Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

A Political Football

Posted by John Beech on May 20, 2010

In the lead up to the general election (and running alongside a large number of local council elections), I blogged on how I thought it significant that the political parties were wooing the fan vote, but did not hold out much prospect for major new initiatives actually happening after polling day.  Well, as many a commentator has pointed out, the public have now spoken, although it’s not entirely clear exactly what they were saying.

Cameron has already come in strong support of the 2018 World Cup bid, indicating that he is happy to comply with whatever is necessary, by implication including the waiving of tax bills (see FIFA’s muscle flexing).  Apparently singing from a different hymn sheet, the new Conservative Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, has indicated in no uncertain terms to the football authorities that “they must reform their governance and power structures or face the prospect of external regulation” (1) – something which would not exactly be looked kindly on by FIFA, who tend to suspend national football authorities that suffer from governmental interference.  We shall see.

On the opposition benches, we now have an increasing number of runners for the post of leader of the Labour Party, the most interesting one of which, from a football perspective, is Andy Burnham, former Culture Secretary.

All then is far from clear with respect to future political strategy and the beautiful game/ugly business.  I thought it would be interesting nonetheless to look at how the political representation has changed in the light of the election results, that is, with respect to the changes in constituency representation of clubs.  So far I have only looked at Premier League clubs, but plan to extend this to at least the Championship as time permits.

It would be easy to make far too much of who the local MP is for clubs from a fans perspective.  Clubs draw fans from a much wider area than just the constituency in which their stadium sits.  How many declared Manchester United fans, for example, could tell you that Old Trafford is in the Stretford and Urmston constituency?  How many have even heard of Urmston for that matter?

The local MP is however the natural point of contact for a club to raise its political concerns with, especially if there really is going to be imposed reform.  With regard to Premier League clubs, this comprises a grand total of not twenty MPs, but in fact eighteen.  The stadiums of Aston Villa and Birmingham City are both in the Birmingham Ladywood constituency, and Chelsea and Fulham both find themselves in the appropriately named Chelsea and Fulham constituency.  An interesting thought is that Greg Hands, MP for Chelsea and Fulham, could in theory find Abramovich and Fayed sitting in his surgery waiting to rant on!

A first looks shows the following:

  • Of the 18, 14 are LAB, 2 CON and 2 LibDem.  However, as of June 3rd, when relegations officially take place, both LibDems disappear from the list (they are the MPs for Burnley and Portsmouth) to be replaced by LAB MPs (whatever the outcome of the Play-Off Final).  The two CON MPs are the said Greg Hands, and Paul Uppal, who represents Wolverhampton South West, a CON gain from LAB.
  • In only four constituencies did the swing exceed the average swing in England (5.6% from LAB to CON) – Bolton West, Chelsea & Fulham, Stoke-on-Trent South, and Wigan.  7 swung to CON, 4 to LibDem, and 7 to LA, the most marked case being a 7.7% swing from CON to LAB in East Ham (home of West Ham United).  Other anomolies were swings from LAB to LibDem in Hull West & Hessle (7.9%), where Alan Johnson is still the MP, and Burnley (9.6%).

The overall picture is a tad messy, but in general these Premier League constituencies are now in opposition hands, as they normally have been, largely because the LAB vote held up better than elsewhere in England.

Of more direct relevance to the day-to-day running of clubs, and their planning applications, are local councils. Yesterday alone, for example, I found two news stories involving Premier League clubs and their respective local councils (in both cases, examples of conflict).  Tottenham Hotspur have had to revise their planning application to Haringey Council for their ground development because it has originally proposed the demolition of four Grade II listed buildings (2).  At Stoke, “Furious councillors have slammed a Government watchdog after a long-awaited audit report [on the Britannia stadium] was hit by yet more delays” (3).

In spite of covering numbers of voters than parliamentary constituencies, we are left with eighteen different councils (and exactly the same duplication as with constituencies).  Initial findings are:

  • LAB control eight councils, LibDem 3 (but these are the relegated Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth), CON 2, and 5 with No Overall Control (NOC).  The ‘new boys’ for next season are Newcastle (LibDem) and West Bromwich (LAB), plus either Blackpool (CON) or Cardiff (a coalition of Plaid Cymru and Independents).
  • LAB made three gains, two from LibDem and one from .  Neither CON nor LibDem made a single gain.

As I said above, it is easy to make too much of all of this.  What is clear though is the Premier League clubs find themselves represented in parliament mainly by Labour, now in opposition, and similarly Labour at council level, more typically in control.  This is as it has been historically, except of course that Labour are now in parliamentary opposition.  Generally this would be interpreted as bad news for the Premier League clubs, but perhaps the ‘new politics’ of coalition will see the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats maintain their apparent impetus to woo the ‘football’ vote.

If they really are to survive a fixed five-year period in power, they will at the very least have to take more considered positions than the two knee-jerk responses I referred to above by Cameron and Robertson.  They will also have to think carefully where they stand as the UEFA Financial Fair Play Protocol comes inevitably into operation.  Will they take a ‘free-marketeer’ approach, placating the Premier League oligarchs and antagonising UEFA, or will they support a growth in fan ownership, an increase in their support of Supporters Direct being an obvious way to show this?


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