Football Association boss Martin Glenn has expressed his doubts that a tax on agents’ fees, transfers or Premier League revenues is the answer to English football’s grassroots funding problem.
Glenn had hoped to transform community facilities in England over the next 20 years by selling Wembley to Fulham owner Shahid Khan, but the American billionaire withdrew his £900million offer for the stadium on Wednesday when it became clear there was not enough support for the idea within the game.
The FA’s chief executive had championed the deal but told Thursday’s Evening Standard he has no intention of quitting, saying he is proud of what he has achieved during his four years in charge, which includes cutting costs, signing record broadcast deals and hiring dozens of coaches and support staff to work with England’s national sides.
Glenn also denied the suggestion there was a “plot” within the FA Council to block the stadium’s sale to Khan. For him it was simply a case of a “conservative group of people wary of change” and there was “nothing concerted about it”.
The collapse of the deal has reopened the debate about how best to fund grassroots facilities, with the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) and ex-England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville suggesting a levy on agents’ fees is the answer, while others want the Premier League to share more of its broadcast income.
“Good luck with that,” said Glenn. “But the value of where we are is that the whole thing is now a wider debate among politicians and other people who can make a difference.”
Shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan was among those opposed to the sale, largely because she feels the government should be doing more to address the problems at community level.
The MP for Tooting told Press Association Sport: “With the Wembley sale being called off, the question regarding how we invest significantly in grassroots football remains unanswered.
“The government must step up with a programme that commits to providing the funding necessary to evolve our grassroots. It is a fantastic opportunity for the government to show they take this matter seriously as the long-term effects will be felt for decades to come.”
News of Khan’s decision was greeted with disappointment by the Football Foundation, the charity that would have channelled the money to community projects, Sport England and the sports minister Tracey Crouch, all of whom described it as a missed opportunity to address football’s most important issue.
In a statement, the DCMS said: “We are completely committed to playing our part in strengthening grassroots football in this country. Over four years almost £100 million of public money is being used to help build and upgrade artificial and grass pitches, encourage greater participation and enhance coaching programmes.”
For many in the game, including ex-FA chairman David Bernstein, the answer lies at the top of English football’s pyramid.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Bernstein said: “My view has consistently been that the Premier League should be levied, money should go to the FA, which would be distributed to the wider game and which would make the selling of Wembley unnecessary. A Premier League tax if you like.”
A possible basis for this would be the commitment the Premier League gave the government’s Football Task Force in 1999 that it would set aside five per cent of its income from 2001 for the grassroots game.
This promise was made in return for the government backing the league’s right to sell its broadcast rights collectively. The value of those rights has now reached £8.4billion for the current three-year cycle but the league has never hit that five per cent target.
That is not to say it has done nothing, though, as the Premier League, FA and government set up the Football Foundation in 2000 and the league has invested £302million – compared to the FA’s £299million and government’s £273million – via the charity over the last 18 years.
It is currently paying £24million a season to the Football Foundation as part of a wider £100million annual investment in community facilities, participation programmes and education projects, as well as the solidarity and parachute payments it gives to English Football League clubs.
Whether this is enough, though, is certain to be one of the biggest items in the in-tray for the new Premier League chief executive when they take over from Richard Scudamore, who is leaving at the end of the year after two decades in charge.