Trust Oldham Involvement in FSA Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting Review – and what we know about the relative position of Oldham Athletic

Introduction

Trust Oldham Director and the Trust’s FSA (Football Supporters Association) Representative Philippa Whittaker has been an expert contributor to a Project run by Mark Middling, a Northumbria University academic, and the FSA.

Philippa is a retired Senior Lecturer in Accountancy and Financial Management at Salford University with specific experience of football club finances. Trust Oldham is one of several EFL Club Supporters Associations who have been invited to provide contributors with expertise in a number of relevant areas.

Background to the Project

The FSA Project is attempting to identify how Clubs should be accountable to engaged supporters using a new format of supporter-orientated annual reporting.

The improved reporting will not just propose more rigorous and informative financial reporting, it also embraces corporate governance and ownership and a range of non-financial criteria as well as social and environmental aspects.

So far, the Project has been assessing proposed new reporting criteria against a selection of existing EFL Clubs’ annual reports. It will surprise nobody that current practice generally speaking falls far short of what the Project is considers supporters should expect.

The next stage is to identify improved metrics and a report format that could be used by all clubs if adopted, and to consider how these proposals could be implemented successfully.

Preliminary Comments on Oldham Athletic

It is premature and inappropriate to present detailed information at present as the Project still has much work to do. As regards Oldham Athletic, having reviewed a considerable range of EFL Clubs, a few preliminary comments can place the position of Oldham Athletic into a wider context:

  • Oldham Athletic is one of a number of smaller Clubs which qualify as Small Companies under Companies Act criteria and have elected to file filleted accounts at Companies House. Such accounts provide sparse information without an Income Statement or significant corporate information and are not designed or fit for reporting to a wider audience.
  • Whilst Oldham’s accounts are not quite the least informative, they are one of a number which fail to address the legitimate expectations of fans and other stakeholders for relevant information on the performance of prospects of their Club. Whilst not perfect, Carlisle United’s annual report exemplifies a commitment to provide much fuller information and shows what can be done where there is a desire to communicate with the fan base.
  • Oldham Athletic’s annual loss of around £1 million per annum is far from unusual and much smaller than many. Some Clubs in the Championship we have reviewed have been losing over £10 million a year even before Covid struck.
  • Oldham Athletic has a balance sheet deficit of around £3 million which implies the Club needs financial support from its owners or other backers. However, across the accounts we have reviewed, several Clubs have balance sheets with negative net assets, and in some cases the level of negative net assets runs into the £ tens of millions. Some of the Clubs who have spent heavily in pursuit of success on the field have incurred far bigger liabilities than OAFC.
  • Oldham Athletic has appeared on the radar as a “Club in Crisis” because of cash flow difficulties resulting in late payment of wages and allegations of late settlement of football, HMRC and other liabilities. OAFC now has a professional Finance Director and it is hoped that reputationally damaging events should as a result be much less common – but its underlying fundamentals are better than many.
  • A number of Clubs no longer own their grounds, but with the exception of a few Clubs who were exiled from their grounds, Oldham’s relationship with its landlord seems to be more troubled than most. That said, many Clubs have dominant owners who appear to spending unsustainably in pursuit of success or who seem more interested in stripping their Club’s property assets for personal enrichment.
  • Before Covid struck, many clubs were in a position similar to OAFC of depending for their continuing existence on the capacity and willingness of dominant owners to continue to provide funding, often at levels far greater than provided at OAFC. Covid can only have made the deficits worse. Even before Covid, financially many football clubs in the EFL are far from sustainable – the whole context of EFL professional football needs a profound paradigm shift. The Project aims to outline a vision of the new paradigm.

Thank You

Thank you Philippa for your valued contribution to this project; we appreciate the work you are undertaking at a national level for the benefit of all EFL clubs.

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