South Shields FC chairman Geoff Thompson calls for non-league fans to have a voice in review of football governance after Super League row
South Shields chairman Geoff Thompson has backed a review of governance in football – and wants non-league supporters to be given an opportunity to make their voices heard.
With controversy over the proposed European Super League still raging over a week after their initial announcement, the Government has announced that a review of ownership, finance and supporter involvement is to be carried out in the near future.
Tracey Crouch MP has been confirmed as chair of the review and she will report the recommendations to both the government and the Football Association for what Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said “must be a watershed moment in our national game".
The Football Supporters Association welcomed the announcement and Mariners supremo Thompson echoed that sentiment as he called for non-league supporters to have a greater say in how the game moves forward.
He said: “This review has been needed since the beginning of the Premier League where all of this money flowed into the game.
“Club values went through the roof; wages went up and the game changed and has continued to change.
“Supporters must have a say because they are the most important party in the game.
“There is an appetite from fans at non-league level to be involved, to invest in their clubs and to have a sense of pride, ownership and involvement in moving their clubs forward.
“What we have to do is create the mechanisms to make that happen and the review that has been announced is a first step of many that need to be taken.
“People want to be involved; they want to participate in helping the game at all levels.
“If this structural review of the whole game, and it extends down the pyramid, and is carried out in the correct manner, it will be a really positive action to take and we need supporters to have their say.
“It’s an interesting time for football and what happened last week has shown the importance of supporters to the national game.”
One of the key aspects of the review is said to be an analysis of how supporter ownership could function in the English game.
South Shields have made moves towards supporter ownership with a successful share issue that raised over £350,000 for the Northern Premier League club.
There have been a number of success stories throughout English football with the likes of AFC Wimbledon, Newport County, Darlington and FC United of Manchester all under the control of their supporters.
Thompson believes that more clubs could follow a similar route by inviting supporters to invest – although has some doubts if the move could be successful at a higher level of the game.
“We took our first steps towards fan ownership with the share issue last November – but that’s the first of many steps we need to take,” he explained.
“You look at the German model – the 50+1 model – and the vast majority of clubs are effectively controlled by the fans.
“It’s a very complex issue and there a load of legal issues to contemplate.
“The legal structure of the club, the articles of association, the value of clubs at that level of the game in our country.
“These things will be fought over for years, so it’s really complex, especially when you consider just how lucrative the game is at the top level.
“It’s not impossible, not at all, but it is complex.
“There are other examples in our country, clubs like AFC Wimbledon, they have made a success and their fans have a real voice and representation on the board.
“Clubs at our level can not be down to any single individual, although some have done that to get to a certain position, but then it’s about supporters carrying on that journey.
“Supporter ownership can work at non-league level and above that level too.”
Not for the first time during the last year, Thompson has called for a “root and branch review” of how income is distributed throughout the English football pyramid.
A whole host of clubs below Premier League and Championship level have experienced financial difficulties as the Covid-19 epidemic further heightens what was already an unstable environment in which to function.
The top end of the national game continues to be awash with lucrative television and sponsor deals, but there have been consistent calls for a more balance distribution of that income into the Football League and non-league system.
Thompson accepted that some money does “trickle” down the pyramid – but called for a greater proportion to allow clubs and leagues to improve their governance and infrastructure over the coming years.
He said: “There needs to be a very thorough, root and branch review of the financial structure of the English game.
“Not just at the top end, but at non-league and grassroots level.
“If you look at how money flows from the Premier League down, a very small drop gets to our level and below.
“There needs to be a better way of money flowing down to our level and that would allow for investment into areas like governance and infrastructure.
“I accept money does flow, but it’s the proportion that I would challenge.
“At a lower level of the game, there is a massive polarisation, and a different distribution of wealth is need urgently or we will lose clubs.
“It’s sad, because I see clubs we visit and they are living day-to-day, these are clubs that have been around for over a hundred years.
“Something has to change because this is our national game and with a bit of creativity, we can strengthen every level.
“That will give us a healthier and more balanced environment as we look to move forwards from these difficult times.”