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

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
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

Marketing Manager - Central London - £45,000-£55,000 + bonus

£45000 - £55000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: The focus of this is to deve...

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape