View from the terraces

What are the ‘radical’ plans to reform men’s football in England?

Government will appoint an independent regulator – a move deemed ‘not necessary’ by the Premier League

In the wake of last year’s European Super League fiasco, and with multiple clubs facing financial ruin, the UK government will endorse ten “key strategic recommendations” set out in a fan-led review of men’s football in England. 

Amid the government intervention, the English game is set for a “radical shake-up”, said Reuters. And one of the big changes is the establishment of an independent regulator to deal with the game’s finances, club ownership and corporate governance. 

Footballing ‘crises’

The fan-led review was launched after “a series of footballing crises”, including the collapse of Bury in 2019 and the attempted creation of the Super League in 2021, Sky Sports said. Other key points endorsed by the government include a strengthened owners’ and directors’ test; fans to have “shadow boards” and golden shares; and new financial rules for clubs, including managing owner subsidies. 

Government intervention also comes after the pandemic “exposed the finances of football clubs, many of which spend heavily on buying players in pursuit of trophies or promotion”, said the FT. Club takeovers have come under “intense scrutiny” from human rights activists and fans and the collapse of Bury and the administration of Derby County have “highlighted the risks facing lower division teams”.

In response to the plans, the Premier League said it “recognises and accepts the case for reform” and for a strengthened regulatory system across English football. But while the English top-flight is committed to working with the government during the next phase of consultation, it will “continue to maintain that it is not necessary” for there to be a statutory-backed regulator.

What was recommended in the fan-led review? 

Published in November 2021 by former sports minister Tracey Crouch, the review into the English men’s game made a number of “detailed recommendations”: 

  1. To ensure the long-term sustainability of football, the government should create a new independent regulator for English football (IREF)
  2. To ensure financial sustainability of the professional game, IREF should oversee financial regulation in football. 
  3. New owners’ and directors’ tests for clubs should be established by IREF replacing the three existing tests and ensuring that only good custodians and qualified directors can run these vital assets
  4. Football needs a new approach to corporate governance to support a long-term sustainable future of the game
  5. Football needs to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in clubs with committed EDI Action Plans regularly assessed by IREF. 
  6. As a uniquely important stakeholder, supporters should be properly consulted by their clubs in taking key decisions by means of a Shadow Board. 
  7. Football clubs are a vital part of their local communities, in recognition of this there should be additional protection for key items of club heritage. 
  8. Fair distributions are vital to the long term health of football. The Premier League should guarantee its support to the pyramid and make additional, proportionate contributions to further support football. 
  9. Women’s football should be treated with parity and given its own dedicated review. 
  10. As an urgent matter, the welfare of players exiting the game needs to be better protected – particularly at a young age.

What happens next? 

A government white paper will set out full details on the measures and an “indicative timetable” for legislation is expected to be published this summer. It was previously reported by the FT that Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, wanted the regulator to be in place by the 2024 general election. But on Sunday the minister’s department said legislation would be introduced in 2023 but “could not guarantee when the regulator would be in place”, the FT added. 

Liverpool ticket protest

Liverpool fans protest against ticket prices in 2016

Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images

‘A massive disappointment’

Football brings “friends, families and communities together”, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was speaking about the plans to “secure the future of our national game”. However, not everyone was happy with the government’s timetable. 

Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, said that while the Labour Party fully supports football reform and a new statutory regulator, there’s “no dressing up” that this announcement will come as “a massive disappointment” to fans across the country. The announcement of a further consultation later this year, and a delay to legislation until at least 2024, is “a kick in the teeth to proud footballing communities across England”, Powell added. She also called for new laws to stop more clubs going bust or being used “as a play thing for the wealthy”.

Former sports minister Crouch, who led the review, was “exceptionally pleased” that the government had supported her recommendations for reform, but said the “unspecified timeframe for implementation” was “worrying”. This is an “enormous step forward in providing much-needed reform for football”, she added. Fans will be “reassured by the commitment to an independent regulator and its powers”, but they will “remain nervous that this commitment will be delayed or watered down by the vested and conflicted interests in the game, which have resisted the much-needed reform for so long”.

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