Julie Elliott MP: Football clubs should have fan representation on their boards
This week we had representatives of fan groups – as well as the heads of the EFL, the FA and the Premier League – in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to look at the issues of football ownership, in light of the collapse of Bury Football Club.
After years of financial mismanagement, 134-year-old Bury FC were expelled from League One after failing to resolve their financial problems or to find a buyer, leaving a town without a football club and a community without their centre.
This needs to change. The damage that the expulsion of Bury FC will do to the town is deeper than just that of fans losing out on what do every other Saturday; it was a place where the local community congregated, where networks were established, where people met and supported each other; where relationships were forged and friendships were established.
But research has shown that the vast majority of football clubs in the lower leagues are reliant solely on the finances of their owner, putting them at the whims of the interest of the owner, and susceptible to collapse.
Football clubs are more than just a collection of players; they are more often than not the centre of the community, a key source of civic pride and belonging, and no more so than in Sunderland; I even talked about this in my maiden speech in 2010, stressing the importance of the role Sunderland AFC in the life of our city.
We are lucky in Sunderland to have such a club like we do; with the Fans Supporting Foodbanks collecting at every game, supporting each other when we are most in need, to the families and kids that go to games and then go to play for the club.
And we also have incredible representatives that take our reputation round the world, like England Women’s Captain Steph Houghton, Ballon d’Or nominee Lucy Bronze, and England midfielder Jill Scott, all who started their careers in Sunderland.
Whilst a lot of time in the committee was spent trying to work out what wrong at Bury, who was responsible and what can be done about the Club itself, we also looked at general regulation of football, and how to stop it from happening in the future.
We can’t let this happen to another club again. That is why we are advocating for fan representation on club boards, and a levy on the biggest clubs to fund grassroots sport. We can’t let what happened to Bury become normal.
Follow @sunderlandfb on twitter to find out where you can donate food when you go to the game.