The review into football governance published today proposes a new financial regulator to ensure the stability of football into the future.
HOW DID THE REVIEW COME ABOUT?
The government announced the review just as the furore around the possible launch of a European Super League reached its peak. The JP-Morgan advised league would have seen six English clubs – Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs – play outside the English football pyramid, with no promotion or relegation. Fans were livid. However, the issues with football financing are more obvious lower down the leagues. Bury FC, founded in the 19th century, entered liquidation in 2019 – causing political ructions in a town for whom the club was an institution.
WHY A REGULATOR?
Football regulation currently is largely led by figures appointed by the clubs themselves. The report states, not incorrectly, that there is a clear conflict of interest. Crouch says that even when a club is found to have not played by the rules, enforcement action is “disincentivised” by that same conflict of interest. Crouch wants a new independent regulator, staffed by individuals whose balance of knowledge tips more towards prudential regulation and less towards football lifers.
WHAT ABOUT FAN OWNERSHIP?
Some campaigners have called for mandatory fan ownership, in which (usually) a supporter’s trust runs the club. Examples in England already using that model include AFC Wimbledon and Exeter. The Crouch recommendations stop short of that, but they do call for the provision of a so-called golden share, which would operate as an effective veto against highly contentious moves by ownership , including selling the club stadium, permanently relocating the club out of its area (as happened to Wimbledon, AFC Wimbledon’s precursor club), or joining a “competition not affiliated to FIFA, UEFA and the FA.”
AHA: SO IS THAT THE DEATH OF THE SUPER LEAGUE?
There is a bit of wiggle room, but for now, it’s hard to see how a European Super League could develop if these proposals were put in place. Fans were notably unimpressed, and it is unlikely that ownership could persuade fans of the merits sufficiently to have them wave through joining a new league. But if a deal could be struck with UEFA around revenue sharing, it might be a case of never say never.
HOW DOES THE MONEY FILTER DOWN?
Many of the financial issues at clubs are felt most keenly amongst the lower reaches of the pyramid, with budgets notably dropping off in League 1 (the third division) and below. Crouch proposes a new transfer tax, levied on transfer fees spent by Premier League clubs either on each other’s players or on overseas imports, the proceeds for which would be used to fund grassroots football. This would replace parachute payments, in which relegated clubs are given payments to limit the financial damage if they fall into a lower league through demotion. Crouch has suggested clubs should have a year to work out an alternative, or the regulator could impose it.
SO WILL IT HAPPEN?
It’s hard to say, but the politics of it help Crouch’s case. Many football clubs in recent financial difficulty have been in towns fairly or unfairly described as ‘left behind’ – precisely Boris Johnson’s new electoral constituency. Sources told City A.M. that ‘in principle’ Government likes the idea of a regulator, though of course, its final shape may be different from the Crouch review. Either way, it looks like the game of football is heading for its first major governance shakeup in – by some measures – more than a century.