Non League Daily

POLITICAL FOOTBALL: Key issues for Non-League ahead of the General Election

With one week to go until what is regarded as the closest General Election in history Non-League Daily looks at the key issues facing the Non-League game and gets the thoughts of four of the main political parties.

English football is facing state intervention and enforced growth in fan ownership under proposals from the political parties looking for your vote in this UK General Election, writes Marc Webber.

Fan ownership has been a key issue over the past ten years in the Non-League game, with the successes at the likes of FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon and Chester FC all being highlighted on a national scale.

More clubs are joining the ranks of supporter ownership, with two phoenix clubs, Salisbury FC and Hereford FC set to enter the league pyramid ahead of the new season.

Many onlookers believe that fan ownership may be the way forward in Non-League football and the political parties have found the subject is key discussion point as we head towards election day.

As every cross on the ballot counts in what will be the tightest election in UK history, all the parties are pulling together policies which may not please football club chairmen, but are aimed at winning over football fans and those involved in the grassroots game.

“The football authorities have not heeded the warnings that they needed to reform,” says Lib Dem Sports Spokesman, John Leech. “The Liberal Democrats support legislation to give fans a veto over the decisions that affect the “heritage” of their clubs like the name of the team, or the kit colour, or where they play. We would also strengthen the fit and proper test for owners and ensure a proportion of tickets are at an affordable rate.”

Labour’s Clive Efford claims they will give more power to supporters if they get into government. “We will give fans a voice on the board of every professional club and the right to buy shares up to a cap of 10% when the club changes hands.

The proposals that were drawn up between The FA, Premier League and Football League did not address the deficit that exists in grass roots involvement and cemented the power of the professional game at the expense of the rest.

“We want to see The FA restructure itself so that it becomes more representative of all parts of the football family.”

The Conservatives will point to their track record so far in sport as being positive, and pledge more of the same.

“Despite the tough economic circumstances in the last government, we ensured more money was released for grassroots football through Lottery funding. We have consistently worked with the Premier League to get more support for grassroots sport.

“And this is no more evident than in our pledge to build 150 sports hubs throughout England and deliver more 3G pitches. We are doing this in partnership with the Football Association and the Premier League,” said current Sports Minister, Helen Grant.

Interest in football policy has gathered pace since the last election, when the sports spokesmen from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour crammed into a Five Live studio to say what they would do for football if elected.

This time around, the pool of interested parties is wider, with the Greens claiming they have the solution to make football work at all levels. And whilst they share the same level of concern over the current state of grassroots football, they have a suggestion on tax reform which could help.

“At local level we would like to see more done to make business rate relief for amateur and community clubs more uniform across the country and not at the gift of local councils,” says Green Party sports spokesman and former Northampton Town FC chairman, Tony Clarke.

“Within the music industry we have investigated the introduction of what has been nicknamed a ‘Beyonce Tax’ whereby any music artist playing in a locality will pay a small additional tax sum on concert income to be ring fenced for local arts projects and perhaps the same could be investigated within football. The Green Party believes that tax is a progressive form of funding for local provision and so introducing tax breaks simply reduces overall income for expenditure on facility.”

There is clear water though when it comes to the issue of safe standing. Vanarama Conference club Grimsby Town have recently came out in support of safe standing and will be implementing that at their Blundell Park ground next season.

The Conservatives support the return to standing in the stands. The Welsh Conservatives recently did research saying 96% of fans support safe standing at all levels of football and that the policy is “a no brainer” to implement.

“The Liberal Democrats have a manifesto commitment to allow clubs to introduce safe standing areas. 90% of fans support having the choice at games...and it would improve the atmosphere at games, help reduce prices and improve safety for fans standing up,” says Leech.

The Greens agree. “We would seek to support safe standing at grounds and fixtures where such areas are proven to be safe for spectators and where the police are satisfied that no crowd control issues would arise. Any restriction by government on grounds being all-seater would be a historic reaction to the horrors of the past and we believe that governments have a duty to instead work towards a safer future for all football supporters that enables cheaper access to the game without compromising safety.”

And it is one of those ‘historic’ reasons Tony Clarke cites, that means Labour are against safe standing.

Clive Efford says, “We have no plans to review the policy around all-seater stadiums at this stage. With the Hillsborough families only now getting justice you can understand their opposition, and we are very respectful of that view. The first priority for clubs should be to improve access and areas for people with disabilities.”

We asked all the sports spokesmen from these parties five questions on issues that affect football business today, ranging from whether small clubs should get tax breaks to whether they thought Sam Allardyce was right to say it is government’s responsibility to develop grassroots sport.

You can see the full responses from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens HERE (We asked UKIP to answer the same questions and they did not respond in time for publication.)

You can read the full article by Mark Webber in the latest FC Business magazine here



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