can demonstrate by this debate is that we in this House are on the side of those striving for improvement while maintaining sporting and other standards of decency and for uniting the elements of the game to achieve one common purpose. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the marathon man, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who has been sitting in his place for about three hours now. I shall attempt to curtail my remarks so that he may take a reasonable bath at a reasonable time.
It shows the enormous spread of your Lordships' House that it takes a Scot—myself—to bat at number two, straight after the noble Lord. I declare my interest straight off; it is nothing to do with England. I am honorary patron of Forfar Athletic Football Club in Scotland, which attracts on a good day about the same number as your Lordships' House at Question Time. On a bad day, when the polar bears come down from the north, I assure your Lordships that a warm welcome is available there.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, pointed out in great detail, with enormous knowledge and with great passion, what is happening in the game in England as he sees it. The game is watched by many of us—by millions of us, not just in your Lordships' House but all over the country and perhaps even round the world. Football, that extraordinary game, is played, watched, admired and perhaps loathed by millions. Above all, in this country, it is played by millions of small boys of all ages. Looking at my noble friend Lady Morris, I can add that a remarkable amount of ladies' football is played. Indeed, last week I was abroad with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and noted a game between Germany and the United States in Portland, Oregon. I have to say that I was pretty scared, because I thought that they were American footballers—but they were female soccer players, apparently. But it shows that players all over the world of both sexes enjoy themselves.
These players do various things with a football. I am told that they kick the ball, trap it, pass it and juggle. My continental friends say that they even caress the ball. That is not awfully well known north of the Border, where they tend to get rid of it quite quickly; indeed, the tendency is to play the man first, in some cases. But, for millions of small boys and girls, that is perhaps a part of playing football. I wonder why they do it. I do not think that it is just for their own good or following the precepts of staying fit. There I take a quiet dig at the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister in his tracksuit this morning; if he really wishes to prove his courage and fitness, perhaps he might follow my noble friend Lord Moynihan and myself—and perhaps the number 10 speaker tonight, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—in skiing in the first week of January. That is a real test of courage and sportsmanship. But that is for another evening, when we discuss that type of sport.
But what are all those boys and girls playing football for? I do not believe that it is just for the betterment of their souls. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, pointed out that football is a world game; it is enormously popular all over the world. But a huge number of boys and girls play football; they work, train, run and sweat—and a lot of people help them in pretty harsh conditions outside. Why? Because, perhaps, they have a dream. They dream that they might emulate a particular player or team which, in many cases, they may simply have read or heard about, or they may have watched them live or seen them on the television. Is it loyalty to a particular player, or to a team? If to a team, do they join what I call the clan or the tribe?
As for loyalty to a particular club, let me tell your Lordships a tale of two little boys. I do not refer to the popular Christmas song of some years ago by Mr Rolf Harris, that noted Australian artist. One young boy, of 10 or 11 years, was shopping one morning. What happened? An appalling bomb was detonated by the IRA in Warrington. The young boy was fatally injured, and he died. But the one thing that mattered to him was a football jersey; it was a blue jersey, and the club sent to his funeral the director, the manager and the first team players to support that boy. Why?
I refer to another small boy. On
That is what the jersey meant to those two little boys. It will mean it to millions of other people, similarly. That might be mawkish, but that is what supporting a football team meant to those two little boys, and your Lordships will find tales like theirs throughout England, Britain and the world.
If your Lordships are looking for a small boy here, there are at least one or two—certainly one. I have to tell your Lordships that I am on to my seventh club jersey, which I wear in January when skiing. They have various tooth-marks in them; I have crashed into ski gates, walls and things like that. But I support my team. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will make his own speech, but when he does so he may not have time to tell your Lordships how he was taken short last week after about 60 minutes of the game that he was watching. His neighbour told me that the noble Lord left his seat and so may have been unaware of the result. The noble Lord may be able to advise the House about that.
However, I am able to tell noble Lords that his club is also my club. It has a marvellous programme, which follows the programme from the Premier League, called Football in the Community. The Premier League has been kind enough to give me a sheet which says:
"Everton Football in the Community became a registered charity . . . targeting various social agendas, including homelessness, older people . . . crime prevention"—
I hope I am not looking in the mirror—
"health . . . and education".
It goes on to say,
"the club has just begun a new project aiming to reduce the drop out of young people at 17 from learning".
I left school at 17. I struggled to carry on with chartered accountancy and other studies. That may have been relevant to me, but it is also relevant to many other young men. The Premier League was good enough to send me a complete compendium of all the Premier League clubs and what they do for Football in the Community.
The club that I support does not consist only of supporters who enjoy watching, listening, hearing, speaking and making friends; we are also part of the club. The club, and I believe every other Premier League club worth its salt, has a very strong aura and a strong ethos of supporting the youth. I believe that the youth academy of Everton, under Mr Ray Hall, from the Tamlin family, is second to none in producing its own players.
Where does all this lead? At the weekend it lead to a report in the press—one of the tabloid newspapers— that this particular team has a bond that cannot be bought and a quality beyond price. That links the team together, but it also links the supporters.
I can say without any humbug that football in England has enriched my life. I have made many friends. The frothing of the media over players' pay and players' behaviour is by the by. Dream the dream and make friends. One of the friends referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, the president of world football, came to your Lordships' House last October and gave me a small present, which I shall hand over to the Government Whips. It has red and yellow cards in it. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for giving us this opportunity to express our thoughts about English football. There will be many more who will be able to say that and I am very glad to support him.
My Lords, I felt that I would be a fraud to talk about football, until it was pointed out at our Whips' meeting that the noble Lord did not specify which type of football he meant—Union or League, possibly? I approach football as part of the continuum of sport. It is the largest and richest part of sport. I regard it as a sport, and that will colour my comments today.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, went down a path that I could not begin to follow: the governance of professional football. Professional sport operates in a vacuum in which the normal rules of accounting, and in some cases legality, do not appear to apply. Of late, we have started to address that, and football is the lead sport doing that.
As regards sporting clubs that attract a degree of fanatical support, football clubs are at the forefront. Rugby League clubs may come second, whereas only one or two Rugby Union clubs and possibly some cricket clubs tend to inspire such support. Hundreds of thousands of people turn up to support their club simply as supporters, without having any stake in the club. The move of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes probably displayed the legal limitations.
When my party considered its sports policy, it thought long and hard about what it could usefully do. The conclusion was that professional sport had to look to itself first. Do we want to regulate such a business activity, or do we want to dive in and make it special, even though we cannot? We could not see how to do that usefully or where we could draw the line. Should we allow the structures to be supported for ever more and allow their debts to be cancelled? No. We agreed, as I believe virtually every political party has, that we should give most of our support to amateur sports clubs. They give us the greatest benefit in social interaction and health benefits. Professional clubs are now involved in that process, and the noble Lord has been a key player in ensuring that professional football knows that it is expected to do that.
On the recent issue of racism in football, the sport can take real pride in the effectiveness of the anti-racism structures in football. One cannot stand apart and say, "What goes on in the stands has nothing to do with us". Football has to address the issue and be active in it. As a sport and as part of the sport continuum, football is our biggest showcase.
On the frightening statistic given by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, of only 38 per cent of players being English—the statistic for British players may be slightly better—I suggest that the game should look to its youth development. He also mentioned the agents, the middlemen. If everyone spoke the same language, I am sure that the fees could be cut down. Basically, association football, the big boy, has to put its own house in order; it must look more to its amateur body and take it more seriously. Those people further down the list have to address that and pump more back into the sport. The situation is better than it was; they are doing something, but they are still not doing enough. We have to make them take those responsibilities seriously, but how do we do that, if we do not want to get involved in day-to-day legislation? We can support everything that they do.
Supporters Direct, the body that sets up the trust that has influence over the fans, is probably the most positive thing to come out of the English football system for a very long time. It means that those who, with religious zeal, follow their club are involved to a real extent in the management and ownership of their own organisations and clubs. The Government should help, and they should provide seed money for other sports. I do not know how far development in Rugby League has taken place, but football is the next place for such models.
Small clubs are dominated by one or two owners who, if they are not making money out of football, may suddenly think, "What are the redevelopment costs?". If one is a straightforward businessman and regards sport as a business, that is a perfectly legitimate use of one's assets. If it is more than that, one must give them some support for it not happening. We find ourselves in a very odd situation. Local or central government, or some other source, must be found to help and to support those groups.
As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said, football has to ensure that its internal governance is better. Its comfortable position is a historical anachronism. All sports have the capacity to say that they have always done things in a particular way. We tack bits on the end and then the structures are confusing. All sports go through that process. Football is where the money is and so should set an example. If we can encourage people, that is what we should do.
Association football is a very good sport for general involvement through amateur sports clubs. Women can play it without fear of damage because there is no upper body contact. You are not supposed to have such contact, which means that it is probably one of the best traditional male sports in which to get women involved. If the FA can encourage greater participation in female sport, the Government's cause will be served tremendously well. It is one of the great areas in which it can assist.
Also football has been—to coin a phrase—"the sexiest sport" for the past few years. England winning the Rugby Union World Cup has possibly taken off a little bit of gloss and one or two scandals and the near folding of Leeds United, one of the bigger clubs, may have taken a little bit off the current hype of football. But even on a downturn, football could swallow up its nearest two competitors. We must make sure that the FA is encouraged, supported and helped to assist the junior parts of its clubs.
