Thursday, 26 May 2016

Supporters must have a voice in the proposed Football League restructure

By Source, Fair use,
The recent announcement about proposed restructuring of the English Football League has generated no small amount of excitement. Sadly, from what I've read at least, it’s not the good sort of excitement.

The restructure comes from a desire to solve a perceived problem. That being there are too many games being played in mid-week. Floodlight games are fun but seen (at least by the people that drafted the proposal) to be bad for business and bad for the player’s fitness. Reducing mid-week fixtures allows time for players to recuperate and train for the next game. It also eases the pressure traffic and public transport as there are less people travelling the country on weekdays.

In order to decrease the number of fixtures the plan is to increase the number of teams to 100 hundred and to divide them among four divisions. The additional teams are likely to be made up teams from the National League but many commentators are suggesting that the door may be open for the two Glasgow clubs enter the league. There are reference to reserve team football and the Johnstone paint Trophy which people are inferring that the largely unwelcome matter of Premier League reserve teams competition in Football League competition may rise again.

The plan itself seems short on detail. Indeed, the announcement on the Football League’s website is badly formatted with at least one typo. This may not seem important but as a document of weight and implication you would have thought they could have engaged a copy editor to give it the once over. Also missing is a lack of detail about how supporters are to be consulted. Indeed it is worrying for the future of the plan that no attempt to canvas opinion from fans, even at this preliminary stage. The only reference to fan consultation is in the final sentence of the announcement.

The proposal has the tacit approval of the Premier League and The FA but the decision as to implement it rests with the clubs and they have until November 2017 to decide. One assumes that it rests with the clubs to consult the supporters about their feelings on the changes. Given how the proposal directly affects supporters it is disappointing that the League has not utilised the Football Supporter's Federation’s connections to kick off a consultation process. While many clubs will be only too pleased to consult their supporters about this plan, there are some clubs who won’t and I don’t just mean the rogue or maverick owners who are in well-publicised disputes with their supporters.

I don’t doubt that some of the benefits are actually beneficial but the lack of consultation of the actual people who actually pay to actually enter the stadium is familiar and depressing. No doubt the League would argue that it is for clubs to liaise with their support. However, there appears to be a lack of guarantee from supporters that this will happen. Certainly this author would never dream of bringing into question the commitment to their fans of owners of clubs like Blackpool, Leeds or Charlton (to pick these clubs out of the air at random). However, all clubs could find themselves in a difficult position should they find supporters at odds with their own sentiments on this matter.

And opinions are likely to be strong and the temptation to dilute the supporter’s views may be too strong should clubs and fans be not of one mind. It seems unfair to set clubs at odds with their fans unnecessarily. Also, independent consultation is wise so as not to give the impression that fans views are not welcome. I'm certain that is not the case. After all, only a fool discounts the views one of your primary sources of income.

Happily the FSF are about to embark on their own consultation exercise. It is hoped that the Football League clubs pay heed to the results. There are many stakeholders with a right to participate in the decision making. It is likely the the PFA and the league generous sponsors will take a view and that view will be heard. As a significant contributor to the income of Football League clubs, supporters have as much right to be heard as they.