Politicians have a knack of avoiding straight questions with circuitous answers. It goes with the territory.
But coming from the north of England, sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe’s no-nonsense approach strikes a refreshing chord when it comes to discussing football’s most pressing issues.
As he celebrates his second anniversary in the job, Sutcliffe has his work cut out trying to bring the various stakeholders together in terms of addressing the future direction of the game. Few other sports, if not professions in general, are tainted with as much self-interest.
But, being a genuine fan, Sutcliffe is quick to identify priorities. “It’s up to me and others to get the message across in terms of what the public thinks about various issues,” he says. Top of the list – in an age where the Premier League appears all-consuming and the rest are struggling to balance the books – is good governance.
Sitting in his plush Trafalgar Square office, Sutcliffe doesn’t for once suggest he has all the answers. Change takes time but there are signs of progress.
In October last year, his department wrote to the Premier League, the FA and the Football League asking them to respond to seven specific areas of concern. These included such subjects as the controversial ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test’ for club directors, competitive balance, financial transparency and home grown players.
Definitive answers are currently being coordinated and Sutcliffe insists the issues won’t just be swept under the carpet. “What we didn’t want were quick replies that pay lip-service to these points. We wanted something meaningful, to get down to the nitty-gritty. We won’t get everything we asked for perhaps but I’m confident we’ll get strong responses.”
The recent debacle at Southampton is a classic illustration, says Sutcliffe, of the need for greater transparency when it comes to short-changing fans. “Clubs have got to remember where they come from in terms of the community base that is there. We can foresee a situation where there is a supporter on every board. Directors should know where their responsibilities lie.”
Read the full article by Andy Warshaw of FC Business in May’s edition of The Club House, our free monthly newsletter.
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