Sport is one of those areas in politics in which we end up discovering that we are incredibly close to agreement with each other. If the Government can take the first steps, they may find a great deal more consensus than—I shall probably get into terrible trouble for saying this—the spin doctors from the various parties would like.
Policy differences between us are generally ones of emphasis. The Government would say "school sport", and we would say "school-age sport". They would say that the schools lead and we would say that the clubs lead, but the two have to be linked. We must encourage them to make the links. Association football is probably the sport that should show the way. I hope that when the noble Lord addresses the issues about football, he will pay attention to how the Government are helping those amateur clubs, because all amateur clubs basically have the same problem.
My Lords, I was not quite sure what to expect in this debate, but I did not anticipate two supporters of Forfar Athletic contributing to it.
One of the great thinkers of the early Church, Tertullian, faced with the increasing hostility of the Greco-Roman world towards the emerging Church, once famously declared:
"What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"
Yet the Church came to see that it could not stand apart from the culture and society in which it was set, despite the rising tide of persecution. A few generations later, Athens and Jerusalem concluded a concordat which in due course became a major shaping influence on European civilisation, and that in turn gave birth to football.
I would not want to say that football is now a greater shaping influence on our country than the Christian faith. I am told that the weekly audience for "Songs of Praise" is still greater than that for "Match of the Day".
However, we have seen in recent years a tendency for religious imagery to gather here and there around what is sometimes slightly euphemistically called "the game". One recalls Bill Shankly's famous remark about football. Asked whether it was as important as life and death, he said that it was much more important than that. One thinks, indeed, of the contemporary news of the rather tasteless casting by Madame Tussauds of David Beckham and his wife as Joseph and Mary. Some years ago Eric Cantona, the famous Manchester United player, was put in the place of the risen Christ in the famous painting of "The Resurrection" by Piero della Francesca. That was a little before his two-footed tackle on a supporter who taunted him, which rather changed his image.
I am not here to knock the passion with which fans support their clubs. But I do want to ask how the passion with which the game is associated might be of even greater benefit to society at large than has already been expressed—for example, by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. I declare a lifelong commitment to West Bromwich Albion, and, indeed, as they prop up the Premiership, a belief that the age of miracles has not yet passed.
Perhaps one or two other noble Lords will recall Jeff Astle's left foot strike just outside the penalty area which enabled West Brom to win the FA cup in 1968, when I was "nowt but a lad". He, of course, is best remembered for missing an open goal against Brazil in the 1970 World Cup final at a rather critical juncture in the game. He died a couple of years ago, partly, apparently, from the injuries he sustained from repeatedly heading the ball—often, I am glad to say, into the back of the net. In retirement, Jeff Astle was a window cleaner. His van bore the emblem, "Jeff Astle, Window cleaner—Never misses the corners".
So, for a lifetime's love of the game, what are my hopes for the future, apart from a miracle for West Brom this season? Let me briefly mention three. First, football today illustrates one of the wider features of our society, where freedom, choice and opportunity tend to magnify the distance between winners and losers. That is true if you look at teams, clubs or the overall finances of the game or individual players. The money available from television since the advent of satellite television has tended to go mainly to a few clubs at the top. I entirely endorse the comment that a greater proportion should be fed down into other areas of the game, not least to support the amateur game.
Perhaps you cannot ultimately buck the market, but I believe that the circumstances of the game today call for more ways to be found for the top clubs and top players to be seen to support the game at lower levels and at the grass roots and, indeed, to support the society which accords them so much success in the first place.
Today we rightly have concerns about teenage health and obesity. We are aware of the widespread reduction in physical education in schools, which seems to be very hard to reverse, and the loss of school playing fields. In a different area, I was astonished a year or so ago when visiting a young offender institution near my diocese to discover that healthy young men aged 18 to 21 had only limited or non-existent opportunities to play sport. How short-sighted so much of our penal policy appears to be.
The professional clubs could make a huge contribution to social needs today beyond the commendable efforts which already exist and to which reference has been made. The greater wealth of the professional clubs should enable them to do more and to soften the effect of the great disparities of wealth which the modern world encourages.
The recent report from the all-party group reveals that 52 per cent of clubs have formal links with schools and 38 per cent of players' contracts require them to participate in such links. I should like to see higher percentages and for links to be made with places of greater social need in our society, including the young offender institutions, to which I have referred.
Secondly, I should like the clubs and players and those responsible for regulating the game to be even more attentive to the way in which standards of behaviour by players on and off the field have a big impact upon young people, in particular, who are so influenced by role models. Those who have watched the game over the years have seen the gradual emergence of the "professional foul" or the feigned injury and attempts by forwards illicitly to win a penalty kick. These things are recognised, and attempts have been made to curb them. The yellow and red card system has reduced some of the worst foul play, but there is still far too much.
Perhaps I may comment that the England captain's action earlier in the year in deliberately fouling an opponent in order to get booked so that he could serve his suspension when he knew that he would be off injured seemed to me to be taken too lightly by the football authorities.
The difference in penalty between a yellow card and a red card seems to me to be too stark a discipline for referees to exercise. Is there not a case in football for 10 or 15 minutes in a "sin bin" as an additional option for referees? That might be a useful alternative to the nuclear option of a red card.
Young players at the top clubs today are given huge amounts of money and the trappings of a celebrity lifestyle. Is enough done to help them to understand the responsibilities which should go with such rewards? I think there is a particular onus here on the clubs to do more, but perhaps in conjunction with the football authorities and the players' union.
Finally, I say a word about referees. They generally do a pretty good job by my judgment, but they currently have a near impossible task. I have already referred to the rather meagre and uneven range of sanctions which are available to them on the pitch. We have seen how modern technology has begun to assist referees and umpires with marginal decisions in cricket and rugby. Given all that hangs upon critical incidents in football games involving the referee, is there no place for providing referees with some technical help with a limited number of critical incidents during a professional game? No doubt careful thought has already been given to that but, at present, too many games turn on controversial decisions by the referee. That does the game no good at all. Perhaps each team could be allowed a limited number of appeals per game against decisions to award a penalty or to allow a goal.
Let me draw to a conclusion. The late Cardinal Hume was an ardent supporter of Newcastle United, a club that my daughter, who was born in the north-east, supports with equal fervour. Indeed, on arrival at Newcastle University last September, her first port of call was the supporters club, where she obtained a part-time job that she still has. When Newcastle was in the FA Cup Final some years ago, Cardinal Hume was asked whether he had any advice for the team. "Yes", said the cardinal, "to win". Winning is important, not least for West Brom at present, but it is not everything, and the manner of the broader conduct of the game is vital to its continued success.
My Lords, I must begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester on securing the debate. I fully recognise why he sought to initiate it, as he has been responsible for spearheading many of the changes for good in our national game in the past, in his capacity as deputy chairman of the Football Trust. At the same time, I understand his frustration at the lack of progress made by football authorities, despite his efforts.
For my part, I must declare my interest before embarking on my remarks; namely, that I am the current president and former chairman of the Football Foundation, which is, as noble Lords will know, a partnership between government, the Football Association and the Premier League that funds a transformation of the grassroots game and which, in the past four years, has established itself as the largest sports charity. As the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said recently:
"Football is our National game. It reaches out to the most disadvantaged. The Football Foundation has provided new and better facilities for kids up and down the country. I am delighted to announce that what started as an experiment is about to become part of the fabric of local sport".
I recognise the issue highlighted by my noble friend Lord Faulkner: financial problems face even some of the top Premier League clubs but, even more so, some of the clubs in the lower leagues, as I am only too aware from supporting Derby County in the Championship and Stalybridge Celtic in the Nationwide North. Legitimate concerns have already been expressed about the leadership of the game and the direction of football's governance in the future. We must ensure that sound corporate governance and sustainable financial decision making are to the fore.
There is a real sense that the game is at times lurching from one crisis to another, whether as a result of the indiscipline of players; the impact of agents; or, indeed, the action of those who should know better in the boardrooms of clubs and governing bodies. Those issues are important, and we must continue to work with those in charge of the game to ensure that they are addressed appropriately.
However, the picture is not all doom and gloom. As my noble friend Lord Faulkner has already made clear in his balanced approach to the problems facing football, steps have already been taken by the Premier League and the Football League to generate higher standards of governance by member clubs. The introduction of fit and proper person tests, enhanced directors' reports and a directors' declaration of shareholdings are all to be commended and enhance the standards of accountability to new levels above and beyond what is required by UK company law.
Annual directors' reports also oblige clubs to set out to the appropriate football authorities a statement of their transactions, including payments to agents or third parties, as well as at the end of each accounting period. Those measures are further backed up by an independent auditor's report and add a new dimension of transparency to the game. Although we must always hold those running football to account when we believe that they are falling short of their responsibilities, we also have a duty to praise and publicise actions that demonstrate football's ongoing commitment to sound corporate governance and sustainable financial decision making.
Those are important steps along the way of improving the state of football. Of course, they are not enough in themselves. Indeed, the issues that have been raised during this debate deserve more than two and a half hours of consideration. Perhaps that will happen following the lead set by my noble friend Lord Faulkner today.
In addition to board-level developments, things are also going right in our national game at grassroots level. It will not surprise the House if I refer in particular to the Football Foundation. The Premier League, the FA and the Government have delivered the biggest funding package in the history of sport, which, in turn, has led to the largest redistribution of wealth to the grassroots of the game. In such a short time, the foundation and its non-charitable arm, the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, have already provided funding in excess of £200 million for 1,800 projects. That, in turn, has attracted additional inward investment into the sport of more than £225 million.
Success indeed breeds success. Barclays Bank plc recently announced its intention to inject a huge £30 million into a three-year partnership with the foundation and Groundwork called "Barclays Spaces for Sports", which will regenerate urban sporting areas. That is the single biggest investment ever in grassroots sport by a British company.
The foundation believes that everyone should have access to modern sporting facilities in the immediate area, not necessarily with a view to becoming an elite sportsman or woman, but simply to gain the benefit that sport can offer. The FA informs me that more than 7 million adults and 5 million children regularly play football. In the past three years, there has been a 31 per cent rise in mini-soccer for under-10s; a 27 per cent rise in youth soccer; and, as I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will be pleased to know, a 53 per cent increase in the number of women playing the game.
In the light of that trend, I, like my noble friend Lord Faulkner, welcome Brian Barwick to his new position as chief executive of the FA. I call on him to secure the faith of those who passionately believe in the importance of our national game and to build on the capacity of the FA to run football as it should be run, with stability and integrity.
So, for all its many faults—there are many—in my view, the national game is improving, slowly but positively, and all of us who care about the game must give recognition and support to the areas in which football is working well.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, for facilitating this debate and for his excellent speech. When I arrived in your Lordships' House today, I suddenly realised that, as a Bolton Wanderers fan about to speak in a debate on football, I might have chosen a better colour of scarf to wear. To say that football has played a significant part in my life would be an understatement. I went to my first Bolton Wanderers match in my mother's womb. Not only was I born into a football-mad family, I married into one. My husband and I were married on
I hear that there are other supporters of Bolton Wanderers in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, who is not in his place, tells me that his grandchildren in Edinburgh go to sleep in Bolton Wanderers pyjamas.
Unlike most of your Lordships who are speaking in today's debate, I do not profess to be an expert on the game, although I do understand the offside rule. I am a passionate supporter and it is as a fan that I speak today. I simply want to make a couple of observations about accessibility and the funding of grassroots football.
In the 1970s and 1980s, professional football was in crisis. Crowds were falling, and there was serious violence both outside and inside grounds. Since then, although the game faces new challenges—not least the concentration of vast sums of money in the hands of the top Premiership clubs, their players and agents—crowds are increasing, television audiences of the game are enormous and, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned, violence has been all but eliminated from the grounds and is not as great a problem as it once was outside, given the all-seeing eye of the CCTV camera. There is as much fascination with football today as there has been throughout the past century. Yet, I fear that the game is becoming inaccessible to its core supporters and the young. No longer is there cheap terracing, and ticket prices are high. I understand why, following the disasters that scarred the national game, a decision was taken to make stadiums all-seater, but it has also taken away some of the character.
Only once did I watch a game from the terraces of Burnden Park; it was a Rugby League match. Oldham was playing Wigan in the Stone's Bitter Challenge semi-final; they had to play at a neutral ground. I arrived early with my six year-old son, and we had a good vantage point. After a while, we were surrounded by rather large men. My son kept asking them politely if they were supporting Oldham, only to be told, politely, that they were supporting Wigan. As the crowds grew, one of the Wigan supporters asked my son if he would like to sit on his shoulders; we gratefully accepted. Just as the match was about to start there was a lull; into the silence my son chirped up, "We're here because my mummy is the Conservative candidate for Oldham". I was just wondering how I could get my son down and escape intact, when the man whose shoulders he was sitting on said, "Well, lad, she's got about as much chance as her rugby team". As the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, knows, he was quite right.
I tell that story because it was fun to stand, and it was much warmer on a very cold day. But I also tell it because it has long puzzled me why crowds at rugby matches mingle easily, yet crowds at football matches must be so heavily segregated. Has it anything to do with the fact that we get the behaviour we deserve because of the way in which we treat people? I pose that question not least because when my son was in San Francisco he went to a baseball match where everyone sat together, tickets were cheap and the game was accessible. Now that players have such huge wages and agents take so much money, are the top football clubs in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg?
Football has a powerful hold over the imagination of so many young—and not so young—people. For many of us, it provides an excitement and an escape from the day to day. But it is not just top-flight football. When I realised that my noble friend Lord Lyell was an Everton supporter, I was not sure whether I should call him "my noble friend". As he said, for many, football is played in the park, at school, five-a-side in the gym, or just knocking a ball about in the street. It is a great way of getting kids and young people active. We should capitalise on that and do all that we can to encourage the game.
Many top clubs do wonderful work in the community. Charles Hendry, the shadow Minister for Young People, who has visited many of those projects, tells heart-warming stories of clubs involved in schools, working with the disabled and taking part in academic studies. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester: I would like to see more such activity, although what is done is very welcome.
Many sports clubs and youth clubs are also making an impact. Until recently, I was a director of Bolton Lads and Girls Club, one of the biggest youth clubs in the country, if not the biggest. It is a true success story. The football section of the club is flourishing, with 19 football teams and many children on the waiting list. One of the biggest problems is the lack of pitches. We need to do all that we can to protect our playing fields and ensure that more are brought into use by the community.
The late, great Bill Shankly used to say to his strikers, "If you find yourself in the box with the ball at your feet, just stick it in the back of the net, and we'll discuss your options later". Whatever options football and the Government take, let us never forget that football is a game, and as such it should be fun, enjoyable and accessible for all.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on initiating the debate. In recent years, my personal experience of the game has been almost entirely positive. I have two teenage sons for whom football is their major way of getting exercise and one of the best ways of making friends at school. Their experience of it has been entirely beneficial. As a spectator in recent years at Premier League matches and a viewer of live football and highlights on television, I have found football one of the most satisfactory forms of relaxation. However, watching Leeds United lose 6-1 to Portsmouth in the Premier League last year was a blip on that otherwise relatively satisfactory pastime.
In response to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, about standing, as a youth standing at the kop end at Elland Road, I can assure her that it was cold, uncovered and unpleasant. One was subject to a range of missiles from the "away" supporters who stood behind the youth section. I therefore support seating at football grounds. On Sunday, when I went to the Arsenal match and sat at the north bank, there was no lack of passion there, despite the fact that people were sitting down, for at least part of the game.
As everybody has acknowledged, football is more important than any other sport. Why? More people play it; more people watch it; more people care about it; and, in many communities, the football club is the most significant institution and a major local employer. That is why it has such potential to influence people's lives and to be a power for good, or for harm. That is why it is the subject of so much scrutiny.
As noble Lords have said, the game has changed very much in the past decade. There have been steadily rising crowds across the divisions; huge investment in stadiums; increased professionalism in the management of clubs and the game itself, and a huge increase in the revenue of the top clubs, through television, merchandise and the development of the game and clubs as global brands, which was unimaginable 20 or 30 years ago. We have seen an explosion in the number of women and girls playing football and the development of supporters' trusts.
Much attention has been focused on, and many concerns expressed about, the governance of the professional game. But as several noble Lords have pointed out, those issues are being addressed systematically and professionally by both the Premier League and the Football League. The Premier League's new governance rules, published in August, deal very satisfactorily with issues such as directors' qualifications and the need for more transparent financial reporting than ever before. Manchester United's latest annual report is a model of transparency in every aspect of the game. Admittedly, pressures were brought to bear on the club to lead to such a situation. However, compared to what one knew previously about the players, how much they were bought for and how much agents were paid, the club's report marks a new, positive standard.
There remains a raft of issues concerning many fans that are as yet unresolved or unsatisfactorily resolved. Those include the wealth of the Premier League compared to lower divisions; wages at the top clubs; and the role and regulation of agents. Why, for example, was an agent paid £750,000 to facilitate Alan Smith's transfer to Manchester United, when I am sure that he would have gone on his hands and knees across the Pennines with little help from anybody? I believe strongly that those matters should be left for football to resolve. The role of the Independent Football Commission is undoubtedly to prod and goad people, as a result of which it will never be very popular; that is not its role. Personally, I am very dubious about the need or desirability of statutory regulation of football. It is for a combination of the Premier League, the Football League and the FA to sort out.
As I have said, the Premier League and the Football League have made great progress recently. The FA is changing and doing a tremendous amount of good work in providing a framework for grass-roots football through, for example, its coaching and refereeing training. It is also increasingly doing a great deal of work internationally to promote good practice in all aspects of the game—not least in the world's poorest countries.
The recent problems of the FA have been exemplified by the soap opera of its senior management. I hope that the appointment of Brian Barwick will bring some stability and leadership. He should be left to get on with it. The Government, who have been barely mentioned today, should concentrate, as they have belatedly, on providing more resources to get more children playing football and other sports at school.
My particular interest in football, other than as a fan, has been how to use the power of football among young people to inspire them to improve their lives and their communities. I declare an interest as chairman of the Prince's Trust football initiative and as an adviser to the Karrot project. The Prince's Trust began its relationship with football in 1997 with seven of the Premier League clubs. It is now working with more than 50 professional clubs in England.
The trust works with "hard to reach" young people, particularly those who are unemployed, under-skilled, ex-offenders or are at risk of offending and care leavers. In recent research among that group of people, about 75 per cent of males and more than 40 per cent of females said that they supported a football club.
