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`Open up shadowy football world' call from MPs.

Byline: By Graeme King

The shadowy world of football agents must be brought into the open, an influential group of MPs said yesterday in a report on English football finance.

The All Party Parliamentary Football Group published a total of 30 recommendations for cleaning up the national sport in its "English Football and its Finances" report, with the role of agents highlighted.

There were also calls for a wage cap in the Premiership, and for more normal business practices to be employed to make all football clubs' dealings transparent - including a requirement for clubs to establish independent committees to check their accounts, and to decide on pay levels.

Directors' pay at Newcastle United has been criticised in the past for a lack of transparency, with awards to Douglas Hall, executive director of United's international marketing arm and a major shareholder in the club, attracting most attention.

Board appointments were also spotlighted in yesterday's report, with a recommendation that a "fit and proper person" test be brought in for such positions.

The report called for licensing of all individual agents - as well as agencies - and that all payments to them, whether from clubs or players, be published.

The MPs also called for a levy to be introduced on all agents' fees for transfer deals, and the proceeds would go to help grassroots football.

Vinay Bedi, football analyst at Newcastle stockbrokers Wise Speke, said: "The wage cap recommendation is possibly the most disconcerting thing for the clubs.

"If you are of the mind to go and buy the best players, your opportunities may be restricted by this. And how do you decide what is appropriate as a wage cap? What is appropriate for Manchester United may not be for Portsmouth.

"With agents, their dealings probably should be made public, and football is moving toward that anyway, and that has a great deal of support."

Alan Keen MP, chairman of the All Party Football Group said: "After nine months of detailed investigation, we have concluded that the financial divide in football between the `haves' and `have-nots' must be tackled urgently. However, it is not good enough just to throw money at lower league clubs without reforms to ensure they are run better in future."

The Football Conference and Nationwide League are experimenting with wage-capping. Yesterday's report said that experiment should run for "a sustained period of time" before the Premier League follows suit. A spokeswoman for Sunderland Football Club said it could not comment in detail on the report, as it did not yet have a copy, but the club did broadly back the need for greater corporate governance in the football industry.

On player transfers and agents, the club said: "We fully support the calls for greater transparency. It was Sunderland that put forward the motion to the Premier League that all payments to agents should be paid through the football authorities three years ago. That motion led to a change of procedures and was later introduced."

A spokesman for Newcastle United plc said as the club had not yet received a copy of the report, it would be inappropriate to comment.

The report was produced in the North-East by Batwatch printers in Seaton Burn, after Newcastle-based public relations company Bergmans arranged sponsorship of its production by defence company Thales.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 12, 2004
Words:548
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