Challenging the EFL’s position regarding the close of the 2019/20 Football League season
The SouthernSWA (the London and south-east based supporters of Tranmere Rovers Football Club (“TRFC”), are initiating a fund-raising effort to prepare for a legal challenge to preserve the integrity of the English Football League (“EFL”). The current EFL Board (the “Board”) appears to be incapable of following its own rules and regulations, and the individual board members are failing to satisfy their fiduciary responsibilities, including to act in the best interest of ALL of the EFL’s members (the EFL’s members are each of the 71 clubs).
PPG is historically proven to be fundamentally flawed
The EFL Board has proposed a vote to its member clubs with only two options: to either (i) continue to play out the rest of the season; or (ii) to cancel the season and determine the final league tables on a ‘Points Per Game’ (“PPG”) calculation, with promotion and relegation still to take effect and play offs still to be played to decide the final non-automatic promotion place. We say that PPG is fundamentally flawed and is a completely alien concept to the spirit of “fair contest” and “sporting integrity”. Indeed, PPG has been proven to be flawed: over history it will have resulted in a fair outcome in only two of the last 10 League One seasons. Furthermore, it would have had an error rate of 75% if applied last season when the three clubs that would have been demoted by PPG with 10 games left to play – Oxford United, AFC Wimbledon and Southend United – all avoided relegation (Oxford actually finished in the top half!).
Alternative solutions being inexplicably ignored without consideration
Despite alternative, “no harm”, solutions being suggested to the EFL Board some weeks ago, the Board is adamant that they only offer members one solution to vote for (option (ii)) should the EFL season be brought to a premature close. Notwithstanding the fact that the Board are looking for an answer to this difficult situation for financial reasons (i.e. some members cannot afford to wait out the Summer to play the remaining games, potentially, behind closed doors), they have chosen a path that will do serious (quantifiable) financial damage to a selection of EFL member clubs, whilst also undermining any (unquantifiable) efforts to attract new sponsors/investors, amongst many other things.
Side-stepping their own Regulations
At present, the EFL’s own Regulations only permit it to void the season. However, voiding the season has not been proposed by the EFL Board. Instead, option (ii) would require a fundamental change to the EFL’s existing Regulations. We consider that such a change on the terms proposed would breach contractual and statutory duties by the EFL. Not only that, each Board member – as a director of the EFL – owes fiduciary duties (both statutory and in equity) including (but not limited to) not to cause harm to the EFL or any member. TRFC and others will be caused huge harm by forced demotion.
Out-of-touch and lacking empathy during a time of crisis
At a time when all those in positions of authority are doing their best to help businesses to survive and communities to stay safe through this pandemic, the Board has made the conscious decision to harm certain of its members, their employees, their fans and their communities. The Board needs to be called to account for its actions: it must justify its decision or be open to other options.
Unfair treatment of a number of member clubs
It is not only TRFC that will suffer should option (ii) be implemented by the EFL. It will also adversely affect other member clubs who are forcibly demoted with a quarter of the season still to play (such as Charlton Athletic, Stevenage and Barnsley) as well as teams who lose the opportunity to push for an automatic promotion place and/or play-off place: the likes of Sunderland and Peterborough United. Other clubs stand to benefit inexorably: clubs such as Swindon Town, despite being in 2nd place, will be given the League Two title, and Colchester United, Exeter City, Northampton Town and Cheltenham Town will be afforded the opportunity to play off for TRFC’s place in League One. TRFC will not be allowed to defend their position, despite having 10 games left to play, a game in hand, and being willing and capable of playing the remaining fixtures this season – even behind closed doors.
Censorship and unwilling to openly debate the issues at hand
The recent actions of the Board - including what appears to be a policy of censorship (the removal of certain legitimate social media posts made by fans of TRFC) rather than an openness to debate the issue - should be of interest to ALL member clubs. The governance of the EFL is not fit for purpose and should be restructured - most football fans hold this view and we deserve to be heard - after all, we are the ones paying our hard-earned money up-and-down the country every Saturday afternoon.
Back to the immediate issue: the current EFL Regulations allow for the season to be finished or declared void. Full stop. Any funds raised by this appeal will be put towards the resultant legal challenge should PPG be forced upon member clubs and the shareholders of TRFC decide to oppose the actions of the EFL Board. If the EFL Board is determined not to play out the season or to void it (we repeat, these are the only options that the EFL currently has in its Regulations) and instead the EFL insists that the rules of its competition must be changed mid-season and applied retrospectively then Board has already had plenty of time to consider the following solution which has been proposed as an alternative option for the member clubs to vote for:
“Adjusted PPG, promotions and NO relegations”. “Adjusted” in the sense that there should be some recognition that there was almost 25% of the games still to play and therefore we need to account for the potential change in fortunes versus what has gone before. This could be done by simply adding a margin of error calculation to the “raw” PPG numbers. This should be done hand in hand with extending the play-offs to include a larger number of teams. i.e. give (more) teams the chance to gain without harming any others (by not giving them a fair chance to play their way out of the relegation places).”
Or we play on.
Or we void the season.
Supporting our local communities
Should legal action eventually not be required, we would encourage any donors to allow their money to be donated to local food banks serving all our communities during these difficult times. Alternatively, the funds will be reimbursed.
This is everyone’s fight
Please distribute this to ALL football fans, we are actually all on the same team here. We will not let the EFL divide the football family.