The work of the trust is to get people's lives working again. It has been using football's unique position in local communities and its general magnetism to do just that. It does that through its "Team" programme, which is for 16 to 25 year-olds. All of the young people are unemployed. It is a 12-week personal development course, which develops confidence, motivation and team-work skills and the young people gain QCA Key Skills Unit and City and Guilds Profile of Achievement awards at the end.
The clubs provide a mixture of team-building activities, team rooms at stadiums, motivational talks, work placements, use of learning centres at the stadiums for CV and letter-writing workshops, stadium tours, involvement with the players, and venues and hospitality for team presentations.
To date, some 8,000 young people have been through that programme, of which about two-thirds were male, more than 20 per cent were ex-offenders, nearly 20 per cent were from minority ethnic backgrounds and more than 10 per cent were in or leaving care. As regards the outcomes, more than half of those young people who were unemployed from these difficult to reach groups got a job. Another 30 per cent went on to further education or a training course. More than 80 per cent had a positive outcome, which is a higher proportion than equivalent young people working through equivalent courses that are not linked to football.
The funding has come in no small measure from the world of football—£750,000 a year from a combination of the Premier League, the Football Foundation and the Professional Footballers' Association. The programme, which is now in its eighth year, is to be developed further to ensure that even more of those young people use it to get jobs, which we hope are very often linked to the sport and leisure services industry.
I now turn briefly to the other project with which I have worked. The Karrot project in Southwark, which was initiated by the police as a diversion programme, has worked with branded providers of sport and art activities, of which Millwall Football Club has been one. Interestingly, of all the activity providers, Millwall has been deemed to be the most efficient and effective. In a recent evaluation, the only criticism was that there was not more of it.
I know those two examples extremely well, but they are only a very small proportion of what football is doing in the community. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, referred to the Football Foundation, which has spent, as he said, more than £200 million on that kind of activity and grass-roots activity, which is a huge sum in a relatively small number of years. Learning centres, the use of players and the development of healthy living courses are now being increasingly rolled out by football clubs. I believe that there is much more to do.
In conclusion, football is in a very vigorous state. There are remaining challenges, but it makes a positive contribution to the lives of millions of people in England who play, watch or get involved in the social programmes that are linked to football.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on his initiative in calling for this debate. He has had a long track record in furthering the interests of football. He is very knowledgeable about it, as we have heard today. The debate is also appropriate and timely. As we have heard, we are beginning to see moves by the various football authorities. It is two and a half years since we have had a debate on football in this House. At present, a nudge from Members of this House might be helpful.
Before I continue, I should declare my interests. I am a non-executive director of Carlisle United Football Club. I am a member of the Carlisle United Supporters' Trust and I am a small shareholder. I should like to share with noble Lords some of my experiences as a director of a professional football club in order to highlight some of the problems.
In the four years since I became involved at the top level of administration at a football club, I admit that I have seen all the panoply of human emotions. I have seen comedy, drama, farce, sadness and ecstasy: we all know that that is just what football is about. Indeed, I am rather flattered that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, referred to that famous manager of Carlisle United, Bill Shankly. That is where he learnt his art. I agree 100 per cent with what they said.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said, football is about dreams; dreams are sometimes attained, but sometimes they are shattered. I recall that it was only 30 years ago that Carlisle was at the top of the First Division. How the mighty have fallen, as we struggle in the Conference. But there is life after the league, which is enjoyable.
I should also like to say a few words about directors, most of whom in the lower leagues get nothing financially out of the game. They just put money in week after week. I also think that many of the problems of football will be solved and are being solved from the bottom. We cannot wait for the Premiership to react.
We hear a great deal of talk about high wages. I can share with noble Lords that in the lower leagues, the norm, the weekly wage for a player, is probably between £400 and £700 a week. That has been forced on them rightly by the authorities, whose initiative of linking wages to turnover we have to follow and pursue at the highest level if we are to avoid some of the difficulties that we see football in today.
My involvement in Carlisle has been colourful: I was asked to sell the club by our previous owner but one, Michael Knighton. Noble Lords may recall him as the ball-juggling director of Manchester United. I sold the club to a multi-millionaire, lovable Irish businessman, John Courtney, who pumped millions of pounds into our club and saved it. In turn, only this year, he has sold the club to a local businessman from the city of Carlisle who wanted to own the club for the simple reason that he knew Carlisle was a football town and he felt that his own city wanted a sustainable football club. We have tried to run it in a businesslike, sustainable manner. I believe that is the future at every level of professional football.
Perhaps I may raise one or two points from my experience which the Minister may want to take upon himself. First, one of the best things the football authorities have done at the conference level and at the lower league level is bring in a rule that if a club goes into administration, it is deducted 10 points. Too many football clubs have been irresponsible by going straight into administration because they were not prepared to face up to the consequences of their business decisions. It is outrageous that some clubs have gone into administration twice. That cannot be justified. I pay credit to Leeds, which did not take that option. The players were sold and it went out of the Premiership by following that route. This is something we need to think about very carefully.
Carlisle was put into administration by Michael Knighton. It was a painful experience, although I admit that a number of practical issues came out of that period, some of which were quite sinister. I was quite staggered at the cost of administration for Carlisle, a small club. I shall share it with the House: it cost us £480,000. We found that very difficult to justify and it would be helpful if the Government could make a comparative study, as some have thought to do, of the cost of administration to football clubs.
I know the cost varies from club to club because every case is different, but the case of Carlisle was not difficult because we repaid every single penny of our debts. I think that Carlisle is the only football club that has gone into administration and paid back 100 pence in the pound. We are proud of that because the people we owed money to were often small businessmen, St John Ambulance, the health authority and the police. In other words, it was right and proper that the club should pay up.
But I have got to say that the Government are not absolved from responsibility in this. In the case of smaller football clubs, often the biggest creditors are government departments—the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. One must question why, when Carlisle repaid 100 per cent and York paid nearly 70 per cent, both teams went out of the league as a result—the clubs were left with huge debts—while other teams, such as Darlington, paying less than a penny in the pound, and Leicester City 10 pence in the pound—I will not even look at Bradford who have been there twice—remain in the league. That cannot be right and the Inland Revenue, although it may have conned various people and tried to con the Public Accounts Committee in the other place, have a point to answer.
The other issue I want to raise is this: in the course of our administration, we discovered that at one stage, a company called Haines Watt of South Yorkshire offered to lend us money to get out of administration and carry on training. That was done through a company called Stirling Consortium. What concerned us was that some of the individuals running Haines Watt, the insolvency experts, were also directors of Stirling Consortium. I thought that that was ambulance chasing of the worst kind. We refused to take the money, but other clubs such as Chesterfield, I believe, and Darlington have done so. Moreover, Stirling Consortium charges a rate of return to football clubs in the region of 16 or 17 per cent. There seems to be a conflict of interest when the administrators looking after a club's financial interest are associated with another company providing finance. There should be some form of investigation into that matter.
I shall make one last plea. Will the Government ask the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise to treat football clubs like any other business? In any other business, if by the end of the month you have not paid your PAYE and VAT, you get a reminder, a visit and a threat. That does not apply to football clubs. As a result, many clubs run up huge debts with the Inland Revenue. The latest story is that Wrexham is reputed to owe the Revenue and Customs some £900,000, which is a vast amount of money. If it were dealt with on a monthly basis, as it is in other companies, we would find that the sums were much more manageable. If football is to be run in a businesslike fashion, the Government must treat the clubs like businesses.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to my noble friend Lord Faulkner on securing this timely debate. My noble friend Lord Pendry has confirmed that the football authorities believe that over 7 million adults and 5 million children play football regularly, with an increase of over 50 per cent in the number of women and girls playing the game over the past three years. Football is the number one participation sport for men, and I understand that by last year it was for women as well. In addition, it is estimated that some half a million volunteers contribute their spare time in enthusiastic support of the game every week.
Money is being invested in football, including at the grass roots level. My noble friend Lord Pendry pointed out that over the past four years or so, the Football Foundation and its non-charitable arm, the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, have provided funding of more than £200 million for not far short of 200,000 projects, for which the football authorities and the Government can take some credit.
Yet, as has been said, there are issues relating to the game of football which are causes for concern or potential concern. The largest and most powerful clubs in the 20-strong Premier League appear to be looking for more control and influence over the running of the game and over the allocation of finance. However, they do not appear to be seeking it for the benefit of the game as a whole. There is a tension between the Premier League, which is represented on the Football Association governing council and the Football Association itself, which has a responsibility for the game at all levels, not least at the lower and grass roots levels, where active participation is at its greatest.
One example of that tension surfaced two or three weeks ago, when the chairman of one of the strongest Premier League clubs, Newcastle United, was reported as having said during a football seminar in Dubai that Premier League clubs were not interested in the position of clubs in the lower divisions since the money and power lay in the Premiership. That individual also forecast that the Premier League would take over the running of English soccer and can only have meant from the Football Association, which has that overall responsibility at the moment, as well as for the FA Cup and internationals.
A year ago the then chief executive of Manchester United, now with Chelsea, was reported as saying that it would not be long before there were only 40 full-time clubs in the country, compared with just over 100 today if one includes the Nationwide Conference clubs which are full-time. The future for grass roots and lower league football would not appear to be in safe hands, if the powerful Premier League clubs get their way, since their attitude and approach seems to be driven by the revenue needs of their own clubs and plcs, not the overall interests of the game and the millions who directly participate in it.
