Alan Biggs: Changes will clearly have to be made to the world of football - and Sheffield can play a part

You can put ten football people in a room and get ten different opinions.

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 12:00 am
Sheffield FC Ground at Dronfield Sheffield

It’s rare to get the sort of agreement that was reached - and quickly - when ten of us from this, the Home of Football, gathered to ponder the future of the game.And that tells you straight off that the running of the sport in this country, if not elsewhere, needs a massive shake-up.An all-Sheffield working party led by former sports minister Richard Caborn was unanimous on that before we even met.The question was how? And the result is a document sent to another ex sports minister, Tracey Crouch, who is heading up the Government’s fan-led review of English football.That’s where there will be some disagreement, bound to be, among those who read it. But while ever there is widespread consent that the game needs taking in hand, it’s clear that changes will HAVE to be made.Football was born right here. Only fair that this city should take up arms when the heart and soul of it is being lost, as disgracefully demonstrated by the aborted attempt by 12 elite clubs, including six from this country, to set up a European Super League.Ironically, the outrage that vanquished this thinly-veiled breakaway actually brought football together, giving those who love it for its own sake a rare opportunity to drive towards radical reform.It was in that spirit that Caborn picked up the phone to Sheffield’s former FIFA referee and ex head of English officials, Keith Hackett. Should the city get involved?Richard then called your columnist with the same question. The answer was the same, an unequivocal yes, and between us we assembled a panel broadly representing a Sheffield view.Naturally, while the need for reform is widely accepted, not everyone will agree with the Caborn-led proposals for doing it.I’ll admit I’ve been swayed from a view that football needs outside regulation, seemingly being unable to govern itself, to what I think is a more practical stance.Not least because I have no confidence in this or any other government having either the competence or the necessary empathy with the sport to police it and also because I hope the game responds to being effectively put on trial.It’s a last chance.So the Sheffield group has proposed how stronger self-regulation and licensing of club owners can be introduced. A call, too, for wider representation within the FA and more supporter influence in the way clubs are run.The six would-be breakaway clubs, we say, were “driven by greed and total disregard of the fans” and “abused a very privileged position.”Two highly-respected finance specialists, Dr. Rob Wilson of Sheffield Hallam University and corporate adviser Kevan Shaw, made detailed submissions.Ideas were kicked around by group members including former star players from either side of the city, Brian Deane and Chris Turner, plus a noted football blogger in Ian Rands, a Sheffield United supporter.Turner is in touch with Owls fans views by a link with the Sheffield Wednesday Supporters Association.Wednesday-supporting politician Clive Betts and Sue Beeley, who has held community roles at both Sheffield clubs, completed the group.Crucially, Caborn notes that previous reform attempts have been kicked into the long grass.He used another analogy in an accompanying letter to Tracey Crouch: “The evidence we have submitted shows that even when change has been agreed, the can continues to be kicked down the road.”This can’t be just another talking shop.The list of genuine grievances is almost too long to list, from Premier League monopolisation of revenue to ticket prices, neglect of supporters’ views and reckless stewardship regularly bringing clubs to their knees.All of which is too serious to ignore. If there is a wolf at the door it is not really the Government, warning of intervention, but the one inside the building threatening to blow the whole house down.Or at least that part of it that doesn’t earn the spoils of greed.The football pyramid is a hallowed institution; it must be treasured and protected because it is only as strong as the base.