I spoke about the pressing need for football governance and an independent regulator during a Westminster Hall debate on 14th June 2021.
The state of our national game has been very much a story of ‘rich man, poor man’ with the very rich clubs with billionaire owners seeking to make themselves even more elite and at the same time, much valued and cherished local clubs, like Bury, Bolton and Wigan, that either haven’t survived or are struggling to survive. I am fully behind the creation of a single, independent football regulator.
The major organisations in England—the Premier League, the Football Association, and the English Football League—are becoming both unable and unwilling to act responsibly in the interests of the wider game of football, and of supporters and their communities.
Initiatives like ‘Project Big Picture’ which would have taken the one club, one vote system away from the Premier League, has shown how grotesque the elite of football clubs can be in securing power and further finance for themselves at the expense of less financially powerful Premier League clubs. The attempt to introduce the European Super League, with a move out of the Premier League and the UEFA structures would have meant no promotion or relegation to this new league and would have effectively butchered the major football leagues in Italy, Spain and England.
There is inconsistency between clubs and their supporters about effective engagement and communication throughout the various leagues in England. This can be improved in a number of ways, such as by allowing fans on to club boards and examining new methods of allowing fans to take some ownership of the club they support. There is some discussion around the ownership of ‘golden shares’ which could give some special ownership rights or privileges to fans to bring additional influence to bear on decision making.
What we can see is a perverse disparity between the haves and the have nots of English football, with the rich clubs taking care of themselves and the poor ones struggling to survive. Given the amount of money available in football as a whole, this should not be allowed to happen, and therefore, I think it is important that government itself should take action and I welcome the fan-led review that the government has brought forward from its manifesto. If clubs and associations themselves are not capable of behaving responsibly then the duty should fall on Parliament and the Government to regulate their behaviour.
There is a view that foreign owners should be treated differently for a variety of reasons, some relating to human rights and some political. Those views could be put under the remit of the football regulator and taken into consideration when the licensing process takes effect.
Too often, clubs have not taken their responsibilities seriously, or indeed have not accepted that they have them. Their financial responsibilities have been made clear, but clubs should have additional responsibilities in how they engage with fans, and social responsibilities to ensure that players and fans do not engage in behaviour that would bring the game into disrepute.
Sustainability of football clubs is extremely important because we don’t want to see more clubs going to the wall. Financial sustainability should be about ensuring that clubs don’t fall too much into debt and that has to some extent been achieved by the financial fair play rules that have been introduced.
I believe in taking a firm stance on issues such as racism and homophobia. In my view, the regulator should have the power to do what individual football clubs, the Premier League, the FA and the English Football League have failed to do over the years, which is to properly regulate and police the game so that clubs have responsibilities as well as rights.