Football at the highest level has become very commercialised, as the millions of extra pounds from the televising of matches has poured in, and with it the increased amounts that can be secured from sponsorship as well. Interestingly, I wrote to a Premiership club this season for a match programme, to be told that I would have to phone an outside company. When I did so, I found myself talking to a call centre in India.
Rich benefactors and owners have been attracted in greater numbers to football. Their motive or driving force is not always clear, but owning a football club certainly raises an individual's media profile in today's age of regular televised football and European and intercontinental competition in a way that owning a business does not. Even owning a small club raises an individual's profile in the local and regional media.
The difficulty is that the football club then becomes dependent on the continuing financial support of one or two individuals, which is fine while it lasts. However, if that support is withdrawn, major financial problems can result, particularly so if the club has run up significant debts as a result of over-ambitious forays into the transfer market to secure new players and over-inflated salaries to attract and retain players. As has already been said, Leeds United is an example of what happens when financial judgment goes out of the window.
There is also an issue of whether the game at the highest level is not allowing itself to be dictated to too much by television and the millions of pounds that it has to offer. The effect of television money, in particular on those clubs which are successful in European competitions, where the financial rewards from television and sponsorship are much higher, has been to exacerbate the divide between the top four or five Premier League clubs and the rest of the Premier League. That has entrenched the position of the top clubs, as they have the greatest financial clout. It means that, in effect, only one of those top four or five clubs—some would say only three—has any realistic prospect of winning our domestic Premier League. Frankly, if you make the outcome of the competition all too predictable by, in reality, excluding nearly all the competitors year after year from winning, it must have an adverse impact on attendances and income, including from television itself and from sponsorship.
There are many who ask what has happened to all the additional money that has come into the game from television, sponsorship and some of the wealthy new owners. Five per cent of television revenue goes to the Football Foundation. There must be a case, surely, for that figure to be higher. Not a great deal seems to have gone on the development and expansion of the game at all levels compared to the amounts that have been swallowed by those at the very top.
Transfer fees for players at the highest level have certainly risen, as have salaries for players, managers, senior administrators and directors. Admission charges have risen significantly. We have also seen how football agents have creamed off significant sums of money— running into millions of pounds—when top players move from one club to another or renegotiate their contract and they, the agents, demand their cut from the deal.
Some top players now retire from playing for the national team but continue to play for their clubs which pay them and to which they are under contract. A key reason appears to be the heavy playing commitments on players with top clubs, including regular European matches and, possibly, club tours to different parts of the world during the close season in the summer. One way of reducing the commitment to play, and probably extending the length of the playing career of the individual footballer, is to decline non-club commitments—namely, international football.
Bearing in mind the real enthusiasm, the passion, the pride and the support in the country for the England football team during the World Cup and European Cup competitions, one really does wonder what the football authorities and the clubs are up to when some of our best players feel that they have no option but to withdraw from playing for their country. It cannot be in the long-term interests of English football either that relatively few players in the Premier League are British, let alone English. It is hardly an encouragement to young aspiring English footballers.
There are other issues. Matters of governance, the suitability of individuals to run and control a football club, the encouragement of more involvement in the running or ownership of clubs by supporters and the sound and realistic financial management of football clubs need to be addressed. Some steps have been taken in that direction by the Football Association, the Football League and other football authorities. There is also a need to ensure that the interests of supporters who attend matches are looked after. Many are less than happy at the considerably increased charges they now have to pay for admission and for club merchandise, as well as being unimpressed at how kick-off times of matches are changed to suit the demands of television at the expense of what is convenient to supporters, particularly travelling supporters. The game as a spectacle at the higher levels is heavily dependent on the atmosphere at matches created by the passion and enthusiasm of its supporters.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner suggested that statutory regulation could be necessary very much as a last resort. Certainly the football authorities collectively have got to show that they can work together in the interests of the game as a whole and its millions of active participants, volunteers and supporters, rather than having a situation where some seem to give greater priority to pursuing sectional interests. If the football authorities prove unable to do this—there are many able and dedicated people in those authorities—then government may have to consider doing rather more than offering them encouragement.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Faulkner for securing this debate today. I pay tribute to him for keeping sport and our national game firmly within our attention, recognising that it has significance to millions in their lives, whether as players, supporters, armchair critics, family or community participants.
I declare an interest as a past director of Everton Football Club.
My Lords, I am glad to see that we have a supporter present.
I am the present chairman of Liverpool County FA Local Football Partnership and a trustee of the Foundation for Sports and the Arts.
I wish to make some comments as a backcloth to our debate today. The first and obvious area is financial. The accountants, Deloittes, produce an excellent report each year which has highlighted how financial returns and wealth are becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of the élite. The gap is widening between the top clubs and the lower leagues.
Even within the Premiership, the returns going to the top three or four clubs have produced a major distortion of competition. The pyramid system of promotion and relegation, even within the top élite of the Premiership, cannot work effectively with such financial hurdles whereby an ambitious club—and one could have classed Leeds United in this category—can hardly manage the risk.
There are those who have sought an alternative business model—community ownership—and have engaged in discussions with Treasury Ministers. I await the result of their deliberations with interest. However, a simple solution is available within football and I call upon the Premier League, and the majority of clubs that are excluded from the top riches and yet can effect change, to restructure the merit payments to produce a more equitable distribution. Competition not finance should be the spur to improvement. After all, the top clubs must have an opposition.
A strange contradiction has been produced. Never has there been such money going into the game and yet all but the few top clubs plead poverty. It is, of course, the players who have achieved predominance and managed to take most of the spoils. While there may be no real quarrel with this, nevertheless it denies the fact that football is a team game.
The individual relies on his club for the team. The players naturally contract their services to the highest bidder—that is, the clubs. I should like to propose to the clubs and the footballers' union, the Professional Footballers' Association, that they take a look at how a player's returns can give recognition back to the club in its pursuit of building a successful team. I suggest that a percentage of the personal endorsements that a player receives over and above his contract with his club is returned to the club.
The hunger for success has pushed many clubs to seek finance from the market and yet the modern idiom of shareholder value is inappropriate to running a football club. It has been an unhappy experience for the City institutions seeking a return for their investments. The dividends of soccer are points, trophies and yet more expensive players. Success and returns accrue to the community. It is, after all, business and the community that support the club through sponsorship; the owners are merely custodians.
I make this comment in the light of discussions on Merseyside between the two Premiership clubs—Liverpool and Everton—the city council, the North West Development Agency and the public purse. Both clubs wish to build new stadiums; both clubs need to maximise their resources to the playing staff—and yet both clubs seem to be approaching this in terms that they can do only what is in the best interests of their shareholders. Last week both sides met with the Minister for Sport, my right honourable friend Richard Caborn.
What is needed is a greater vision for the community of Merseyside, which will be celebrating as the European City of Culture in 2008. If public funds are to be made available, this should only be on the basis of a shared stadium, seeking maximum value for money and minimising infrastructure disbenefits.
As an aside—I use my colours in a sporting complexion—Peter Johnson made a curious remark to me on joining Everton's board. He said, "I didn't know I had a red in the boardroom".
As to the blue side of Merseyside, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, is correct to pay tribute to Everton's community programme. Everton is the people's club. It has received "Community Mark" recognition from Business in the Community, especially in relation to its disabled development programme whereby eight different impairment group teams—such as amputee, deaf, partially sighted and five pan-disabilities—now field teams, and nearly 10,000 children and adults with disabilities participate in football.
I add my comments to those of my noble friend Lord Pendry in paying tribute to the Football Foundation on its work in supporting grass roots football. On Merseyside the Local Football Partnership is mandated with channelling this to football development, in partnership with the local authorities and other stakeholders.
Liverpool's LFP has identified key strategic objectives—namely, to reverse the decline in adult league football; to redevelop employer-sponsored and private sports grounds; to develop, in a strategic programme, outdoor pitches and facilities and the devolution of responsibility to clubs; to promote community use of school facilities; to promote the women's game; and to use football as a tool for social inclusion. Now in its third year, this strategy has delivered over £3 million towards club and community football and its facilities, with the objective of extending a further £20 million locally by 2007. My noble friend Lord Pendry is correct when he describes the work of the FA in this area.
I would also like to echo the concerns of my noble friend Lord Faulkner regarding corporate governance of the game. I have already commented on the lack of responsible patronage of those who have custodianship of our clubs. It is vital that the FA gets to grips with these issues and follows up the good work undertaken by Mark Palios, the recent departed FA chief executive. I echo the good wishes of my noble friend Lord Faulkner towards his successor.
The FA needs to recognise the development of gambling and, indeed, your Lordships will soon be grappling with the Gambling Bill. This is by no means a new feature, as the name of the footballer, Tony Kay, will remind some noble Lords. There were legitimate concerns expressed at the level of betting on the score line of 5:2 in a recent UEFA game. Everyone concerned with the game must recognise the serious issues that will arise when football clubs attract casinos to their stadiums. Continuation of income streams means that we have the wherewithal to seize the opportunities to improve football and its image to the delight of millions.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for initiating this debate. It has been suffused with enthusiasm and insight. On Friday last, I heard on Radio 4's "Desert Island Discs" the voice of Tyneside's soccer icon, Sir Bobby Robson. He described how, on the Newcastle team coach after a Premiership match, one of his players exclaimed, "Boss, turn the bus around. I've left my diamond ear stud in the dressing room". Sir Bobby then reflected to his host, the cool Ms Lawley, that the young professionals of the premiership were paid too much. They did not know what to do with their riches. He implied that it was not good for the sport. It is the case that the superb English player, Mr Sol Campbell, is negotiating a new contract. It is speculated that the upper limit might be £100,000 per week, or more.
