Seeking to strengthen safeguards of teams from financial failings and harmful ownership models, a new independent regulator has been launched which will implement a new test for potential owners and directors.
Announcing the plans, the government pinpointed situations that have happened to Derby County F.C, Bury F.C and Macclesfield Town F.C as being examples of what the new ruling can avoid, with fans being given a greater say in the running of clubs.
The paper was informed by recommendations from the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance, which was spearheaded by Tracey Crouch CBE MP, underpinning the importance of owners being strong sustainable custodians of clubs.
Furthermore, the new measures will look to protect the heritage of clubs, forcing ownership to consult fans before making major decisions around club legacy – including changing the colours, home stadium and the club crest.
Key to the sustainability of the English game and its legacy is halting clubs from embracing breakaway competitions, which comes after widespread disruption within the sport over the maligned plans for a European Super League (ESL) last year.
Issuing an update, the white paper stated: “The regulator will have the power to prevent English clubs from joining new competitions that do not meet a predetermined criteria, in consultation with the FA and fans. That criteria could include measures to stop clubs participating in closed-shop breakaway competitions which harm the domestic game, such as the European Super League.
“The English game remains one of the UK’s greatest cultural exports, with clubs and leagues around the world modelling themselves on its success. That is why the Government is today taking the necessary and targeted steps to ensure that continues for generations.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasised that the plans are essential as ‘real challenges which threaten the stability of clubs both big and small’ loom on the horizon’.
He went on to describe the plans as being bold and putting fans back at the heart of football.
The risk to English football that Sunak highlights largely stems from financial instability within clubs – with the report drawing attention to the combined net debt of clubs in the Premier League and Championship reaching £5.9bn by the end of the 2020/21 season.
Chief Executive of the Football Supporters Association, Kevin Miles, also backed the plans: “The Football Supporters Association engaged in the fan-led review from day one and we warmly welcome the historic commitment from the Government to introduce an independent regulator of English football.
“The football governance white paper clearly addresses our key concerns around ownership, rogue competitions and sustainability and of course we support any proposals that offer fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs. We look forward to engaging with the Government on the next steps.”
Nonetheless, the plans were met with backlash from West Ham United’s Principal Owner, who was heavily critical of the government.
In a comment issued to Sky Sports, Sullivan said: “A football regulator is a terrible idea. The government are terrible at running everything.
“Look at the mess this country is in. We pay the highest taxes ever for the worst service from the worst government that I’ve seen in my lifetime.
“The regulator will have a huge staff that football will have to pay for. It will be a total waste of money. I bet it grows in size and cost every year.
“The Premier League is the best run and most successful league in the world. It gives more to the lower leagues, the PFA and grass roots than any other league in the world. It’s a fantastic export.”
The infuriated Hammers Chairman added: “Why does an incompetent government think it will improve things. In every area this government is involved in, it has added staff for a worse service.
“The government is doing this for a PR win. They think it will be good PR to be seen backing the ordinary football fan and smaller clubs but I bet you it won’t get them a single extra vote. I believe in free enterprise, not government interference.”
Chair of the Fan Led Review of Football Governance, Tracey Crouch CBE MP, described the publication as ‘a big day for football’, expressing positivity at the strategic review’s prospects.
She concluded: “The introduction of a new independent regulator of football will strengthen our incredible pyramid, giving investors, fans and communities confidence in the governance of our clubs, enabling them to thrive in the best leagues in the world.
“Football is nothing without its fans, and the announcement today will ensure they remain at its heart while it continues to grow at home and abroad.”