Government will do ‘whatever it takes’ to block European Super League football

Fan-led review to consider ‘root and branch’ reform of football governance and finance

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 19 April 2021 21:06
<p>Culture secretary Oliver Dowden speaking in parliament on Monday</p>

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden speaking in parliament on Monday

Ministers have vowed to throw the full weight of the government behind efforts to block the creation of a European Super League of elite football clubs which fans fear could destroy the game in England.

In a broadside at breakaway teams including Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the government would back football authorities in their bid to stop the new competition.

He also said that if they fail, ministers are ready to use governance rules and competition law to prevent the establishment of the controversial tournament, which risks creating a lucrative “closed shop” for teams while starving others of money and trophies by removing the threat of relegation for poor performance.

Facing demands from MPs to fast-track new laws through parliament ahead of the proposed kick-off of the new contest this summer, Mr Dowden even said he was ready to make use of the “mechanisms that allow football to take place”. This could see licences to stage games withdrawn or a police presence being withheld from grounds like Old Trafford and Anfield.

“We will put everything on the table to prevent this from happening,” he said. “We will be reviewing everything government does to support these clubs to play. We will do whatever it takes to protect our national game.”

Prince William became the latest to add his voice to the torrent of protest at plans, unveiled late on Sunday night, which would see six English sides – also including Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur – and three each from Spain and Italy play midweek games for a global TV market.

The Duke of Cambridge, who is the current FA president, said he “shares the concerns of fans about the proposed super league and the damage it risks causing to the game we love”.

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin branded Manchester United executive Ed Woodward and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli “snakes”, saying their plans “spat in the face” of ordinary fans.

Mr Ceferin threatened to ban super league players from international competitions like the World Cup, and to banish the 12 clubs from the Champions League.

Uefa board member Jesper Moller even suggested that Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid could be expelled from this season’s Champions League and Manchester United and Arsenal from the Europa League.

Boris Johnson said the breakaway plans, bankrolled by billions of dollars from US finance giant JP Morgan, were not “good news for fans” or for UK football.

The government will do “everything we can” to ensure they do not go ahead as proposed, he vowed.

Teams were more than just “great global brands”, said the prime minister. “They’re also clubs that have originated historically from their towns, from their cities, from their local communities. They should have a link with those fans, and with the fan base in their community.

Labour leader and Arsenal fan Sir Keir Starmer said the super league “diminishes competition, it pulls up the drawbridge, it is designed for and by a small elite. But worst of all, it ignores the fans”.

Mr Dowden told the Commons that he had spoken with Mr Ceferin, as well as the Football Association and the Premier League, and all were determined to stop the plan “in its tracks”.

He said the government was now bringing forward its promised fan-led review of football, to be chaired by former sports minister Tracey Crouch.

The “root and branch” examination will cover financial sustainability, governance and regulation, and could recommend an independent regulator for the game.

“Crucially in the light of this weekend’s proposal it will also consider how fans can have an even greater say in the oversight of the game and models which might best achieve that,” said Mr Dowden.

Earlier, Downing Street did not rule out a German-style system of fan ownership of clubs or clawing back support loans worth £295m extended to Arsenal and Spurs during the Covid pandemic.

Ms Crouch promised fans that she would “work with you, and for you, to consider how we keep the traditions of integrity and fair competition at the heart of the sport”.

The chairman of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for football supporters, Labour MP Ian Mearns said the super league plan was the result of “unbridled greed” which ignored the interests of fans.

“Without competition and without that uncertainty about whether you are going to succeed or fail, the game loses a huge amount,” he told The Independent.

But he warned that even fans’ boycotts or government moves to stop clubs admitting spectators might not be enough to stop the plan.

“Unfortunately, what this last year has shown is that playing in empty stadiums isn’t beyond the realms of possibility,” he said.

“They could stage these games behind closed doors and still make profits from TV rights. Ultimately, this plan is designed much more for markets outside Europe, in Asia and the Americas. It makes the fans of the clubs involved almost irrelevant from the financial point of view.”

The chair of the football APPG, Clive Betts, said the super league could be the catalyst for reforms to loosen the grip of billionaire owners over the game and reverse the financial disparities which have grown up between clubs since the creation of the Premier League in 1992.

“We’ve got to the point where this isn’t only about stopping the super league,” Mr Betts told The Independent. “It’s about recognising that there needs to be full-scale reform of football governance and football finance.”

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