The Independent Regulator Will Come Too Late For Reading, But It’s Much Needed

The establishment of the Independent Football Regulator (IFR) is a must.

Government intervention in our beautiful game isn’t something we were clamouring for several years ago, but we have got to the stage where change is required.

Supporting a troubled club has given us all a better insight into football’s ownership problem and those fans who have felt the full effects of a broken footballing system should play a big part in shaping this bill.

Fans of different clubs have different priorities. Supporters of Premier League clubs, particularly fans of the ‘big six’, will be keen to prevent the possibility of a European Super League being established once and for all. That isn’t relevant to Reading at this stage, but that’s an issue which needs to be dealt with, among many others.

The IFR must also have the power to eject rogue owners, even if that requires legislation change in other government departments. Under current EFL rules, the footballing body has the power to disqualify owners, but it doesn’t seem as though they can force a sale. That must change so football clubs can be safeguarded in the future – and the Football Governance Bill (FGB) needs to deal with this issue.

Club crests, colours and assets must also be protected. At Reading, our stadium, training ground and car park have been split up by different sets of owners.

Clubs that find themselves in this situation are likely to be less attractive to interested parties, especially if those parties have to deal with unscrupulous owners when trying to negotiate a change of ownership.

Different assets shouldn’t be split up, nor should they be used as security for loans.

It could be argued that Chiron Sports Group wouldn’t have loaned us any money if there wasn’t an option to register charges on the training ground and the entire club, but we now find ourselves in a very difficult situation now Chiron seemingly aren’t close to a purchase.

As part of the Sell Before We Dai campaign, I have been able to voice my opinions about the FGB and I have argued that ALL assets, including training facilities, should be protected.

There are plenty of issues that need to be covered in the FGB to ensure the IFR is fit for purpose and can help to solve some of the issues that troubled football clubs have faced in the past and present.

The Supporters’ Trust at Reading (STAR) has worked incredibly hard with others to put forward suggestions for the bill, with amendments needing to be made if the IFR is to be fit for purpose.

I have to pay tribute to the original bill because it’s an excellent start and some clear issues will be addressed, even if it passes through Parliament unamended.

However, this bill must be as comprehensive as possible and the next government should be looking to continue fan consultations to make it as watertight as it can possibly be.

Unfortunately, the FGB may go under the radar during the early stages of a new administration, with the economy, NHS and immigration likely to be higher up on the agenda.

However, the fact the Labour Party, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all have the FGB in their manifestos is heartening and I’m sure STAR and others will be pushing hard to ensure it’s the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s top issue.

As I mentioned above, the bill must be comprehensive to address the countless issues we face in football, but it should be looking to address the basics as a top priority. The bill must protect football clubs, first and foremost.

There’s a fine line between the bill being comprehensive and biting off more than it can chew. There may be teething issues when the IFR is first established, so including any unnecessary paperwork and red tape won’t help matters – and it may cause unintended consequences.

I have one other concern. Fans may only feel the positive effects of this bill and the IFR if there are reforms involving ticket prices, profit and sustainability rules (PSR) and points deductions.

Reading have had 18 points deducted under current owner Dai Yongge, sparking major protests
Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images

Not all of these issues are likely to fit within the scope of the IFR, but if changes can be made to these three areas at the same time as the establishment of the regulator, football will be in a much better place.

Unfortunately, the IFR is likely to come too late for Reading. But we may need it in the future and other clubs may also require its intervention.

The FGB and the IFR that will come with it will change English football. That change is much needed, even if there are teething issues shortly after the regulator comes into effect.

And it looks as though it will be Labour overseeing the establishment of the IFR.

Keir Starmer looks set to have a stonking majority in the House of Commons after next month’s election and if that’s how it plays out, it would be a positive if Matt Rodda is moved into a DCMS ministerial role to assist Thangam Debbonaire in getting the IFR on its feet.

Rodda has been extremely helpful during the SBWD campaign and it would be great to see him have plenty of influence, along with football fans who have seen their clubs at risk of extinction in the past or present.

In all honesty, I have more of an appetite to work on amendments to the Football Governance bill than help to plan more Reading-related protests, purely because we’ve done so many of the latter over the past 12 months. It’s draining. The whole situation is draining.

However, action may be required in the coming days and weeks, considering the situation we are currently in. It would be difficult to see a sale happen before the start of the season, which is a real blow for us ahead of the 2024/25 campaign.

We can only hope for some good news to materialise very shortly. Meaningful progress is needed.

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