Football taskforce produces report of two halves after split on future

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A DEEP split between football supporters on the one hand and clubs and administrators on the other was revealed yesterday when the football taskforce presented its final report on the future of the game.

Differences were such that each side of the government-appointed body produced separate versions of the report, covering some of the most contentious issues in football including commercialisation, ticket prices and club merchandising. But the key disagreement was over how the booming industry should be regulated.

The majority report, backed by supporters' groups, called for a permanent football audit commission to be established to oversee the game, with an "ombudsfan" to handle complaints from individual fans.

Clubs and regulators proposed setting up an independent scrutiny panel (ISP) of three to five members, which would produce an annual report after working for a maximum of four weeks a year.

David Mellor, the former minister who chaired the taskforce, set up in 1997, insisted at the launch that, despite these differences, much progress had been made.

"The important point about these two different reports is that everyone accepts that some element of independent regulation needs to be introduced," he said. "No one is saying the status quo is acceptable."

He refused to identify which of the taskforce's 18 members, including representatives from the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League as well as fans' groups and other interested parties, had backed which report. But afterwards he said that he personally favoured the more radical approach. "The FA, while changing itself, is always going to have problems as a non-professional body regulating what is a highly professional industry," he said.

Both reports will now be considered by Kate Hoey, minister for Sport. "One of the tasks of government is to help the sport strike a balance between the necessary business interests of clubs and those of supporters, without whom clubs would not exist," she said.

David Davies, the FA's executive director, said that the ISP would be introduced next year anyway, and should be given a chance to operate before any more stringent regulation is introduced.

But Dr Adam Brown, a research fellow from Manchester Metropolitan University who helped to write the opposing report, dismissed the authorities' proposals as "marshmallow promises that don't offer fans a square meal."

Among the fans' proposals were the introduction of lower-priced tickets, subsidised by higher prices for top tickets, the stipulation that replica shirts should have a minimum two-year life-span, greater fan representation within clubs and the overseeing of all club take-overs by the new Football Audit Commission.