Explained: the Independent Regulator, White Paper and what's next

— 6 minute read


The Fan Led Review was a manifesto promise at the time of the 2019 general election. Thankfully, the government were true to their word. In 2021, former sports minister Tracey Crouch assembled a panel of independent experts, including former players, current club chief executives and others to assess the state of the football industry.


The Robins Trust were involved from the start: Chair James Young and FED Dave Beesley were part of the League One and Two network from the Football Supporters Association who met with the panel.

James then helped the FSA compile their 227-page FSA submission to the panel and was later part of a FSA delegation to meet with the then Secretary of State.


As a FSA National Council representative for League One and Two, James led the network meeting to the panel, which saw powerful evidence from fans of Leyton Orient, Oldham Athletic and Charlton Athletic.

At the end of the 90 minute session, he summed up the powerful evidence by saying: "Luck shouldn’t govern our football, it shouldn’t be luck that is the difference between having a good owner or one that strips assets or takes your club to the brink.

"Across the network our belief is that independent regulation is needed to protect our clubs from rogue owners; to ensure assets aren’t stripped; to make sure Fan Elected Directors are not marginalised; to insist on full financial transparency at all clubs and to guarantee every club engages with, and are responsive to, their fans.

"But most importantly, clubs have died under the current watch and the current self-regulation is a busted flush.

"Change is needed, to ensure what happened to Bury and Macclesfield – and to others before them – must never, ever happen again."

Today saw the most significant step of the process so far, with the launch of a white paper – basically a declaration by the government of what they want to do.

The biggest change is the establishment of an Independent Regulator for Football (IREF), basically what OFSTED is to schools, IREF will be to football.

The IREF will oversee a licensing system that will cover the top five divisions and top 116 clubs in the country. Each of those clubs will need to achieve certain standards to achieve a licence and operate.

The Licence will be subject to "Four Threshold Conditions" – basically standards each club will have to reach.

Each club will have to:

1. Demonstrate good basic financial practices

To quote the White Paper:

Clubs would need to plan financially for the season based on a range of possible scenarios.

There would be an emphasis on those scenarios that involve a material deterioration in business or sporting performance. This might include relegation or withdrawal of owner funding.

Accordingly, clubs would need to demonstrate clear ‘wind back’ plans with actions they could enact to return the club back to a financially sustainable state.

Although some clubs already do sophisticated scenario planning, many do not.”

This is to protect all clubs from spending beyond their means, chasing the dream and ending up in administration or worse.

2. Adhere to a new ‘Football Club Corporate Governance Code.’

The code would be drawn up by the regulator following a forensic ‘state of the game’ study and focus on ensuring clubs are structured properly, have adequate staff and communicate in a transparent and accountable way with supporters.

To quote the paper:

To date, the poor internal governance at some clubs has allowed owners to act unilaterally, pursuing short-term interests with little accountability or scrutiny. Under the new regulatory system, clubs will be required to apply a new code and report on how they have applied it, to improve transparency and accountability.

And, crucially:

The Regulator will implement a minimum standard of fan engagement. Fans are the most important stakeholder for any football club, and both parties benefit from their involvement in the long-term decision-making process at a club.

The Regulator will ensure clubs have a framework in place to regularly meet a representative group of fans to discuss key matters at the club, and other issues of interest to supporters (including club heritage).

3. Be subject to new tests for prospective owners and directors of football clubs.

We all know that the current tests are barely worth the paper they are written on and have had no success in preventing malevolent owners from taking clubs to the brink.

At Cheltenham Town we are lucky to have committed, understanding and responsible owners, this regulation will ensure that remains the case in perpetuity.

To quote the paper:

The new tests will consist of three key elements:

  1. a fitness and propriety test to ensure integrity of owners and directors,
  2. enhanced due diligence of source of wealth (owners),
  3. a requirement for robust financial plans (owners).
  4. And comply with rules regarding club heritage:

Cheltenham Town will always play in red and white if the fans want them to. There will be no changing of colours to suit an individual’s ego or for commercial means.

Changes to the badge, the stadium we play in, and other cultural assets could only be made with the express will of the fans.

To quote the paper:

The Regulator will also add, and reinforce existing, protections around club heritage. The Regulator will require clubs to comply with the Football Association (FA) on its new rules for club heritage, which will give fans a veto over changes to the badge and home shirt colours, in addition to the strong existing protections for club names.

The Regulator will also require clubs to seek its approval for any sale or relocation of the club’s stadium.


The snippets above are just that.

There is a lot more detail to be ironed out before this all becomes the law of the land.

But, having been involved from the start, the Robins Trust is really enthused by the content of the White Paper.

But just as clubs up and down the country may have to raise their game, so too must we.

As the representative body for Cheltenham Town fans, our job is to put our fans front and centre, using the Four Pillars or Thresholds outlined above to help our club thrive.

There has never been a better time to get involved with the Trust – every member increases our ownership foothold. And every member can have their voice on how their club operates.

Fans have always been at the heart of football. The Fan Led Review, the White Paper and the establishment of a licensing and regulatory system will ensure that our say is more significant than ever.