The Offshore Game goes to Parliament – and so can you

This week Parliament held a session to question the new chairman of the FA, Greg Clarke. The session came after revelations were published in the Telegraph concerning the conduct of senior members of the game, including the England manager Sam Allardyce.

We were pleased that the Offshore Game’s study on the offshore ownership of football clubs provided the basis for an appropriately uncomfortable part of the hearing. Chris Matheson, MP for the City of Chester led the charge with a series of probing questions on the role of offshore ownership in sport. The video of the session can be found here (some particular highlights are in our twitter feed).

 

A few points were worthy of note. Firstly the FA chairman stated that he saw no problem with offshore ownership as long as the FA knew who these people were and that they were people of standing.

He then went onto explain how the FA does no checks for itself and all the checks regarding ownership are delegated to the leagues. So in summary, it is really important that someone else knows about the ownership of clubs – but not them. (The apparent lack of recognition of Vibrac, which has provided tens of millions of finance to multiple, leading English and other European clubs, was a particularly worrying demonstration of that approach in practice.)

However, Clarke was also clear that the FA is responsible for the quality of these delegated processes – and so we look forward to the FA taking that responsibility a lot more seriously now that Mr Clarke is in place. We’ll be following up to see how we can help.

Later in the proceedings, when talking about disciplinary action taken by the FA, Clarke stressed the importance of transparency, and said that he wanted hard data about the performance of the FA to be posted on their website. Perhaps he might also consider publishing information about who owns football too?

Moonshifty

Chris Matheson also asked a series of question citing our previous writing on Bolton Wanderers. In particular he asked – what is Moonshift Investments? Moonshift was the offshore company which loaned Bolton £180m, a weight of debt that almost crushed the club earlier this year. It is a question we have asked before here.

Mr Clarke responded that this was just an offshore vehicle used by the previous owner (based in the Isle of Man) to manage his investments. The debt was money loaned to the club by the owner and all written off by the when the club was sold. No issues whatsoever, we all knew who the owner was (although he couldn’t immediately remember his name). Mr Clarke’s lack of detail undermined his reassurances. As we have pointed out, Eddie Davies was only declared to have ‘a’ beneficial interest in Moonshift. The other owners have never been declared.

In addition, it is extremely unlikely that Eddie Davies ever had £180m to give away to Bolton. Eddie made his money in kettle thermostats (someone has to make them) with a company called Strix. In 2004 he was worth £60m, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. In 2005 Eddie sold most of his interest in the company to the Dutch bank AMN Amro for £100m. Note that the £60m in the rich list would have included their estimate of the value of his stake in Strix. So whilst Eddie was a very wealthy man, it is very unlikely that he had £180m in spare change lying around to throw down the money pit which is Bolton Wanderers.

So, perhaps we shouldn’t be all reassured that the FA has their heads around all of this.

What next?

The Committee is now holding a broader inquiry into governance of football. The Offshore Game will be sending in evidence in due course. The public can also submit written evidence to the inquiry. Please consider doing so, either directly or through your supporters’ group.

With Damian Collins as the newly elected chair, someone who has spent years campaigning for better governance of the game, and the keen interest of members like Chris Matheson, this could now be an opportunity to put some much needed pressure on football authorities and the government to act.


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