Ownership of a Football Club

The owners’ & directors’ test

Since 2004, anyone involved in running or owning an English football club must pass the owners’ & directors’ test (formerly the fit and proper test). The test was introduced by the FA to combat possible corruption and a perceived lack of transparency connected with football club ownership and to protect the reputation and image of the game.

The owners’ & directors’ test applies to all clubs in the Premier League, English Football League, National League, Isthmian League, Northern Premier League and Southern Football League. The Premier League and English Football League administer the test for clubs in their leagues, while the FA administers the test to clubs in membership of the National League and the three leagues below.

The test makes the ownership requirements for football clubs in England the strictest of any industry in the country; the test is deemed to go beyond any requirement of company law.

Who does the test apply to?

The test applies to any person defined as an officer of a club and includes anyone operating the powers usually associated with those of:

  • a director of a company incorporated under the Companies Act;
  • direct or indirect control over a club, including a shareholding of 30% or more;
  • an officer of an Industrial & Provident Society;
  • a chairman, secretary or treasurer of a club that is an unincorporated association.

Elements of the test

The tests applied to clubs in each league are broadly similar. In general, individuals will be disqualified from acting as a football club director or owner if they:

  • are prohibited by law from being a director;
  • have power or influence over another football club;
  • have a significant interest in another football club;
  • have unspent criminal convictions involving dishonesty, corruption, perverting the course of justice, or a serious breach of the Companies Act;
  • have been convicted under FA Rules of betting or bribery offences;
  • are bankrupt or are filing for bankruptcy;
  • are banned by a sports governing body or a professional body;
  • are required to notify personal information under Pt 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003;
  • have been an officer of two or more clubs that have entered into an insolvency event, or, have been an officer of one club that has had two separate insolvency events, within the last five years;
  • have been an officer of a club that has been expelled from the Premier League, Football League, Conference, Isthmian, Northern Premier or Southern Football Leagues within the last five years.

Reporting requirements

Under the FA’s Regulations, someone wanting to become an officer of a club must sign a declaration confirming they are not subject to one of the disqualifying conditions listed above and submit it to the FA.

The FA then has 14 days to consider the declaration and provide its written consent to the club before that person can act as an officer of the club.

If a serving club officer becomes subject to a disqualifying condition they must notify the club within three working days. The club then has a further three working days to inform the FA. Someone subject to a disqualifying condition is no longer permitted to act as an officer of a club.

If a serving club officer is removed, resigns or leaves the club, the club must inform the FA within seven working days.
Failure by any officer or club to comply with the regulations or submits false information will be guilty of misconduct and subject to FA disciplinary proceedings.

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About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.

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