Fit and Proper test – fit for purpose?

By 24th July 2020 No Comments

This has been a tough week for everyone who cares about Charlton Athletic FC. Relegation back to the First Division on the final day of the Championship is bitterly disappointing, especially after the euphoria of last May’s triumphant Play-Off Final success at Wembley and the outstanding way the team started this season. However, as concerning and as disappointing as relegation is, it is eclipsed by the uncertainty over the ownership of the Club which, it’s not too dramatic to say, threatens the very existence of Charlton Athletic FC.

Although The EFL have had since last November to get the answers they require from the directors of East Street Investments (ESI) – who ‘bought’ the Club from unpopular owner Roland Duchatelet for £1.00 – as at the time of writing there has been no formal approval of ESI as having passed the EFL’s version of the fit-and-proper persons test. Effectively therefore, Charlton are in a complete state of limbo.

Those who know me know that, sandwiched in between my two spells at Charlton Athletic, I spent 8 years of my career in the 1990’s working as the Marketing Executive of The Football League (now known as The EFL) and inevitably because of the Charlton ownership farce, I’ve had people asking me how fit for purpose the EFL’s fit and proper persons test is. Indeed, people are also questioning whether the EFL itself is fit for purpose.

It is clear for all to see that the current criteria is failing to protect our football clubs from exploitation. At present the test can be summed up in four basic questions: “Have you been involved in lots of football administrations?”, “Do you have the money to back up your promises?”, ‘’Where does your money come from’’ and “Do you have a financial interest in another league club?” Answer all four questions satisfactorily and you can look forward to parking in the car park spot marked ‘reserved for Chairman’!

As with the current ownership impasse at The Valley, the sad demise of Bury last year, the financial difficulties at Wigan Athletic this season and, as with every other ‘crisis’ club since the EFL’s introduction of the test in 2004; there have been calls for the EFL to simply strengthen its test parameters. However, it is not that simple. The power to change the test lies not with the League but with the clubs themselves as any change to the EFL fit-and-proper persons test must be voted on by its 72 members. Regulatory amendments have to earn the support of a majority of EFL clubs and a majority of Championship clubs.

So perhaps the answer is to take the matter of assessing the suitability of a prospective owner of a football club away from the League (and therefore away from the Clubs themselves) and hand this responsibility to an independent body whose sole responsibility is to oversee club ownership?

I also believe that there is a compelling requirement for ongoing assessment to address the apparent total lack of accountability post-purchase. At present, passing the EFL test would seem to be the only requirement. Surely it must be time for some sort of annual assessment of club ownership to be established? Also, at Charlton we were one of the first Clubs to instigate the annual election of a supporter to the Club’s Board of Directors and I would like to see it become obligatory to have supporter trust representation on Boards.

Meanwhile, back at the unhappy Valley, Charlton Athletic still awaits the EFL’s decision on whether or not East Street Investments are approved as the Club’s new owners, which means the transfer embargo that’s been in place since January still remains, leaving the Club helpless to prevent a mass exodus of its best players.

As I said earlier, a complete state of limbo….and the new 2020/21 season starts on 12th September.