Ministers drew up radical plans to slash the cash the European Super League could earn from broadcast rights in Britain by forcing the ill-conceived project to be shown free-to-air, Sportsmail can reveal.
The extraordinary proposal was part of the ‘legislative bomb’ that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden were preparing to drop on the Big Six rebel clubs after they announced they were joining the breakaway league.
And that was just one strand in an explosive policy package under consideration, which also believed to have included the use of competition law and tax rules to block the power grab.
A Manchester City supporter joined Chelsea fans in protesting against the breakaway league
Fans protested across the country over plans for a European Super League
Prime Minister Boris Johnson considered an radical range of options for a ‘legislative bomb’
It was all designed to blow the plotters out of the water and shows just how far Johnson and Dowden were prepared to go to bring down the Super League and how frustrated government has become with some aspects of the national game and the self-interest of some clubs.
Their frustration with the national game – and the power structures that lie behind it – is now driving their determination to reform the game based on the outcome of a fan-led review, launched this week.
Sportsmail understands that politicians and civil servants were at action stations from late afternoon on Sunday. Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the Football Association, reportedly sounded the alarm over the Super League’s imminent announcement
Juventus chief Andrea Agnelliwas a key player in European Super League plans
With other party leaders equally appalled at the enrichment of a few clubs at the expense of the many, the path through Parliament was clear to enact any changes to the law.
On Tuesday, Johnson and Dowden met with football authorities and promised the government will consider using what the Prime Minister called ‘a legislative bomb’ to stop English clubs joining a breakaway.
As the politicians locked on to their targets, the fans took to the streets to protest at the abuse of their clubs. The club owners and executives were trapped in a pincer movement.
Typically, senior executives and the owners of the Big Six kept their heads down.
In a two-day siege they never sought contact with the government. But as they bunkered down, hoping the storm so skilfully whipped up by former lawyer and now UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin would pass, their lawyers must have explained the game was up.
Fans across Europe considered the closed shop Super League to be a step too far
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has launched a fan-led review into how football is run and he worked with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prepare a ‘legislative bomb’ to stop the Super League plotters
Suffering severe reputational damage and up against remarkably steadfast politicians prepared to use their trump card – Parliament – to change the law and block the hated project, surrender was the only option. And one by one they came out with their hands up.
Ministers were considering amending the Broadcasting Act 1996, which allows to Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport the power to draw up a list of sporting events of national interest. This means that the broadcast rights to these events must be offered to the main free-to-air terrestrial broadcasters on ‘fair and reasonable terms’.
Alarmingly for the Big Six, ministers are ready to push on with long-lasting review of how the national game is run with the same vigour.
Boris Johnson said in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that former sports minister Tracey Crouch will carry out ‘a root-and-branch investigation into the governance of football and into what we can do to promote the role of fans in that governance.’
Supporters gathered at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday in protest of the European Super League
Supporters also called on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to ‘do the right thing’
Essentially this signals the start of the government’s long-awaited fan-led review of football.
The appointment of Crouch, a Conservative MP is seen as a further signal that the government means business, given her expertise and reputation as an independent thinker.
And in the current climate she will have free rein in the review set up by the Culture Secretary.
‘You couldn’t ask for a better springboard for reform,’ reflected one source in the aftermath of the Super League debacle.
Dowden was outspoken over the previous power grab by football’s Big Six – Project Big Picture – and was disappointed by how much time and negotiation was required before the top flight agreed financial support for the lower leagues during the worst days of the pandemic.
When plans for the European Super League landed, his patience had reportedly run out.
‘The immediate legislation we were preparing to pull together was to deal with this immediate threat from this outrageous proposal,’ Dowden told Talksport.
While the fan-led review will be a longer-term process, officials insist the pace will not drop,
It will examine financial distribution, governance and the involvement and experience of fans. This is expected to encompass ideas around an independent regulator of football and how to involve supporters more directly in the governance of the game and clubs.
Dowden has revealed the government’s interest in the German model.
‘Naturally we’ve got to learn the lessons from the crisis in football financing during the COVID crisis,’ Dowden told the broadcaster. ‘We need to put this on a more sustainable footing.
‘For example, in the German leagues they have a different governance structure so it’s right we look at those things.
In this model, only 49 per cent of clubs are in private ownership.
Kevin Miles, chief executive, of the Football Supporters Association met with the Prime Minister to discuss the review of football earlier this week.
He said: ‘The events of the last few days, have cleared up once and for all any debate about whether or not the terms of reference of the fan-led review should be broad and far-reaching.
‘We are clearly at a juncture where the entire future of the game is at stake. And the review provides a once in a generation opportunity to protect the future of the game.’