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Mark Carruthers: Fan-led review of governance in the game comes at the right time with football at a tipping point

Football feels like it is approaching a tipping point and the recent fan-led review of governance in the game could not have come at a better time.

By Mark Carruthers
Wednesday, 9th February 2022, 8:58 pm

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More often than not, those that hold clubs closest to their hearts have the least say in guiding them and are left watching on helpless when things turn sour.

We have seen recent examples of this in the North East with Darlington and Gateshead supporters witnessing their clubs forcibly relegated for issues that were out of their control.

Yet on both occasions, it was the supporters that picked up the baton and played an integral role in placing strong foundations for a brighter future.

Mark Carruthers' non-league column.

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I witnessed at first hand the deep concern over Gateshead being taken to the brink by an owner and other individuals that should have been nowhere near a football club at any level of the game.

The deeper you delved at the time, the more issues you came across, and at one point it seemed highly likely the club would go out of business despite the best efforts of many.

But, just as with Darlington eight years earlier, the Heed supporters rallied and saved their club against the odds with just hours to spare.

Widening the analysis outside of our region, the examples of clubs being destroyed and dreams being dashed are multiple with the likes of Bury and Macclesfield Town immediately springing to mind.

The recommendations made within the fan-led review must be acted upon by everyone involved within the game to protect football clubs at all levels and ensure supporters are not the ones left to mop up the mess left behind by others.

It is understandable that the Premier League hogs much of the limelight in English football.

It is, after all, one of, if not the biggest and best leagues in the world and it possesses some of the greatest clubs and players on the planet.

There are multi-billion pound broadcasting deals, companies around the world eager to throw sponsorship money at clubs and some of the biggest financial backers around the globe.

But much of the money swirling around at the top level of the game in our country remains within clubs or trickles into the pockets of external sources.

A restructure of the distribution of wealth within English football is hopefully on the horizon and that should be used to safeguard clubs at all levels and improve the structure and standard of the grassroots game.

Of course, with that comes responsibility, and non-league clubs - should they receive funding - have a duty to strengthen their own infrastructure and protect themselves in the short and long-term.

Any redistribution of funds, should it ever come, must be used for the direct benefit of the club, not for chasing a dream that is never realised.

The non-league game is still dealing with the ramifications and financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and that is why the fan-led review could not have come at a better time.

Now it is down to everyone involved in football, particularly those in positions of power, to ensure the recommendations are put into action to strength the game at all levels across the country.

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The subject of mental health in sport and society continues to be raised and it came up in a recent conversation with former Gateshead goalkeeper James Montgomery.

James is currently training with Gateshead and is also working hard to continue the encouraging progress he is making with his goalkeeper glove business.

MonteGK have now partnered with Chester-le-Street based suicide prevention charity If U Care Share Foundation to promote a new glove branding mental health messages.

The glove was released ahead of children’s mental health week and all profits will be donated to the foundation as they continue to promote their powerful messages of support around the country.

But in speaking to James about the partnership, I became aware of just how the world of football is starting to change its views on key figures opening up on their mental health.

Montgomery is an England C international, he has played in the EFL and was rated as one of non-league football’s most consistent goalkeepers before a battle with injury curtailed his progress.

The last year has been a tough one for Monty and support has been found from a number of close friends and former colleagues in and around football.

In his own words: “They understand the struggles, they understand how hard it can be and how it could have been them.

“They’ve all been supportive and the amount of messages I’ve had is crazy really.

“People asking how I am, just checking in, and then asking when I’m back. I have close friends that I talk to, but it’s something that’s being spoken about more by players in the dressing room,” he added.

That last comment really struck a chord with me and, for all of the bravado inside the game, it does show that things are starting to change for the better.

There is still progress to be made - but talking and listening when it comes to an open discussion on mental health seems to be a more regular occurrence in the world of football.

More information on the partnership between Monte and If U Care Foundation can be found here and details on the services provided by the foundation are available here.

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