There is a moral aspect here for British society. Will it be good for the sport for the financial gap between the Premiership and the rest to continue apace? Do we undervalue the wonderful work of those who locally coach those boys and girls of school age, or those who scout, teach and encourage? How shall we further these good developments? Our health Ministers are panic-stricken at the advance of obesity among the school population. Can soccer be both the medicine and the antidote? Instead of building massive leisure complexes that are expensive to run and expensive to enter, why not string plentiful, all-weather, floodlit, five-a-side pitches through the ubiquitous social housing estates? Why cannot local youth soccer coaches be honoured? They do excellent work for young people in our communities. They are unsung, little thanked and responsible adults who help countless youngsters to achieve their potential and to gain confidence and good health.
Wrexham AFC languishes near the foot of its league. The town is outraged at its soccer team's perilous future. Long-time supporters want a certain future for their team at the Racecourse ground. Currently, sadly, it is a question of planning, debts, commerce, consortia, bidders, businessmen and administrators, and 10 points down the drain. It is the talk of Wrexham. The whole town is hurting. This is not a problem unique to Wrexham in north-east Wales, where I live. It is a phenomenon known across Britain in today's unstable football world. The contrasts are massive, from the glamorous soccer palace stadiums of the premiership to the precarious futures of financially wrecked lower league clubs.
I believe that somewhere in this there is a moral aspect for football. Principled leadership is required, and wise decisions are need from the powers that be. In all of this, I praise my own club, Connahs Quay Nomads, of which I am patron. We of the Welsh Premier League had a great day when Sir Alex Ferguson brought one of his young teams to play our first XI. The club has an agreement with Manchester United and I found that Sir Alex was a magnet for the many youngsters at the match. From the touchline to Sir Alex's seat in our tiny grandstand, those young boys and girls queued for his autograph. Patient and agreeable, he signed throughout the entire match. Nothing was too much trouble for one of the all-time greats of soccer management and leadership. This was not the image that is so unjustly served up in our tabloid media. This was a soccer ambassador from the heights of the Premiership and the theatre of dreams.
As a one-time season ticket holder for Everton, I saw the great half-back line of Harvey, Kendall and Ball in their blue shirts. It is the case that, in north Wales, on most Saturdays, motor coaches transport Welsh men and women to Premiership matches at Goodison Park, Anfield and Old Trafford, such is the allure of those great clubs and such is the cultural and economic link between north Wales and Merseyside. Is there anything nicer than going to a soccer match with one's son? But at about £35 a seat at the Premiership, it is not an option for everybody. It is getting harder and harder.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester has instanced his loyalty to West Bromwich Albion and he can also be justifiably proud of Chester Football Club, if he wishes. One recollects the famed derby matches of Chester and Wrexham in the old League Division North. At the Racecourse in Wrexham, in 1968, I think, I saw the Reds grind out a grim 1:1 draw with the Cestrians. My point is that there were 11,000 people present at that derby match. Oh, that both clubs might gain such mass support again! What is the financial and footballing fate of our lower leagues? Which footballing organisation is taking the lead to devise a survival plan?
When World War II ended, millions of men of the King's army returned home in 1946 and 1947. They were fit and confident men, and many of them joined village soccer teams. They had not always been at the battlefront. They were fit and at their physical peak. My recollection of the late 1940s is of every village fielding teams led by talented ex-servicemen. I remember that competition was very considerable. The field of play was often roughly reclaimed from wartime emergency agricultural production and was often of a daunting gradient. Those teams live on in the pub teams all over Britain that hack it hopefully on Sundays. They are the lifeblood of Britain's principal sport.
Soccer is the people's passion. It has been part of our nation's social history and part of the warp and woof of British society. At its best, the game's nobility and stirring engagement is inspiring, but we need to act very quickly to save the game from possible disaster.
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, was talking about the role of the Inland Revenue, I was reminded that, as the Member of Parliament for Stockport South, I once had reason to call on the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, John MacGregor—now the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor—to ask him for leniency because Stockport County Football Club had not paid its taxes for some years. After I made an impassioned plea, laying out the social and emotional commitment that Stockport County made to the whole of Stockport, John MacGregor said, "That's all very well, Tom, but the Inland Revenue cannot act as a lender of last resort to Stockport County Football Club". One of the themes of the debate today, first made by my noble friend Lord Addington, is that there must be strong pressure on the professional game to run itself professionally.
I would not be so ungallant as to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, must remember one of the greatest football games of all time, namely Blackpool 4, Bolton Wanderers 3. After all, it was 51 years ago. But if she would like to see it, I have a video of the game and would be very happy for us to spend a pleasant 90 minutes—the last 20 minutes are particularly good as Blackpool scored three goals—in the Television Room.
Another theme this evening is our lifelong commitment to our football club. My 11 year-old son says that Daddy is always in a better mood on a Saturday night when Blackpool has won. As noble Lords can imagine, there have been some grumpy evenings in the McNally household.
I am looking forward to hearing the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, under whose captaincy I had the honour to play in the Lords and Commons team some 20 years ago. However, my first and real thanks go to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, got it absolutely right: over a very long period, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has been the champion of changes for good in soccer, and we are all in his debt, not only for securing this debate but for the campaigns he has carried out on soccer's behalf.
It is because soccer needs not just fans but candid friends that this debate has been so useful. We all give our very best wishes to the new FA chief executive, Brian Barwick. He has taken on the job at a very difficult time and must already feel as though he has joined one of the country's more controversial soap operas. We all know what a high risk strategy it is to become involved in soap operas—I am sure my noble friend Lord Newby knows. That is a Lib Dem in-joke, but never mind. All will be revealed on Christmas Day.
The FA has the difficult—some would say impossible—task of representing both the major élite clubs and the grass roots of the game. It has to convince the big clubs, as some have said, that what is happening is good for the shareholder value of each club—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that that is an almost impossible task—as well as carrying out its grass-roots role.
It is often said that soccer chairmen are self-made men who worship their creators. It can be difficult to run a football club. It may have a ground that is a model of comfort and safety and an exemplary record of community involvement and social awareness, but if it languishes at the foot of the table, the chairman is in trouble. That is why there is a need for some external encouragement of best practice and a discouragement of selfish short-termism.
"When we have 52,000 fans at each home game, the last thing we are worried about is the clubs in the third division".
He went on to say that the time will come when the Premier League is running the whole show.
This is not a threat, and I take on board what my noble friends Lord Newby and Lord Addington said about voluntarism, but if there were any threat of a coup d'état by the Premiership, that would cause the pressure for statutory regulation to become irresistible. People like Mr Shepherd should know that.
The great strength of the English league system is that it is a ladder of achievement which goes deep and leaves even the smallest of clubs dreaming to dream. AFC Wimbledon is already planning its return to the Premiership; as we know, it can also go down, as have Carlisle and others.
The alternative is a Premiership made up of one or two clubs, with about the same attraction as the Harlem Globetrotters—entertainment fodder for television. I believe that we are capable of better than that. What is needed is encouragement of best practice. We have had criticism of club chairmen, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, indicated, it is also said of them that the way to make a small fortune out of running a football club is to start off with a large fortune. For most club chairmen and club directors, it is nothing more than a labour of love.
Because football clubs are community assets, there is a need for adequate protection for clubs against the asset strippers, money launderers and some of the mega-wealthy from abroad. If they acquired such wealth so quickly in this country, some of them would probably be behind bars rather than in a football club boardroom. I make no judgment on any particular individual. However, looking for quick-fix solutions from the mega-wealthy from abroad is extremely dangerous for football clubs. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that any government encouragement or legislation which encourages community participation and ownership of soccer clubs is to be welcomed.
About 16 or 17 years ago, I carried out a study for the Government about prospects for development in Liverpool and Merseyside. I was appalled at the lack of community involvement by both Liverpool and Everton. One of the first speeches I made in this House about soccer was extremely critical. Some of our greatest clubs were sited in areas of great social deprivation, relying on supporters who lived in some privation, yet the clubs seemed to show no awareness of that.
Looking again at the record, I think that there has been a massive improvement. The FA and the clubs deserve tremendous credit for the way in which they have taken initiatives, not just in terms of community involvement but also in campaigns to kick racism out of soccer. Many other institutions could learn a lesson from football in that regard. The battle against racism has not been won, but football has shown great courage and it could go further. I would like to see clubs send multiracial task forces into schools, preaching the anti-racism cause. However, they have already done a lot.
On agents, I agree with everything that has been said about greed. My brother, at 21, a newly qualified plumber, had as his labourer Johnny McIntyre, the man who still holds the record of scoring seven goals in a First Division game for Blackburn Rovers. He ended up as a 21 year-old plumber's labourer. Jeff Astle ended up as a window cleaner. It is worth remembering that generations of footballers were denied a proper return for their talents by an iniquitous wages system. We must be careful in what is a relatively short career not to prevent footballers earning their worth in our society. They are as entitled to take external advice as anyone else.
