Gavin Barwell, the new MP for Croydon Central, today called for Crystal Palace supporters to be allowed to have a major stake in the ownership and running of their football club.
Barwell was speaking after a week in which Palace had gone to the brink of liquidation, only saved at the 11th hour by a deal by the CPFC2010 consortium of local businessmen, which acquired the ownership of the Selhurst Park ground for £4 million.
Crystal Palace Supporters’ Trust is expected to have meetings with CPFC2010 to see whether the consortium would be willing to dilute their ownership.
Barwell was a guest on the London strand of the BBC’s Sunday lunchtime Politics Show. There, perhaps extraordinarily for a young MP so closely associated with the non-dom billionaire Conservative party donor and free marketeer Lord Ashcroft, he advocated broader co-operative ownership. Albeit only for football clubs.
The Crystal Palace situation, Barwell said, is “a warning. We need to take a look at the way our game is governed”.
Barwell criticised the short-termism prevalent among many football club chairmen, who spend beyond their clubs’ means in pursuit of the glory and riches of the Premiership. Two of Palace’s rivals in the Championships next season, Portsmouth and Hull City, both relegated after spells in the Premier League, face dire uncertainty over their finances.
“The idea of having supporters having a stake in the ownership of the club will mean that there is a voice there for the long-term. Football clubs are not a normal business,” Barwell said.
Barwell stressed the importance of Crystal Palace within the Croydon community. Palace, he said, is “much more than just a football club. It makes a huge contribution to the local community. It’s making a massive contribution to life in Croydon.
“It really is unthinkable that a club like that, that’s been there for over a hundred years, could be just allowed to disappear.”
Asked about whether the new coalition government will legislate over the ownership of football clubs and the manner in which they are run, Barwell sent an unvarnished warning to the Football Association, which has been slow to implement fully the 2005 Burns Report, a set of recommendations for modern governance in football which had broad cross-party support under the previous Government.
“I think the best thing would be if the football authorities put their own house in order. If we look at the experience in the last 10 years, that hasn’t happened. If it doesn’t happen soon…
“We have a manifesto commitment to try and change the legislation in a way that would enable some kind of supporters’ stake in the management of the clubs. And I think that would be a great thing.”
Barwell expressed himself broadly in agreement with the policies expressed by the programme’s other guest, Dave Boyle of Supporters Direct.
But, in line with what was reported by Inside Croydon on Friday, Barwell also urged caution about the on-going negotiations over the transfer of the club’s ownership to the CPFC2010 syndicate. “We got some good news this week but we’re not out of the woods at Crystal Palace yet.”
View the programme via the BBC iPlayer by clicking here.