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Fulham Football Club

Volume 113: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to meet the president of the Football League to discuss the future of Fulham football club; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. Richard Tracey)

I see the president of the Football League regularly, but I have no plans to discuss the future of Fulham football club specifically. I have no powers to interfere in decisions of the club's directors or with discussions they may have with the Football League.

I am sad to hear that. Will the Minister recognise that his act of listing certain buildings at Craven Cottage, helpful as it was, will not stop the Bulstrodes of this world from demolishing our football clubs for commercial gain? When the Minister next meets the president, will he urge him to change the Football League's regulations so that no one may acquire a League club without guaranteeing that the club will not be used for other than football and sports-related activities without the management committee's approval?

Obviously, the Football League's regulations are very much a matter for the League's management committee. I am sure that the House will agree with the hon. Gentleman about the protection of football clubs. However, the problem at Fulham football club, as with many other clubs, is that it has lost the support of the communities around it and the supporters who ought to be bringing in revenue to keep the club together.

Will the Minister recognise that Fulham football club has generated more loyal support and determination to save it from the greedy hands of property speculating asset strippers than virtually any other sporting institution has demonstrated this year? Will he also recognise—this is critical—that the survival of football clubs depends on thir being run in the interests of football? Part of the problem with Fulham football club has been that its ownership in recent years has been vested in the hands of individuals who have been more concerned with what money they can make out of property development than out of the furtherance of the football club's fortunes.

I am sure that Fulham football club will have found a large number of supporters in recent times. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman has become a vocal supporter, as was his predecessor, the late Mr. Martin Stevens. I am well aware that football as a game has increased considerably in popularity across the board in recent years. However, unfortunately, the clubs at top level have been losing supporters because they have lost the support of the communities around them.

Is the Minister aware that we have rarely heard such a dismal reply to such an important question? When he meets the president of the Football League, will he explain that the football grounds are so attractive to speculators because they were all created, at the turn of the century, in the heartlands of our industrial populations? They need to be protected by regulations within football itself, and by suitable planning action by local authorities and the Government. Will he also consider with the president Ihe fact that there is such a little return on investment in football at the moment that makes the capital sale of the grounds so attractive to the speculators? Action to maintain these oases of sport in the midst of our industrial conurbations will require of him initiatives which he has so far singularly failed to take.

I have to remind the right hon. Gentleman that football clubs are private companies, and it is essential that private companies should be attractive to their supporters—the consumers. I have observed, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, far too many interventionist tendencies, which are only too typical of his party.