Government could force fan led review on Premier League

12 October 2020, 10:08 | Updated: 12 October 2020, 11:17

By Matt Drake

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has announced the possibility of a fan-led review into football amid calls for the biggest shake-up in Premier League history.

Under the plans, titled 'Project Big Picture, the Premier League would be reduced by two teams, more power would be given to the 'big six' clubs and the League Cup and Community Shield would be abolished.

In return, the 72 clubs in the English Football League (EFL) would receive 25 per cent of the top flight's annual income plus an up-front payment of £250 million to help the EFL through the current financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC about the proposals, Mr Dowden said: "I don't think it's really what we need now.

"If the EFL and Premier League don't get together to sort out the challenges they face to secure the game through this period, we will have to look at football governance."

When Nick Ferrari pressed him to explain what he "meant by that", the Culture Secretary replied: "We said in our manifesto that we would look at a 'fan-led review' of football.

"What we have seen over the past few days is making the case for that, unless the Premier League and EFL can get their act together very quickly."

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Mr Dowden explained that the fans would be appointed by the Government to be part of the panel, but that he didn't wanted to "focus on that".

Mr Ferarri said the minister was "bearing his teeth", which he agreed saying: "Yes, yes."

When pressed whether he supported the Community Shield and League Cup, Mr Dowden said: "I'm somewhat surprised by this backroom deal."

Oliver Dowden is due before a Commons Select Committee on Wednesday to answer questions about fans returning to sports venues.

Speaking on Sky News on Monday morning, Dowden said: "If we keep having these backroom deals and all these other things going on we will have to look again at the underlying governance of football.

"We promised in the (general election) manifesto a fan-led review and I must say the events I have seen the past few weeks have made this seem more urgent again.

"Unless the clubs and the Premier League and the EFL can get together urgently in order to support the game through this difficult period of time it does raise genuine questions about the governance of the sport."

English Football League (EFL) chairman Rick Parry has defended radical plans to overhaul the English top-flight after they were criticised by the Government and the Premier League.

Mr Parry insists Project Big Picture has been designed "for the greater good of English football", offering the best chance of securing the future of clubs outside the top flight.

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Mr Dowden explained that the fans would be appointed by the Government to be part of the panel
Mr Dowden explained that the fans would be appointed by the Government to be part of the panel. Picture: PA

Salford co-owner and former Manchester United defender Gary Neville said on Monday "there is too much good in this plan to dismiss it" and added on Twitter however many Premier League clubs are unhappy should be worked with.

"There are parts of the proposal that require negotiation," he said. "Let's get round the table please PL/EFL/FA/FSF. If it suits 9 PL clubs and maybe 72 EFL clubs then let's work with the other 11."

It is understood the deal has been three years in the making and while Chelsea have also been consulted, Parry praised Liverpool and United for showing leadership and responsibility.

The Premier League said the proposals would have a "damaging impact on the whole game" while the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it was "surprised and disappointed... backroom deals (are) being cooked up that would create a closed shop at the very top of the game".

But Parry said: "It is two of our great clubs showing leadership when it is needed, exercising great responsibility, and from the EFL point of view it is making our clubs sustainable and bridging the gap between the top of the Championship and the bottom of the Premier League.

"The cherry on the icing on the cake is the prospect of a £250million rescue fund immediately, which does of course help, but the principal part of the story is the biggest reset since the formation of the Premier League which, all being well, will set up the pyramid for the next 25 years.

"The proposal is designed for the greater good of English football."

However, that may not be enough to ease the proposal's adoption as a revamp of the Premier League voting system, giving greater power to the nine longest-serving clubs and abolishing the threshold of 14 votes to pass any resolution, is likely to meet with opposition.

So too the proposed introduction of a relegation play-off for the 16th-placed club against clubs in third, fourth and fifth in the Sky Bet Championship - even without the realistic possibility of four clubs being relegated in the changeover season bringing the top flight down to 18 members.

"In the Premier League's view, a number of the individual proposals in the plan published today could have a damaging impact on the whole game and we are disappointed to see that Rick Parry, chair of the EFL, has given his on-the-record support," said a Premier League statement.

"The Premier League has been working in good faith with its clubs and the EFL to seek a resolution to the requirement for Covid-19 rescue funding. This work will continue."

Parry does not believe either response throws a spanner in the works, suggesting the Premier League has had plenty of opportunity to come up with plans of their own.

"They (Premier League) could have come up with a plan like this at any time. How long has it taken to get a short-term rescue package even to the starting gate? Months," he added.

"The message from Liverpool and Manchester United and their ownership is they actually genuinely do care about the pyramid.

"This hasn't been rushed together, this isn't a Covid plan, it has been years in the thinking and months in the making."

On the Government's response he said: "It doesn't make it a non-starter at all. The merits of the idea shine through and it is absolutely about saving the pyramid."

Reacting to the developments, the Football Supporters' Association said it "notes the report with grave concern" and added: "As football's most important stakeholders, it is crucial that fans are consulted and involved in the game's decision-making."

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