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Bold plan to protect long-term future of English football

Football fans and their clubs will be given greater protections under a radical transformation of the rules governing how football is run in England

  • New independent regulator to help prevent repeat of financial failings seen at Derby County, Bury and Macclesfield Town
  • Strengthened owners’ and directors’ test to protect clubs and their fans from unscrupulous owners
  • Fans given greater say in running of clubs, and key heritage such as team names, badges and stadia at core of new plans
  • Powers to block English clubs from joining unpopular breakaway leagues like the European Super League
  • Plans follow the Government accepting recommendations from the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance, led by Tracey Crouch CBE MP

For the first time, a new independent regulator for the men’s elite game will be established in law to oversee the financial sustainability of the game and put fans back at the heart of how football is run.

The regulator will implement a new licensing system from the top flight down to the National League, requiring clubs to demonstrate sound financial business models and good corporate governance as part of an application process before being allowed to compete.

It will guarantee fans a greater say in the strategic running of their clubs and help protect clubs’ heritage to stop owners changing names, badges and home shirt colours without consulting fans. It will require clubs to seek regulator approval for any sale or relocation of the stadium, with fan engagement a major part of that process.

There will be new tests for owners and directors, ensuring good custodians of clubs, stronger due diligence on sources of wealth and a requirement for robust financial planning.

The regulator will have the power to prevent English clubs from joining new competitions that do not meet a predetermined criteria, in consultation with the FA and fans. That criteria could include measures to stop clubs participating in closed-shop breakaway competitions which harm the domestic game, such as the European Super League.

The English game remains one of the UK’s greatest cultural exports, with clubs and leagues around the world modelling themselves on its success. That is why the Government is today taking the necessary and targeted steps to ensure that continues for generations.

The move follows the Government’s 2019 manifesto commitment to deliver a fan-led review of football governance, in light of the failings at historic clubs such as Bury and Macclesfield Town which went out of business as a result of mismanagement. Those clubs are among 64 instances of a club being put into administration since 1992, when the Premier League was launched.

More recently, in 2021, plans for a breakaway European Super League by a select group of Premier League and other European elite clubs were shelved after widespread public condemnation and action from the Government and football authorities.

There continues to be serious financial risk in the leagues. Despite the global success of English football, the combined net debt of clubs in the Premier League and Championship had reached £5.9 billion by the end of the 2020/21 season.

In the same season, the Championship reported a wage-to-revenue ratio average of 125 per cent - meaning clubs were stretching themselves far beyond their means - and in recent months multiple clubs throughout the leagues have failed to meet their payroll. Derby County FC found itself on the brink of liquidation last year, and indications are that things continue to deteriorate across the leagues.

The Government launched a Fan-Led Review Of Football in 2021 and responded to it in April 2022.

Prime Minister RIshi Sunak said:

Since its inception over 165 years ago, English football has been bringing people together, providing a source of pride for communities and inspiration to millions of fans across the country.

Yet despite the success of the sport both at home and abroad, we know that there are real challenges which threaten the stability of clubs both big and small.

These bold new plans will put fans back at the heart of football, protect the rich heritage and traditions of our much-loved clubs and safeguard the beautiful game for future generations

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said:

I know how much football means to this country, and I want to see the domestic league continue its incredible success at home and abroad.

So today we are stepping in to secure the long-term future of the national game and put fans right back at the heart of how football is run.

Our plans will ensure that clubs manage their finances in a responsible way, and prevent unscrupulous owners from treating clubs as expendable commodities rather than the beloved community assets that they are.

This is about protecting the beautiful game, making sure we remain home to the strongest league in the world, and safeguarding clubs big and small across the country.

Sports Minister Stuart Andrew said:

My first major meeting as Sports Minister was with football fans. I heard how some clubs had suffered at the hands of owners who used and abused their stewardship.

Without fans, football clubs are nothing. That is why today we are putting fans back at the centre of football governance, and creating a stronger foundation for the continued growth and success of English football.

This new independent regulator will create an even stronger Premier League, English Football League and National League, so our pyramid of elite football remains the envy of leagues the world over.

Chair of the Fan Led Review of Football Governance Tracey Crouch CBE MP said:

This is a big day for football in this country and I am delighted the Government has acted on the key strategic recommendations in my review.

The introduction of a new independent regulator of football will strengthen our incredible pyramid, giving investors, fans and communities confidence in the governance of our clubs, enabling them to thrive in the best leagues in the world.

Football is nothing without its fans, and the announcement today will ensure they remain at its heart while it continues to grow at home and abroad.

Chief Executive of the Football Supporters Association Kevin Miles said:

The Football Supporters Association engaged in the fan-led review from day one and we warmly welcome the historic commitment from the Government to introduce an independent regulator of English football.

