Rt. Hon. Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
10 July 2020
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you about our deep concerns with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport's forthcoming response to the Football Task Force final reports. The Coalition of Football Supporters is an umbrella body which represents both the national football supporters organisations - the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs and the Football Supporters Association - as well as over 150 club-based supporter groups and publications. CoFS is the only organisation which is able to help football fans speak with one voice on issues of national concern. On the issue of the government and the Football Task Force, we could not be more united.
Our representatives on the Task Force moved heaven and earth to try and reach a compromise during the life of the body, retreating from mandated positions which demanded statutory regulation, to a 'softer' option of a Football Audit Commission. The proposals on this, and on the four specific areas of remit, amounted to realistic, reasonable and achievable proposals for the proper public accountability of football and meaningful, practical measures to improve the position of football fans. These proposals received 2:1 support on the Task Force, including that of all 'independent' members, with only the football establishment unable to support them.
You, the Government, were then left with a choice of whether to support the majority report or the minority one. We understand that the Secretary of State is due to make an announcement shortly about the Government's response. We have major concerns with what we understand to be the likely outcome of this. The choice, however, is clear: reform or the status quo; access or privilege.
i) The Chair
We understand that it is the government's intention to appoint Dr Jack Cunningham to head a new Independent Football Commission. As has been widely reported, this is an appointment opposed by football fans because of Dr Cunningham's well-publicised links with the board of Newcastle United, something which is particularly relevant given that board's actions in relation to their 'bond' holders in recent weeks. Indeed, Dr Cunningham, a bond holder himself, actually declined to support his fellow fans in their battle to retain their seats - a rather bad omen for what is to come. He simply does not have the confidence of football supporters as someone who will be either independent or effective on important supporter issues. The proper regulation of football is far too important an arena to be a convenient and comfortable resting ground for former cabinet colleagues.
Both the Minority and Majority Task Force reports called for appointments to be made along 'Nolan' principles, allowing for the establishment of a remit, the identification of a job and person specification, and the open and transparent appointments of appropriate personnel. As recently as June 2000 the FSA received a letter from Adam Crozier at the FA in which he said:
"Our position is very clear. 1) We have handed all responsibility for the recruitment process to DCMS; 2) We would like the ISP (sic) "team" to include people with relevant skill sets if possible e.g. law, finance, customer relations, regulations; 3) We would want all members to be considered as independent by all parties."
Suggestions raised in a meeting with the Secretary of State in March, that a Non Departmental Public Body could be established, seemed a sensible way forward and would have accommodated both our, and the FA's, wishes.
Why then, has the Government insisted on securing appointments through a series of secret, behind-the-scenes negotiations with the football authorities? This is neither open government nor the procedure which both final reports called for. It seems incredible that the government have over-ruled one of the few unanimous areas of the final report and have lowered themselves into a seedy horse trading with the football establishment which is beginning to make some football transfers look clean-cut.
Even more serious, however, is the inability of the government to achieve a membership in which all parties would have confidence as being independent and effective. It appears that the football authorities and the Premier League in particular, have effectively been given a veto over membership, ruling out those who they do not like, including such reasonable candidates as Lord Faulkner and Rogan Taylor. Supporters groups have simply been ignored and excluded from a process in which we have made a huge investment. It appears that now, our united voice counts for nothing.
The proposed line-up of Cunningham, Lord Taylor, Deirdre Hutton, Brian Moore and Sir John Smith (who rightly may refuse to take part) is not only feeble but makes a mockery of the two and a half years' hard work which we and other fans put into the Task Force to try and achieve meaningful change in the running of English football.
iii) Remit and Scope of the body.
We also understand that the proposed IFC will not have as part of its remit any Ombudsman role - an ability to deal with the multitude of complaints of football fans. This is an essential plank of any regulatory regime and we consider it vital that it is included in the body's work. We would also urge you to give the body, as its initial remit, the recommendations of the Majority Task Force report along with the recommendations of the previous three Task Force reports. Only these can ensure the proper, independent regulation of football clubs at all levels. To base its remit solely on the extremely vague and lightweight code of practice in the Minority report will be to let football clubs continue with sharp and exploitative practices, let the authorities continue without proper public scrutiny and fail to restore the confidence of fans in the future of our national sport.
We believe that many of the difficulties you are encountering are because of the weak position you have placed yourselves in, vis-à-vis the football authorities. To rule out the possibility of legislation - particularly when you are attempting to rush through other football-related laws - has given the football authorities all the jokers in the pack. They can simply ignore the wishes of government, supporters and others, and are clearly doing so.
It appears that the Secretary of State is so concerned about not offending the Premier League, that he is prepared to entirely exclude the wishes of football supporters and capitulate to the Premier League's demands. At the very least, if these proposals go ahead, the government needs to make a firm and public commitment to bring forward legislation within two years if and when the proposed structure proves woefully inadequate.
We have been saddened by much of what has transpired in the last weeks and months. The Task Force was an initiative in which we welcomed and took part in wholeheartedly in the good faith that our work would translate into a change in the way football and its clubs are run. The views we represented and proposals we made were supported by the vast majority of supporters who took part in research surveys, Task Force public meetings and evidence sessions. We have told you what we think is needed as one, united voice. You and your Secretary of State appear to be ignoring those wishes and are siding with the establishment whom the Task Force was set up to reform in the first place.
Meaningful change in the running of football appears to be a receding possibility. If the Government continues on its proposed course you will have sold out thousands of football fans up and down the country who have looked to you for the reform of English football.
We state for the record now, that should the government proceed with this weak and biased establishment lap-dog, it is against the express wishes of the football supporters of this country and we will have no hesitation in saying so publicly. We urge you to reconsider and to liaise with us in the coming days to achieve a solution which is acceptable to all parties - and that means supporters as well as football authorities.
Public Relations, Coalition of Football Supporters
Chair, Football Supporters Association
Chair, National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs
Ms Kate Hoey MP, Minister for Sport
Rt. Hon. Chris Smith, MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
James Purnell, Policy Unit, 10 Downing St.