Government announces fan-led review into football amid European Super League plans

19 April 2021, 17:28 | Updated: 20 April 2021, 17:32

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The government has announced a fan-led review of football in the UK in response to the controversial plans for a European Super League.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed the launch of the long-awaited review while addressing MPs in the Commons on Monday afternoon.

He said ministers would "do whatever it takes to protect our game" amid outrage over plans for the breakaway competition.

The review will be led by Tracey Crouch MP and will examine governance and regulation in the sport. It will look in particular at creating an independent regulator and how fans can oversee key decisions.

Mr Dowden warned the clubs involved - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur - that minister will be "reviewing everything the government does" to support them.

Read more: Outrage as England's 'big six' clubs plan to join European Super League

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He said he has spoken to the football authorities, adding: "My message for them was clear: they have our full backing.

"But, be in no doubt, if they can't act we will. We will put everything on the table to prevent this from happening. We are examining every option from governance reform to competition law and mechanisms that allow football to take place.

"Put simply, we will be reviewing everything the government does to support these clubs to play. I have discussed these options with the prime minister this morning and we are working at pace across government and with football authorities."

The culture secretary said that "a small handful of owners want to create a closed shop of elite clubs at the top of the game" that would lead to a league "based on wealth and brand recognition rather than upon merit".

However, he also explained that it would be up to the football authorities to handle the issue first.

Mr Dowden then confirmed the government would issue "a very robust response", including a fan-led review of the sport, if those authorities lack the power to prevent the European Super League.

Explained: European Super League: What is it and why is it so controversial?

Watch: 'Players won't stand for' European Super League, ex-Arsenal player tells LBC

He said: "Over the past few months I've been meeting with fans and representative organisations to develop our proposals for a fan-led review. I'd always been clear that I didn't want to launch this until football had returned to normal following the pandemic.

"Sadly these clubs have made it clear that I have no choice, they have decided to put money before fans, so today I have been left with no choice but to formally trigger the launch of our fan-led review of football."

Mr Dowden added: "The review will be chaired by the (MP) for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and will be a root and branch examination of football in this country.

"It will cover the financial sustainability of the men's and women's game, governance and regulation and the merits of an independent regulator. 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."

His statement comes after Boris Johnson said plans for the league were "wrong" and could take cash away from clubs that really need it.

The prime minister made the comments during a trip to the West Midlands, in which he was asked about fears the proposed league could potentially bar clubs such as Leicester City and Aston Villa from gaining entry to an elite club competition.

He replied: "I think it's wrong, I think it's something that's going in the wrong direction for football - for great English and British clubs - and it's going in the wrong direction for fans.

"I can't think that it's the right way forward."

Plans for the Premier League's "big six" football clubs to join a controversial breakaway European Super League have sparked fury across football and politics.

The bombshell plan, announced on Sunday, saw Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and six other European clubs join together in creating a rival competition to the Champions League.

The European Super League plans have received widespread condemnation from football fans
The European Super League plans have received widespread condemnation from football fans. Picture: PA

Three more clubs are expected to join the breakaway group as founding members of the new competition, which will begin "as soon as practicable" and eventually feature 20 teams.

UEFA, European football's governing body, has since said players involved in the Super League will be banned from playing in national teams, such as during the World Cup and European Championships.

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens called this "a watershed moment for our national game".

She said of Mr Dowden's statement: "It is short on detail and the urgency that this situation merits".

Ms Stevens went on: "Football governance is broken, football finance is broken, and football fans whichever club we support, are ignored.

"The hedge-fund owners and billionaires who treat football clubs like any other of their commodities have no care for history of our football, for the role it plays in villages, towns and cities up and down our country and especially for the fans who are the beating heart of it.

"They should understand their role as custodians rather than cartel chiefs. The future of our national game and all our clubs depend on it."

The Duke of Cambridge has since tweeted his concern for the "football community" after the proposal of a breakaway European Super League.

"Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community - from the top level to the grassroots - and the values of competition and fairness at its core," he wrote.

"I share the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League and the damage it risks causing to the game we love."

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, who has previously spoken against the idea of a breakaway European league, told Sky his views have not altered.

"It didn't change. My opinion didn't change," he said ahead of the game at Leeds.

"I heard the first time about it yesterday and when you are trying to prepare for a difficult game against Leeds, we got some information, not a lot, most of things you can read in newspapers or wherever.

"It is a tough one, people are not happy with that. I can understand that, but I cannot say a lot more about it because we were not involved in any processes - not the players, not me. We didn't know about it. The facts are out there and we will have to see how it develops."