On Saturday, I went to the Harvesters Football Club in St Albans, not with either of my two sons—neither of whom shows much interest in football—but with my nine year-old daughter. The Harvesters Football Club is one of the FA's community clubs that runs 23 clubs, three of them for girls. I have one last message for the FA, sponsors and others: the big market out there for soccer is women's soccer. We should not patronise it; we should encourage it. I have watched my daughter with five of her friends sitting in a circle watching their favourite film, "Bend it like Beckham". A lot of girls out there will be kept involved in sport by women's soccer.
Most of all, the lesson of this debate has been the progress that is being made and the enthusiasm of the friends of football to encourage that best practice.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on securing the debate. He is a strong supporter of football and has, as many noble Lords said, done a great deal for the advancement of the sport, especially at grass roots level. I echo his comments on many areas, not least on the abhorrent—if occasional—and wholly unacceptable racism in football. Players and the FA are right to take racism seriously. It is utterly unacceptable inside or outside sport.
However, the noble Lord is not alone in this Chamber in his support for football, as we have heard this evening, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, as president of the Football Foundation. He leads an organisation that contributes so much to sport in this country with great skill and enthusiasm. Additionally, I commend the Football Association for its efforts at the grass roots—be it coaching schemes, sport for disadvantaged children, women's football, as we have just heard, or indeed disability sports initiatives. The FA does that work highly effectively.
I begin with one of those grass roots initiatives. The FA's 3 Lions coaching programme began about two years ago. Its principal aim is to offer children free after-school football coaching in FA-accredited clubs. Clubs are encouraged to forge links with local schools and to connect with schoolchildren. The schemes are administered at local level, and funding is allocated by the FA according to how many school links are formed.
Although still in its infancy, the scheme has already reaped two distinct and important benefits. First, it offers children the kind of structured, enjoyable sport that should be a staple of school life, but is now rare indeed. Secondly, it offers participating football clubs a sustainability of membership that was previously beyond their grasp. Children who go to a club as part of the 3 Lions programme are more likely to become full members in the future.
The scheme is a good one. Investing in local sports clubs and enabling them to provide sport for our children makes sense because sports clubs are where so much genuine enthusiasm for the game lies. That is precisely the reasoning behind our Club2School sports initiative, which we launched last week. Club2School will offer every child two hours of free coaching each week in a local sports club. That will be in addition to the target of two hours physical activity in national curriculum time. Children should be able to choose which sport they play according to local availability and sports clubs, and national governing bodies will receive funding dependent on the number of children that they attract to their sport.
In that context, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was right to focus on the importance of clubs. In short, we must double the amount of sport available to children without increasing the burden on our overstretched yet enthusiastic and able teachers. Instead, we should shift the responsibility for youth sport provision on to the shoulders of those who are genuinely, actively enthusiastic about their sport in our clubs. It seems eminently sensible that, wherever possible, children should be taught football by a qualified football coach, and our policy has met with widespread approval. It builds on the good practice of the FA's 3 Lions scheme. It builds on the excellent work undertaken by all those involved in coaching programmes in accredited clubs.
In fact, the only party to remain silent on the matter are the Government, until yesterday. After cancelling the announcement on school sport which was planned for last week, the Labour Party unveiled its new school sports policy. The most widespread coverage of this policy was in today's Daily Mail, which said that the policy was just "more of the same":
"It is a re-re-re-announcement; a rehashed, reheated stew of old promises".
The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, was absolutely right about the huge increase in lottery money spent in sport, but let us not forget that, at the Labour Party conference in 2000, the Prime Minister stood up and announced that he would spend £750 million over three years on school sports facilities. My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton talked of the importance of access to football pitches. That £750 million over three years should have gone towards ensuring that we had good school sports facilities. Sadly, it is now four years after that announcement, and only £40 million of the £750 million has been spent.
What is more, the school sports partnership scheme alone is not the answer. It produces a patchwork quilt of sports provision in which the amount of sport a school offers is usually determined by the head. That can place unwanted and unreasonable burdens on competent, enthusiastic teachers, and it fails to offer many children the sporting chance that is their right. Worse still, it completely fails to make use of the thousands of volunteers in the clubs who are ready and willing to get involved.
The policy will barely scratch the surface of many of the problems that we have talked about this evening in engaging young people in football. However, if we scratch the surface, we soon see that the Chancellor has not completely lost his parsimonious streak. Other proposals announced include a real-terms cut in the funding allocated to both Sport England and UK Sport, through which many of the government policies for the development of English football are funded. This is the first time in history that the budget for the sports councils has in real terms been cut. The right honourable Richard Caborn, the Minister for Sport, has achieved a unique achievement. The 12th Minister for Sport is the only Minister for Sport who has managed actually to reduce, in real terms, the forward budget for the sports councils and decrease the number of people who participate during his term of office.
The Government's own statistics show the seriousness of the problem. Since 1997, participation in sport has gone down. We now have the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe. I regret to inform the House that more than 5 million of our 8 million children do not even receive two hours of quality physical education a week inside and outside school. It is time for a major shift in sport policy for our schoolchildren. That shift should be to the sports clubs that want to provide sport for young people and need to have people coming through their doors.
As my noble friend Lord Lyell mentioned, football, just like all sports in the United Kingdom, is massively dependent on volunteers. It relies heavily on the outstanding and undervalued contribution of those people who give their time freely to coach, referee and support local clubs. Yet worryingly, the Office for National Statistics estimates that the value of formal volunteer activity on which sport in this country depends has fallen by a staggering 26 per cent in the past eight years. People are giving up volunteering in sport, and the reason most often given by those people is the,
"risk, fear of blame and litigation", the so-called compensation culture. The Government would have us believe that the compensation culture is basically a myth, but that is simply not the case, and changes in policy are needed to prevent the slow death of volunteering in sport. A series of steps needs to be taken in this context. I quote the chief executive of Sport England:
"Take the volunteers out of sport; you take the sport out of England".
They are simply too important to lose.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester began by talking about the international perspective. Internationally, the Government need to do far more to support the football authorities in ensuring that they have influential representation on international bodies. FIFA and UEFA should be high on their list of priorities. In parenthesis, I must say that it is utterly unacceptable that the ICC may leave these shores. The Chancellor has an opportunity to raise our country's level of influence on the world stage of sport tomorrow in answering Treasury Questions on this subject. I for one will be using every opportunity in the passage of the International Organisations Bill, that starts in your Lordships' House tomorrow, to keep the ICC here.
Our use of sport as a tool of international development is minimal. Where we employ it, we use it well. Just look at the excellent work undertaken by Garth Crooks and his colleagues in the Caribbean. Our record to date for bidding for and staging international events is unacceptable. We must place a far higher priority on working with the FA and with all governing bodies to ensure that the international federations that are already here stay and that those seeking to come to these shores receive the necessary support so to do.
I regard this as having been an excellent debate. Politicians are most out of touch with the people whom they represent when they fail to feel and understand the way in which football and sport resonate with the public in all sections of society. Pick up your newspaper. For every page of politics there are five pages dedicated to sport. Tonight, it has been demonstrated that noble Lords in all parts of the House are very much in touch with football and the wider world of sport and feel passionately about it, for sport is nothing if not about ambition, emotion, enjoyment and opportunity.
My Lords, this has been a most interesting and insightful debate, ably introduced by my noble friend Lord Faulkner, to whom we owe a very considerable debt not just for the opportunity to debate this important issue—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about the importance of sport for our communities—but also because we want the football authorities to take seriously certain football issues in which we, as representatives of the community, have a very keen interest.
It is clear from the debate that we all recognise that football is, indeed, a complex business. I refer here to the obvious dichotomy in the modern game in which some increasingly exploit the enormous commercial benefits that they derive from success at the highest level and make increased profits through sound business models while others struggle to survive in an increasingly competitive and ruthless market. It is recognised that the game has moved away from traditional roots in the community which we want to see fostered and continued. Football attracts media attention. Therefore, debates on football take place in the full glare of publicity. They are important debates.
Football is continually being analysed. Governing bodies and clubs are always under the spotlight. The Government's attitude to football is also under the spotlight. Football matters to the nation and therefore matters to government. Football is important. After all, it helps to deliver the Government's aims to increase participation in sport and to improve social inclusion, community cohesion and the health of the nation as set out in Game Plan, published in December 2002. Football has a high profile and is the nation's favourite game. We all recognise the extent to which millions of people—upwards of 24 million—take an interest in football. That figure is well above those for any other sport. Three-quarters of parents say that their children are interested in football. Within schools teachers identify the popularity of football, particularly among boys but increasingly among girls. Football generates an impressive feel good factor when the national side—or our leading teams representing our national interest—do well in international competition. Therefore, we recognise the importance of football in our national life.
More than any other sport, football has the ability to engage large numbers of our people, to reach out to communities and to reach across social classes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who I believe first mentioned this point, that a great deal of football is played at amateur grass roots level. We need to nurture that. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Faulkner for identifying that we need football to be well run at the highest national level because it needs to respect and connect to the grass roots level from which the very strength of the sport develops.
The picture is very far from being one of gloom and doom. We recognise the considerable progress that has been made in recent years. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, identified the growing extent to which the major clubs relate to their communities and the very considerable progress they have made in that regard. The Government want to encourage that development. We want to see the development of strategies that provide the right facilities. Football clubs in Britain could follow the models that exist elsewhere in Europe and the wider world of being the focal point of wider sporting facilities than just football to which the community inevitably relates.
