The Non-League Football Paper
THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA!
National League chief backs plans to safeguard the future of our game
MARK IVES says the National League wel- come the principle of a regulator – after the government issued the much-anticipated White Paper that will see an independent regulatory body formed.
It follows the recommendations last year from Tracey Crouch MP’s fanled review and will cover the top five divisions of men’s football, including National League Step 1.
A key component is to improve the financial sustainability of clubs, with the government saying the independent regulator will “help prevent repeat of financial failings seen at Derby County, Bury and Macclesfield Town”.
It will include a new licensing system for clubs down to the fifth tier.
In addition the groundbreaking move will see:
● a strengthened owners’ and directors’ test
● fans given greater say in running of clubs, and key heritage such as team names, badges and stadia at core of new plans
● Powers to block clubs from joining breakaway leagues like the European Super League.
In addition, the regulator’s remit will also “ensure club directors demonstrate good basic financial practices, have appropriate financial resources and protect the core assets of the club”.
Ives says the National League are on board. “We embraced the principle right from the outset of the fan-led review,” he told The NLP. “We had two very good meetings with them. Our position was made clear that we have no problems with there being a regulator – we believe the line should be at Step 1.
“We also believed, in an ideal world, any sport’s governing body – ie The
FA – should be able to regulate their own sport. If it can show, to the satisfaction of others, that it is independent and can regulate in that way then they should be allowed to do so.
“That said, we made it clear if it was decided that wasn’t the case, we would embrace the regulator moving forward.
“The key principles behind regulation is about financial sustainability, ensuring the right people are owning and driving clubs, we’re not putting clubs at risk and we protect the heritage of clubs and their grounds.
“The FA have moved with new regulation to help support that. It’s right
we engage with the fans in that way. The general principle of it, I can’t see any argument against it.
“The devil is in the detail. So how it’s regulated, who is part of it and where that expertise and understanding of the game comes in, is really important.
“We will be interested to see how it operates moving forward but in terms of the general principles, are we ok with it? Yes.”
The regulator will also have backstop powers to force the Premier League to share money across the pyramid and force arbitration if an agreement is not reached between the Premier League and EFL, who are in discussions.
Ives commented: “Of course we support the appropriate level of distribution, but I do that with the knowledge of the great level of support we’ve had from the Premier League for a whole host of things in the past. They were very good with us during the Covid period and continue to support the National League System on an annual basis.
“They are one of the parties that put money through the Football Foundation, which our clubs benefit from and you’ve got the Premier League Stadium Fund – they do an awful lot.
“So it needs to be understood with balance. Are we always looking to make sure we have a fair distribution and could more be done? It’s important to note we’re appreciative of the level of support we’ve had to date.”
Licensing is already in place at Steps 1 to 4 to help smooth the movement through the leagues.
Financial sustainability is a big focus and Ives says the league are proud of their own work.
He said: “The National League operates with very robust financial regulation and, it’s fair to say, over the last ten or so years has not had one of its own clubs go into liquidation. That’s because of the sound financial regulations we’ve got.
“We’ve inherited clubs that have had difficulties when they’ve come in, but in terms of clubs who have been in the league for a while, there’s been no issue. They leave the league through promotion in a sound financial position.”
Clubs and fan groups across the country have positively greeted the groundbreaking decision.
Bury AFC, formed by supporters following the demise of Bury FC, said: “Football clubs continue to attract the wrong type of people as owners. It is a soft target with limited governance and poor enforcement of its own rules.
“We need football to be unattractive to the wrong people and encourage, nurture and reward those who demonstrate the right behaviours and good intentions. This is a long term cultural change, not simply a legislative one. A regulator is not an instant or perfect solution to football’s problems, but it can create a better environment where this change can happen.
“Bury fans have heard the words “lessons will be learned” enough times already. It’s time for some real action before more clubs are lost.”