Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish: ‘Fan-led review has huge unintended consequences and could make football worse’

BY ANDREW McSTEEN

Last week the UK Government released their ‘Fan-Led Review of Football Governance: Securing the Game’s Future’, overseen by Tracey Crouch MP. The report spoke to stakeholders throughout football, including previous Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson and came up with 47 recommendations – many of which Eagles co-owner Steve Parish disagreed with.

“I genuinely think that the outcome of the report was pretty much pre-ordained,” said Parish, speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live. “It’s the weight that was given to certain views – the report had already decided what it was going to say by the time it got to the end.

“There’s a lot of well-intentioned stuff in the report, but the detail of it is incorrect. These solutions have got a grave danger of huge unintended consequences that could make the game a lot worse in the long run.

“We’ve looked at a lot of the wrong things and we’re in danger of putting something in place that will stymie the growth of the game at the top end, will reduce the amount of overall income that is available in the game and everybody will suffer.

“There are a lot of things that will make football worse, will make football clubs more difficult to run and will make it far less attractive for people to invest in football clubs.”

Parish was also keen to point out what was missing from the report.

“There are a couple of fundamental issues at the heart of football, particularly when we talk about the distribution of money that aren’t addressed at all,” he explained. “Could we look at distribution? Could we look at parachute payments? Are there elements of this report that have got some merit? Absolutely.

“Let’s not forget the Championship is far and away the richest second league in world football. So the concept that the lower leagues are starved of any kind of finances is just not true. We are the envy of the world. Make no mistake.”

One of the major talking points around the report has been the suggestion of an independent football regulator run by the UK Government to oversee the game.

And Parish, who saved Crystal Palace from extinction in 2010 with a group of fellow investors and has welcomed significant investment from America, is not convinced any political oversight will help the national sport.

Photograph by Keith Gillard

“We’re in a world at the moment where there’s been a regulatory environment in the gas industry and we’re seeing hundreds of companies go to the wall and consumers having to suffer huge pain because of that,” explained the Forest Hill-born Parish.

“So the idea that the (UK) Government regulating the industry de facto somehow makes things better and improves things…this is a report that’s got a lot of things in it that a lot of football fans would say that they want and they would honestly, genuinely believe would make the game better.

“There’s a lot of sledgehammers to crack nuts and we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t actually ruin the thing, the shining light that we’ve got as an industry which is the Premier League and the money that it generates and the good it does for the wider game.”

A major recommendation is the introduction of a ‘a solidarity transfer levy for Premier League clubs to support the football pyramid’, and Parish was keen to explain why that would not work.

“A 10 per cent transfer levy will reduce the competitiveness of the Premier League,” said Parish unequivocally. “We’re in a global market. We already pay a 4 per cent transfer levy to the FA; we pay a 5 per cent solidarity levy when we buy a transfer from an overseas club. Ten per cent would mean we would be the only country in the world paying 20 per cent levy on every transfer that we pay in an environment where we already are disadvantaged by the work permit system that we have in place.”

That work permit system has prevented the May 2021 Palace signing, 23-year-old Jacob Montes, form joining the club in England, instead going out on loan to Belgian second division side Waasland-Beveren.

The player came from the Academy FC Florida Preparatory Academy, a grassroots academy Palace investor John Textor set up with the Belgian club owned by Palace co-owner David Blitzer and his business associates. Parish was keen to offer an alternative UK Government-led solution to boosting money staying in the game in England.

“At the moment, we have a £2.7billion balance of payments deficit over the last four years with overseas clubs and transfers,” explained Parish. “If we cut it down to three years, it’s around £2billion. We get around £9billion of media income over a three-year cycle. So, just over 20 per cent of our media income we take and we give it to overseas clubs. We give it to French clubs, German clubs and Spanish clubs, net. That’s net of transfers players that they may buy from us.

“It’s a huge amount of money that leaves the game and the reason that happens is because we’ve got the most ridiculous work permit system that was put in place post Brexit by who? By the [UK] Government.

“Now, all we need is a work permit system that’s the same as Germany, the same as Belgium, the same as France and which allows us to bring in overseas players in a simple way. Not a very complex point system that’s very difficult to understand.

“What we’ve done is made four big leagues in Europe, fundamentally, official suppliers to the Premier League. For example, the only way we can get a young American player into England is if they first of all go and play in Germany or France and they play 40 per cent of the games in the top league, at which point, they’re worth an enormous amount of more money. Then we can buy them and bring them to the Premier League.

“If we want to generate more money for the game, at the flick of a pen, the [UK] Government can make a change. And think about it. It wouldn’t only be a question of us not spending a net £2billion over three years, we could maybe turn that net £2billion deficit into £1billion profit. So, we might be able to put as much as £3billion – £1billion a year, £1billion a year – back into the game in transfer income.”

Parish again repeated his criticism of UEFA, FIFA and the proposed Super League from earlier this year before offering his thoughts on further supporter engagement including the recommendation of ‘shadow boards’ at clubs, a non-legal ‘board’ of diverse supporter representatives which discuss the business and strategy of the club in more detail than other forms of engagement.

“To agree to a shadow board would add another layer of complexity to clubs, that would be ridiculous,” said Parish, whose initial investment in the Eagles came at the same time when the actions of Palace fans protesting at the then state of the club made it national news.

“Do I think that all supporters’ groups, season-ticket holders and members, should be able to vote on things like the change of a club crest, the moving a stadium? Yes. I don’t have any problem with that. I think all supporters that are connected to the club know, not just the ones that are the most engaged.”

 


 

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