Football: Inside football: Reports highlight divisions in game

Task Force verdicts from supporters and football authorities emphasise conflicting priorities between business and the needs of local communities

DAVID MELLOR concluded the Football Task Force's deliberations into ticket prices and other commercial issues yesterday by publishing two reports. One was backed by the Task Force's football supporter representatives, the other by the football authorities. After two and a half years of difficult and at times bitter negotiations, the two factions have agreed to disagree, both on the extent of the game's problems in the commercial age, and on how to go about solving them.

Mellor justifiably praised the Task Force process, which has been much derided, and certainly had its fundamental weaknesses, not least an inadequate budget. It has involved a unique dialogue, forcing those who run the game to talk directly to supporters, and, as Mellor said yesterday, it has produced from the football authorities proposals which for the first time accept the need for some independent scrutiny of the running of the game.

The football supporter representatives on the Task Force, all of them unpaid volunteers, have distinguished themselves in negotiations with highly paid executives, refusing to compromise on the extent of action and regulation required. Their report will stand as a challenge to the Government - in particular the Sports Minister, Kate Hoey - to implement their proposals.

The authorities' report is no mere sop; although vague on detail, parts of it are surprising and refreshing. Philosophically, their acceptance that football is more than simply a business - they describe it as a "worldwide sporting experience", a "community focus" a "source of great loyalty, joy, disappointment and commitment" - is refreshing coming from those who have carved up English football and overseen a relentless commercial revolution. Specifically, the authorities' report offers an "independent scrutiny panel" to report on football's compliance with a consumer charter and code of conduct which will involve promoting "inclusionary ticket policies and greater accessibility".

Mellor welcomed these proposals as a fundamental shift by the authorities, saying: "Everybody is agreed that the status quo is no longer acceptable."

However, the authorities' report did not go far enough for the supporter representatives, who were determined to extract substantial specific commitments and a promise of tough enforcement. Their report, backed almost certainly by a clear majority of the Task Force and by Mellor - who has defied critics to act as something of a fans' champion - will make infinitely more rewarding reading to supporters, commentators and, it is to be hoped, the Government, than the authorities' mish-mash of promised consumer friendliness.

Tracing the commercialisation of the game since the dark days of Hillsborough, the report acknowledges football's great advances since then, but points out its downsides with clarity: the vulnerability of the game and its clubs, at all levels to pure financial exploitation by greedy, even corrupt businessmen. This they summarise as a failure of regulation. The report quotes previous reports back at the authorities, including the FA's own 1991 Blueprint which supported the idea of supporter representatives on the boards of clubs, a proposal still apparently repugnant to most chairmen. Most persuasively, on the issue of ticket prices, the report refers back to the Taylor Report itself. Lord Justice Taylor, when recommending all- seater stadiums, had argued it should not be an excuse for rising ticket prices. "It should be possible," he said, "to plan a price structure which suits the cheapest seats to the pockets of those presently paying to stand." At the time, the average price of the cheapest adult First Division match ticket was pounds 4.03. Since then prices have been increased to the current average: pounds 17.42 - an increase of 332 per cent.

The supporters' report calls for widespread concessions and for the "stretching" of ticket prices so that those at the top end subsidise those at the lower end. Their report also contains recommendations to regulate merchandising, encourage supporter involvement in clubs, develop rules to govern football plcs, and calls on the DTI to inquire into the growing media company involvement in clubs. To oversee football's new order, they call for an independent "Football Audit Commission", together with an "Ombudsfan" to which fans can take their concerns and report clubs failing to comply with the new order. This the Premier League has rejected as "a regulator by another name".

With the Task Force process over, the question is what the Government will do next. The Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey, has a track record of greater toughness and vigour than Banks, who set the Task Force up with a degree of naivety, staffing it with the vested interests and expecting them to reform themselves. The process itself has been as instructive as the final two reports. Much of the debate has been bitter, with the football authorities often reluctant to engage with it at all.

Early on, the Premier League chief executive, Peter Leaver, sought to have Mellor removed. However, the Task Force soldiered on, producing three unanimous reports; on racism, disabled access, and investment in the community. Discussions on the fourth report, directly concerning money - in the issues of ticket prices, merchandising, plcs and supporter involvement - have taken nearly a year and been more fraught.

A report, apparently largely similar to the one produced by supporters yesterday, was presented to the authorities in May. It was immediately leaked and was then publicly denounced by Mike Lee, the Premier League spokesman. The authorities took four months to produce their own joint counter proposals. They were also published yesterday. Much of their proposals were too vague to satisfy the rest of the Task Force, but it did contain the idea of an Independent Scrutiny, which, said the authorities, would be "not unlike that of the British Standards Institution or the Audit Commission".

According to Task Force sources, at a subsequent meeting in October, under heavy questioning about the proposed terms for this body, Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's chief executive, was forced to admit that he himself was unclear. Craig Brewin, an FSA officer who works in public finance, produced a paper on the powers of the Audit Commission, and how these might apply to football, arguing for independence, the right to mount inspections and define performance criteria, and to have effective sanctions. However, at a further meeting on 10 December, the authorities presented the proposals published yesterday, for a body which would receive all its information from the football authorities themselves, and have no sanctions - effectively backtracking, after four months, from their own proposal. This debacle led to the decision to call it a day and publish two separate reports.

Yesterday Mike Lee, the Premier League spokesman, argued that the authorities' proposals were genuine and positive. "English football is a great success story, but we do recognise concerns identified by the Task Force and supporters," Lee said. "We believe our proposals are radical and constructive and include positive proposals for the future."

Dr Adam Brown, who has led much of the debate for the supporters, acknowledged that the authorities had come a long way, and that the Task Force exercise had been useful, but he said the differences were more than merely in the detail. "The authorities ultimately believe football is a business, and they want to be left alone to make money out of it. We believe it is a sport, which has to be run as a business, but owes a responsibility to its supporters and local communities."

The lesson for the Government is that the game is effectively owned and run by Premiership chairmen. The process has taken them further, in terms of regulation, than they might ever have believed they would go, but it is no surprise they would not sign up to a truly independent, vigorous regulation of themselves. The supporters' report will stand as a challenge to the Government: if it indeed wants to shape the national game into more than a business, into a community sport for the 21st century, they may have to step in and do so. The authorities have shown that they are prepared to go no further.

Task Force split, page 4

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam