Football bosses halt fans' charter

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The Independent Online
PLANS to force soccer clubs to include fans on their boards have been dumped by the Government's task force following complaints from the football authorities.

The big clubs were furious at what they considered a "fans' charter", and concerted pressure was put on sports minister Tony Banks, who is a supporter of the move to "democratise" football by giving fans real influence. The first draft made by the Football Task Force included a recommendation that supporters' representatives be put on boards. However, the suggestion was dropped after a meeting at which it was condemned as impractical.

The final version of the report is expected to include vague recommendations about clubs improving liaison with fans. Plans to improve the regulation of the game, including setting up an independent monitoring unit in the Football Association, are also likely to be watered down. Clubs have fiercely resisted the appointment of a powerful "football tsar" - similar to the head of the Securities and Futures Authority, which oversees the financial services industry - to ensure that standards are maintained.

The toning down of the report will infuriate supporters' organisations, which feel that they are increasingly being ignored as football becomes more commercial.

However, the task force, headed by the former Conservative minister David Mellor, has come under heavy pressure from the football authorities. Although the Premier League, the Football Association and the Football League have representatives on the task force, they are angry about the 64-page-long first draft, which they see as a fans' charter.

The three organisations are now writing a highly critical joint response and are threatening to produce a minority report if their views are not taken into account in the final version. The task force is likely to give in to the football authorities' demands, rather than risk a high-profile confrontation. "The aim is to have consensus which can get things done," one source said.

The football authorities argue that to allow fans on boards could lead to a breach of commercial confidentiality and warned that any serious business would be done in the corridors outside the boardroom, rather than during formal meetings. "You would not allow a member of the public to sit on the board of any other company," one source said.

Other recommendations are also likely to prove controversial. The draft report included proposals to require clubs to offer half-price tickets for children and a third off for pensioners, the unemployed and those on benefits. It said that at least 10 per cent of seats should be reserved for cut-price tickets and the lowest full-price seats pegged to inflation.