If those models were adopted, we could hope to see an increase in sporting participation and sporting facilities. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was right to stress such facilities. However, I chide him a little as it is a little rich for a member of a previous government who had an extraordinary record regarding the closure of school playing fields to berate this Government who now have the toughest policy on the control of school playing fields. We ensure that any playing space which is lost is replaced by an enhanced provision with year round facilities that improves opportunities to participate in sport. It ill behoves the noble Lord to berate this Government in that regard, particularly as he will recognise that over this past week we have announced substantial investment in, and our commitment to, sport.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, that football's strength is that it attracts children from all backgrounds. It enables them to engage in extremely vigorous physical exercise. I refer to the need to provide sufficient facilities in our communities. So much petty, and sometimes more serious, crime occurs on benighted estates where we have failed to provide facilities. It is essential that we address the role which sport can play in enhancing participation and communities. There has been recognition—
My Lords, the debate is time restricted but I shall give way.
My Lords, I am delighted to hear that. As I was foolish enough to captain the parliamentary football side at the age of 57 I give way to no one as regards having delusions of youth when one's skill has long passed its best.
As regards pride in past performance, no one has mentioned the one thing that we should all recognise; namely, the skill exhibited in our football. The skill exhibited in the football that is played in our Premiership and at an international level is in my view substantially higher than it ever was in the past. We should recognise that. That is part of football's attraction and the reason it provides such extraordinarily gripping television. The great games constitute great experiences. I therefore hope that we recognise the strengths of the present position too. I am grateful to all those noble Lords who spoke about this; the noble Lord, Lord Jones, was emphatic in those terms, so was the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on the extent to which we need to nurture grass roots.
I emphasise that in the footballing community schemes, in the Positive Futures programme, in the Premier League Reading Stars, we see role models, not just in sport but in a wider form of education as well. Leading footballers show how they have mastered crucial literacy skills and have struggled with those problems in order to emphasise to young people that they must master these skills and enhance their literacy and numeracy. What better role model than a professional footballer whom they hold in the highest regard showing that he has been through the same battles as they are facing and has triumphed over them? There is a great deal about football role models which does not relate solely to performance in the field of play, but can also play its part for the good of the wider community if we can only capitalise on the good will that can be, and is often, present.
Football can deliver a great deal more than it has in the past, although I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Pendry who emphasised the particular role that we all recognise, and in which he has played such a conspicuous part, of the Football Foundation. I will also mention the private dimension of the Barclays Spaces for Sport initiative, which also brings substantial private finance—some £30 million community sponsorship—by one of the country's leading banks in partnership with the Football Foundation at ground work. This is the single biggest investment in grass root sports by a company in the UK, and we should pay tribute to that initiative. I am glad that my noble friend raised that point this evening.
I am also grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for his emphasis on the extent to which football and sport can help to develop the whole individual. It is an important dimension, and we should recognise that football can both improve the health of our young people—we all recognise the problems and challenges of obesity among young people, which needs to be tackled through greater levels of exercise—and that is why I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that we are determined that every child shall enjoy the opportunities for two hours of sport per week. He will recognise the significant progress that we are making towards targets. We have hit certain targets in the past two years, and we are putting resources in place to ensure that those targets are raised for the participation of children in sport.
I also agree with my noble friend Lord Faulkner that we need to think seriously about the tough issues that confront football, particularly on the way in which football is run. The Government agreed to set up the Independent Football Commission, an independent body established on self-regulatory lines. I am aware of the fact that there are critics who suggest that the IFC does not enjoy the range of powers that may be necessary for it to be as effective as some would like, but it has been going for only two years, and during those first two years we recognise the progress that has been made, and we look forward to the report on its activities in their third year.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby—I think he was reinforced by his own Front Bench—that football does not need a statutory regulator. It certainly needs regulation; it needs a recognition of standards that it must meet. A statutory regulator could come into play only if football was in fact faced by the kind of dire crisis to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred. Let us hope that wise counsels prevail, and that the Premiership figures recognise the dangers of pursuing self-interest to the point where they damage their long-term interests in any case by pursuit of too narrow objectives.
It is not the Government's responsibility to regulate footballers, unless they break the law. It is the Government's concern to have an interest in the fact that the FA should be fit for purpose for the 21st century for the sake of the game and to ensure that the game can deliver grass roots football. We believe that this can best be achieved through a strong FA. It is therefore fair to ask, "Is the FA fit for purpose?". It is important to recognise that my right honourable friend the Minister for Sport offered his support to the FA in the troubles that it has had in recent months. We all welcome the appointment of the new chief executive, and we wish Brian Barwick well. We also recognise that it is important that the Football Association appreciates the keen interest of the Government on behalf of the wider community, that it puts its own house in order, and that it exerts the necessary authority for the good of the game and for all of us who hold the game in high regard.
I have no doubt that on the issues with regard to governance a great deal of progress needs to be made. Football supporters are clearly exerting their pressure, a point made by my noble friend Lord Rosser in terms of the role of the grass roots and the fans. It is important that we recognise the part played by the fans. They have an important interest in the sport. Without them, the sport would be as nothing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, identified, costs for taking families to football these days are prohibitive at the highest levels. We should welcome those grounds where they set out to identify special seats of lower cost to encourage young people to get their chance to see football at the highest level without having to meet the exorbitant costs that can obtain.
I recognise the point made by my noble friend Lord Clark, that throughout the Football League there are an awful lot of directors and others who play their part in supporting clubs without significant material reward or even thought that that may materialise. He is right; the Football League has shown areas in which the Premiership could learn lessons, not least the question of the percentage to be spent on wage bills. It is an important guide; it is in its early days, but we recognise that it may help the finances of clubs outside the Premiership. It may be that the Premiership comes to recognise that the rather exorbitant position of players' salaries—reference has been made to newly negotiated salaries of extraordinary levels—perhaps does have to be reined in for the good of football finances.
On the more technical point that my noble friend raised on the question of the fairness with which different football clubs are treated when they go into administration, I think perhaps I will have to write to him on that. It is a little outside the responsibility of this department. It is rather more the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry on bankruptcy law.
I recognise the point that he makes, and he will appreciate that there is a particular difficulty about football as a business when it comes to the question of its debts building up, and that is that football clubs are going businesses only for as long as they play football and fulfil their fixtures. Therefore, there is a real problem for the authorities with what dramatic impact they make upon a club in mid-season because of money that is owed to the Inland Revenue, which might vitiate the long-term future of that club entirely. There are difficulties with this industry, but I recognise the point that he makes, and obviously he has a right to expect fairness in treatment.
I also appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that it is important that there should be criteria for the directors of football clubs. We need to ensure that people who carry out that role on behalf of a significant force in the local community meet standards of proper conduct in terms of business operation. I also hope that we see, through the growth of the supporters' trusts, responsibility to the fans. In the past, clubs have often been scandalously neglectful of the very group of people to whom they owe the greatest obligation, because it is from them that they derive the greatest loyalty.
I also welcome the fact that several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Faulkner, emphasised that there is no place for racism in football—quite the opposite. We should recognise that football is a living example of the range of talents that our multiracial community brings through excellence in the sport. The disgraceful events that occurred when the England team was on international duty in Spain produced from the Government and the Football Association a suitably strong riposte. We hope that we are able to see the end of such episodes.
I welcome the point emphasised particularly strongly by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the tremendous success in the growth of women's football. I agree with the noble Lord that the Football Association should look at its great growth potential. The extraordinary thing from the American experience is that it is in exactly that area that the most significant developments have been made. Again, ingrained attitudes may need to be overcome by administration at the top level of football, but we must look forward to progress in those terms as well.
It has been a fascinating debate, and a difficult one to respond to, not least because everyone has made good points and has done so in an emphatic and impassioned way. Everyone therefore deserves a full response from me in every respect, which is difficult within the framework of 20 minutes. I hope that we all recognise the debt that we owe to my noble friend Lord Faulkner for introducing an important debate this evening.
My Lords, at this time of the evening, I do not intend to do any more than thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, and I particularly congratulate those making their first-team debuts in a football debate. I think that that includes the right reverend Prelate; it certainly includes the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Jones. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, it is the first time that he has worn his captain's armband with "PC" written on it, certainly in a football debate. I congratulate him, too.
All sorts of very interesting themes have come up in the debate, and I do not intend to cover any of them now. It is interesting that the right reverend Prelate raised the issue of sin bins; perhaps he is particularly well qualified to talk about that. He went on to talk about technology for referees, but I shall resist the temptation to go down that road.
It occurred to me during the debate that, if I am asked what the House of Lords has in common with Mr Tommy Docherty, I can say that it has more clubs than Jack Nicklaus. The allegiances of your Lordships up and down the country, into Scotland and north Wales, are very impressive, and we have enjoyed the insights brought out in each speech.
I shall close with a speech that was not made this evening, but the words were on a note passed to me by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth as he left after the previous debate. He wrote:
"Sorry I can't stay for your debate. In Portsmouth, the resurgence of Pompey FC has done a huge amount for the city, with spin-offs for inner city education. It's a big local issue—have fun!".
We have had fun, and it has been demonstrated to us how important football is in British society. I appreciate the efforts that everyone has made to contribute to the debate.
I am fascinated to know what Papers I can move for, but I do not intend to do that, so I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.