Government review of English football will look at treatment of fans

A government-led review of English football in the wake of the European Super League debacle will examine the ways fans are treated by clubs as well as wider issues of ownership and governance, it has emerged.

Among possible areas to be examined by Tracey Crouch, the Tory MP and former sports minister, could be matches which are scheduled so late in the evening that away fans are unable to catch a train home afterwards, with supporters’ views seen as key.

The formal terms of reference for the process could be published as early as next week, and it is hoped it will be completed within a few months.

While the government had already promised a review into the English game – and had already earmarked Crouch to lead it – the timetable has been hastened and intensified by government fury over the move by six English clubs to sign up to a pan-Europe league in which they would be exempt from relegation.

Government threats to use legislation if needed to scupper the idea were made unnecessary after a series of clubs pulled out less than 48 hours after the league was announced. But club owners now face the prospect of emboldened ministers, aware of strong public sentiment on the issue, pushing through radical changes anyway.

Crouch’s review will look into three main areas: the financial sustainability of the English game; the experience of fans, including at matches; and the wider governance and ownership of clubs.

On the last area, options that Crouch is expected to look at include the so-called 50%+1 German model for club ownership, where fans have to possess a majority stake, or other ways to give fans’ groups a greater say or veto on major decisions.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson used prime minister’s questions to talk up the prospect of fans being given a statutory say in the running of clubs.

Crouch, Johnson told MPs, “will do a root and branch investigation into the governance of football and what we can do to promote the role of fans in that governance”.

One of the key worries about the ESL plans “was that they would have taken clubs that take their names from English town and cities and turn them just into global brands with no relation to the fans, to the communities, that gave them life and that give them the most love and support”, Johnson said.

The owners of Manchester United and Liverpool, two of the clubs that had signed up to the European Super League, issued extensive apologies to their fans on Wednesday after being criticised both for joining the league and then for their initial reluctance to explain their decision to withdraw. Joel Glazer, the co-owner of United, said: “Although the wounds are raw and I understand that it will take time for the scars to heal, I am personally committed to rebuilding trust with our fans and learning from the message you delivered with such conviction.”

John W Henry, the principal owner of Liverpool, said: “Over these 48 hours you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you … And I hope you’ll understand that even when we make mistakes, we’re trying to work in your club’s best interests. In this endeavour I’ve let you down.”

Prince William, the president of the Football Association, who had voiced his opposition to the super league, tweeted: “I’m glad the united voice of football fans has been heard and listened to. It is now really important that we use this moment to secure the future health of the game at all levels.”

Speaking earlier the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, noted that no German clubs had sought to join the ESL, and that this appeared to be because of the fan-based ownership structure.

“I think we should look at it,” Dowden told LBC about the German idea. “International investment in football has been a good thing. It has increased the quality of the game and the players and everything else, but I do think it is right that we look at how fans can have a stake in the game.”

Sources say Dowden decided on Sunday evening, when the ESL plan was announced, that the government should vigorously oppose it. On ownership, the government view appears to be not that clubs owned by overseas billionaires is necessarily a bad thing, just that fans’ views needed to be reflected.

Dowden’s department has already had close involvement with examining the finances of football because of its involvement in helping arrange the Premier League’s £250m rescue package for lower-league clubs struggling due to Covid.

The Guardian

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