The football governance white paper clearly addresses our key concerns around ownership, rogue competitions and sustainability and of course we support any proposals that offer fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs.

We look forward to engaging with the Government on the next steps.

The Premier League remains the envy of club competitions around the world and the Government remains fully behind its continued success. But in order to secure the financial sustainability of clubs at all levels, a solution led by those running the leagues and their clubs is needed, and remains the Government’s preferred outcome.

However, if the football authorities cannot reach an agreement the regulator would have targeted powers of last resort to intervene and facilitate an agreement as and when necessary.

As part of its wide ranging remit the regulator will also:

  • Ensure club directors demonstrate good basic financial practices, have appropriate financial resources and protect the core assets of the club;
  • Improve governance through the introduction of a Football Club Corporate Governance Code;
  • Remain proportionate and adaptive in its approach with checks and balances embedded in its design;

In parallel with the publication of the white paper, the Government will also review the efficiency of the existing visa system for English football in attracting the best global talent while maintaining strong support for young domestic players to develop from the grassroots level.

The Government will now begin the process of engagement and further consultation with selected stakeholders on the key reforms set out in its white paper. Plans to bring forward legislation will be announced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Notes to editors

  • Former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s statement on the fan led review.
  • Tracey Crouch’s Fan Led Review of Football governance report.
  • 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 from the world of football, was submitted to the Government in November 2021, with 57 recommendations put forward in total, including ten key strategic recommendations.
  • 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.
  • The new test for prospective and current owners and directors will complement the current tests administered by the Premier League and English Football League.
  • The Government’s response to the Fan Led Review of Football Governance report.
  • In parallel with this white paper, an in-depth review into the future of domestic women’s football is well underway.
  • Led by former England and Great Britain footballer Karen Carney MBE, the review is looking at how to deliver bold and sustainable growth of the women’s game at elite and grassroots level. This is with a particular focus on assessing the potential audience reach and growth of the game, examining the financial health of the game, and examining the structures within women’s football. A full report will be published later this year.
  • The Government is continuing to consider the safety and economic case for piloting the sale and consumption of alcohol in sight of the pitch at matches in the men’s lower leagues, as per the recommendation within the fan-led review of football governance. It will continue to consult stakeholders on a way forward, including Safety Advisory Groups and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority.
  • Further details on the Home Office’s review of the existing visa system will be set out in due course.

Additional quotes as below:

David Clowes, owner of Derby County FC, said:

As a club, Derby County stared extinction in the face for far too long. We believe it is essential our supporters – and every other football fan – are given the strongest possible voice and backing if that helps ensure no other club is threatened in the same way. Since exiting administration, we have been working with a wide range of supporter stakeholders to bring in exactly the kind of measures outlined in this white paper, and we will continue to strive to implement them as quickly as possible.

Gary Sweet, Chief Executive at Luton Town Football Club, said:

As the Club that has experienced the greatest spread of positions in the pyramid over the last decade, we fully understand the importance of preserving the values of our beautiful game and care passionately about the protection of its heritage.

As is being rightly implemented in other important sectors of our society, football also needs a levelling up initiative to ensure our national game remains intact. Football has had ample time to repair itself without success, which is why the publication of the white paper is welcomed by everyone here at Kenilworth Road.

We look forward to an independent regulator to provide all clubs with the fairest opportunity to compete through sporting endeavour whilst operating sustainably, with the inclusion of supporters and influence on their communities.

Andrew Parkinson, Chief Executive at Plymouth Argyle Football Club, said:

As a transparent and values-led club that seeks to be financially and environmentally sustainable, we welcome the Fan Led Review and look forward to playing our role in the evolution of a more equitable game.

Fans are at the centre of what we do, and that was never more apparent than the period of time in which fixtures were played behind closed doors. The publication of the white paper and subsequent discussions provide an opportunity to make important progress on key issues such as regulation and, critically,  the distribution of revenues - focused on ensuring that the football pyramid at all levels can thrive.

Mark Palios, Chairman of Tranmere Rovers Football Club and former Chief Executive of The Football Association, said:

The white paper is a welcome response to Tracy Crouch’s excellent Fan Led Review. Full credit to the Government for setting in motion what could prove to be the first steps in protecting the unique football pyramid in this country.

The next step is to define the broad strategic priorities of the Independent Regulator and ensure that the role has the requisite powers to ensure implementation over the longer term.

A Notts County Football Club spokesperson said:

Notts County, the world’s oldest professional club, fully supports any action to safeguard the future of clubs and the structure of the globally-revered English football pyramid.

As we have seen with the tragic demise of Bury FC among others, and particularly following the challenges posed by Covid-19, many clubs are in a vulnerable position and in need of support and guidance.

Fans, who are the lifeblood of the game, also deserve to know that their interests are being prioritised and that attempts are being made to prevent them from ever having to go through the turmoil of losing their club or its identity.

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