‘A shambles’: David Bernstein swipes at football’s governance and urges action

The former Football Association chairman David Bernstein has described the governance of the sport as “a shambles”, and called on the government to urgently hold the “fan-led review” of the game it promised in its 2019 election manifesto.

In a strongly worded letter to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, Bernstein, the FA chairman from 2011 to 2013, said that years of failure to reform football despite successive inquiries and reviews were “among [the] biggest regrets” of previous ministers.

Describing the financial gap between rich Premier League clubs and others as “obscene”, and referring to the recent difficulties the EFL had in trying to secure an adequate rescue package from the Premier League, Bernstein wrote: “The governance of our national sport remains a shambles. You and the current government have seen this for yourself in 2020.

“English football’s failure to speak with one voice over the past months of the Covid-19 crisis have only highlighted a dysfunctional and damaging structure. There is no overall leadership and therefore vested interests continue to prevail. The financial disparity between rich and poor has frankly become obscene. The game is devoid of agreed priorities.”

The Conservative party promised in their manifesto for the 2019 election that in office, they would “set up a fan-led review of football governance, which will include consideration of the owners and directors test, and will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing”.

Government sources say they met the football authorities shortly before Christmas and started the process of the review – which is certain to widen its scope to consider governance as a whole – but impatience is growing with its slow pace.

Bernstein is chairing a small group, including Gary Neville and the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, which has called for an independent regulator to be established, and he said he did not believe another review process was required.

“But if yet another enquiry did take place, surely it must be short and sharp with a mandate to report in a few months,” he wrote. “Secretary of State, the need for reform grows more urgent every day. I think we are both aware of the current threat to the very existence of football clubs, small and not so small, that are the lifeblood of many communities you serve north and south. The momentum for change has surely never been so strong and so unanswerable as it is now.”

Kevin Miles, the chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, which has long campaigned for governance reform and has prepared for the fan-led review, backed Bernstein’s letter, saying: “We are sympathetic to the strains on government imposed by the pandemic, but given the stresses on football now, we share the feeling of urgency about the need to make progress with reform.”