Today the Government set out its plans for football in England. Central to this will be the establishment of a strong, independent regulator with statutory backing to deliver financial sustainability throughout the national game. Fans will be given a meaningful voice in the running of their clubs.
There will also be a strengthened Owners and Directors test, including an ‘integrity test’ to improve corporate governance and protect clubs and their fans from unscrupulous owners. This delivers on the 2019 manifesto commitment to fans to ensure a sustainable future for the national game.
The Government will endorse the 10 key strategic recommendations set out in its fan-led review of football governance, published by Tracey Crouch MP in November 2021, which will improve financial sustainability and corporate governance across our national game, and place fans squarely at the heart of decision-making.
The new regulator will be backed by primary legislation to provide it with the statutory powers to license and sanction clubs as part of its remit to tackle the most pressing issues throughout the football pyramid. This will crack down on the widespread culture among clubs of operating in a financially unsustainable way and over-relying on individual owners to shore up finances (which can have disastrous consequences should the owners decide not to plug financial holes). Many Premier League and Championship clubs are regularly exceeding UEFA’s guidance to spend no more than 70% of club revenue on wages, and this is leading to weak finances which would not be tolerated in other fields. The regulator will also be given the power to exercise financial oversight of clubs, including information gathering, investigation and enforcement powers.
Today’s announcement follows a series of crises, starting with the collapse of Bury FC in 2019, followed by Bolton Wanderers, Derby County, Macclesfield Town and Wigan Athletic, culminating in the widely discredited plans to form an European Super League. The review was based on engagement with supporters’ trusts, fan groups, women’s football representatives, football authorities, club owners, players’ representatives, and underrepresented interest groups, alongside over 20,000 fans responding to an online survey.
The final report (supported by an expert advisory panel) was submitted to the Government in November 2021. It concluded that football requires a strong, independent regulator to secure the future of our national game, and found a significant part of the reason for the perilous state of football was due to reckless financial decision-making often being prioritised by unsuitable owners and directors in the pursuit of glory, putting the future of clubs – and their status as community assets – at risk.
47 recommendations were put forward in total, including 10 key strategic recommendations. A white paper setting out full details on these measures and an indicative timetable for legislation is expected to be published this summer.
Commenting on the plans, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:
Football brings friends, families, and communities together, which is why we are taking forward the fan-led plans to secure the future of our national game – from the £230 million investment to level up grassroots pitches to strengthening the voice of fans in the running of their clubs.
Whether you’re cheering on at home or away, this government will ensure fans are once again at the heart of the game.
In addition, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said:
Football is nothing without its fans and for too long the football authorities have collectively been unable to tackle some of the biggest issues in the game.
The Government took decisive action to conduct the fan led review and today we have endorsed every one of its ten strategic recommendations and the approach set out by Tracey Crouch.
We are now committed to fundamental reform, putting football on a more sustainable financial path, strengthening corporate governance of clubs and increasing the influence fans have in the running of the national game.
Following extensive feedback from all relevant stakeholders, the Government supports the following objectives:
- A greater role for fans in the day to day running of clubs: the Government will now look at mechanisms including the option of a ‘shadow board’ in order to give fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs with further detail to be set out in the summer.
- Fan engagement on club heritage issues should receive greater regulatory oversight: the Government will set out plans to ensure fans have a bigger say on changes to their club stadia, logo, name and kit via a ‘golden share’, in order to protect clubs and the central role they play as vital community assets.
- Stronger action to improve equality and diversity in club boardrooms throughout the football pyramid: the Government will set out further details on how this will be addressed and how that will be linked to the role of the regulator.
Commenting, Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said:
It’s just over a year since the failed European Super League bid but it is clear that radical change is needed to protect the future of our national game.
We will work at pace to establish a strong, independent regulator. However the football authorities can take action now to tackle issues currently facing the game such as the issue of fair distribution of finances throughout the football pyramid and giving fans a greater say in the running of their clubs.
In addition, the Sports Minister has confirmed that the Government will launch an in-depth review of domestic women’s football this summer. It is expected to look at how to deliver bold and sustainable growth of the women’s game at both elite and grassroots level, in order to achieve parity with the men’s game. The latest action builds upon the Government's strong record of placing fans at the heart of the sport and backing the game from the bottom of the pyramid upwards.
Moreover, the Government is putting the grassroots game at the very centre of its plans to level up access to sport for all. In March 2022 it announced the first tranche of recipients as part of a £230 million package to build or upgrade up to 8,000 grassroots football and multi-sport pitches across the UK by 2025.