finance

Review calls for radical shake-up of English football


English football is set for a radical makeover that would include powers to block change of ownership of clubs, a veto for supporters over key decisions and a redistributive levy on Premier League player transfers, under proposals by a government-backed review of the sport.

The report, published on Wednesday night, also called for a new independent regulator for English football that would supersede the authority of existing bodies such as the Football Association, the national governing body, and the Premier League, the top tier of English club football.

If the proposals received ministerial support, they would lead to the most significant change to how the sport is run since the establishment of the Premier League in 1992.

Tracey Crouch, the Tory MP and former sports minister who led the review, said the “full package of controls” needed to be implemented. “It’s something that’s been required for a significant amount of time. Football has lurched from crisis to crisis. We’re setting out an holistic package of reform for the future to make it financially sustainable,” she told the Financial Times.

The Premier League rejected the need for a new football watchdog earlier this year but on Wednesday, in an apparent softening of that position, it acknowledged “the call for some form of independent regulation”.

Tracey Crouch playing with a football on a pitch
Tracey Crouch, Tory MP and former sports minister, led the review © Nigel Roddis/The FA/Getty Images

The FA said it recognised the review’s “importance for English football”, adding that it would “continue to liaise with the government on potential solutions to the topics and recommendations that have been made”.

The “fan-led” review was prompted by crises that have rocked the sport: the collapse of Bury football club in 2019; aborted plans by six top Premier League clubs to join a breakaway European Super League earlier this year; and the impact of coronavirus, which led to a revenue shortfall of £2bn across the sport in England.

Recommendations include steps to tighten controls over ownership, with stricter tests of those bidding for clubs and granting new regulator powers to block a takeover.

The report recommended new owners be required to show they have the cash flow and capital to withstand financial shocks that led to clubs, including Derby County and Wigan Athletic, filing for administration in recent years.

The recent £305m acquisition of Newcastle United by a Saudi Arabia-led investment group prompted outrage from human-rights activists and angered rival clubs.

In April, fan protests helped force the six largest Premier League clubs to abort plans to join a breakaway European Super League, which would have done away with traditional structures of promotion and regulation.

Under the review, supporters’ trusts would be able to veto some of the club’s proposals, such as joining a new competition, selling the stadium or changing team colours by giving them a “golden share”.

The review also proposed redistributing funds from the Premier League through a levy on domestic and international player transfers involving the top-tier clubs. A 10 per cent levy over the past five seasons would have raised an estimated £160m to return to lower-league teams and support grassroots football.

Other measures in the report included plans for a review of women’s football, measures to support equality, diversity and inclusion and a small-scale pilot that would remove the ban on the consumption of alcohol inside a stadium within view of the pitch.

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, said the proposals would help protect football’s heritage. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will give a written ministerial statement to parliament on the report on Thursday.

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