A football reform group lead by Gary Neville have taken their campaign to overhaul the national game to another level, by introducing a Bill in Parliament to create an independent regulator.
The former Manchester United full-back has joined forces with other heavyweights, including former FA chairman David Bernstein, ex-FA executive director David Davis and former sports minister, Helen Grant MP, in demanding fundamental change in how the game is run.
The group, Saving the Beautiful Game, believes the existing governing bodies – the Football Association, Premier League and English Football League – are fragmented and self-interested, and cannot provide the leadership required to safeguard the future of football.
The campaign group, ‘Saving the Beautiful Game’, is calling for reform of football governance
And the campaign gathered pace on Tuesday afternoon, when Grant, a former Conservatoive sports minister, stood up in the House of Commons to make an impassioned speech in support of reform.
The member for Maidstone and The Weald introduced the Football (Regulation) Bill, with cross-party support, demanding the creation of a new regulator.
‘Our national game is in crisis, said Grant. ‘These issues are not new but have been amplified by the Covid pandemic, during which football has failed to speak with one voice.
‘We have seen much-loved clubs go to the wall and sadly, many more may follow.
‘At the heart of this is broken governance and gross financial disparity between rich clubs and poor clubs and unsustainable business models.’
Grant has introduced a Bill which proposes to create an independent regulator or football
Grant introduced the proposed legislation under the Ten-Minute Rule Bill procedure, meaning she was given the opportunity to outline the merits of the proposals in front of MPs, even if its chances of eventually being passed as legislation will depend on whether it receives parliamentary time.
The MP, who spent almost three years in David Cameron’s Government, used the chance to rip through the current football governance structure, dismissing the FA as ‘outdated and out of touch’ and she said the Premier League was ‘marking their own homework’ by setting up its own governance review.
‘Does anyone seriously expect them to make the radical and fundamental changes needed across the professional and grassroots game? I think not.’
Former Manchester United full-back Gary Neville is part a group calling for reform
‘Now is the time to for fundamental reform. That can only be achieved through the creation of an independent football regulator.’
The MP highlighted issues, which she said showed governance had failed in recent months.
Her list included, a lack of decisive leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, the resignation of the FA chairman, Greg Clarke, after he referred to black footballers as “coloured” while giving evidence to MPs, and a ‘tragically slow’ response of the football authorities to the dementia crisis now gripping the game.
One of the criticisms of football is the huge disaprity in wealth between rich and poor clubs
Grant said only an independent regulator could distribute funds fairly and protect clubs from ‘maladministration, blinkered leadership and commercial suicide’, as well as modernise the FA and work with supporters’ groups to advance issues that matter to them.
Grant added: ‘Ultimately it is loyal football supporters and clubs who suffer the most.
‘[Football clubs are] societal assets at the beating hearts of town and cities making a huge contribution to the culture and identity of our nation.
‘Surely we have responsibility to protect them.’
Gary Neville (right) has urged Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to hurry up and consider the reform of football governance by organising the promised ‘fan-led review’
Grant was supported outside Parliament by Neville, who took to the airwaves to make similar points.
Speaking to BBC R4 Today Programme, Neville said: ‘Football, at this moment in time, is doing what it has done for the past 20 or 30 years, which is when the pinch points come it struggles to govern in the best interests of all.’
The Saving the Beautiful Game group revealed a Manifesto for Change in October, after the country’s biggest clubs, led by Manchester United and Liverpool, tried unsuccessfully to force through a restructure of English football, which would have concentrated even more wealth and power in their hands through Project Big Picture.
Football fans could have a say in how the sport is governed under a government review
The Manifesto claims the “dysfunctional and damaging existing structure” of football has been highlighted by its inability to mount a convincing response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Government has pledged to organise a fan-led review of football governance, but is yet to publish terms of reference.
A summit meeting on the future of English football was held in November and chaired by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, which included a wide range of stakeholders, such as football’s governing bodies, David Bernstein, supporters’ groups, the PFA, Kick It Out, among others.
Former FA chairman David Bernstein has delivered a grim assessment of how football is run
The meeting was organised by the Department of Culture Media and Sport and and was presented as a first step in the review process.
Meanwhile, the Premier League has pledged itself to undertake its own review of football governance, which is due to report in March.
Despite the criticism of the Premier League and EFL over the disparities in funding between rich and poor, the bodies did ultimately agree a package of support for clubs affected by the coronavirus below the top tier in December.
As well as the £200m loan facility for Championship sides, there was also financial support for League One and Two clubs, which amounted to £30m in grants and £20m in ‘monitored grants’, which means the latter will only have to be repaid if the recipient club breaches the terms relating to wages and transfer spend.
The scheme means that each club will receive a minimum payment of £375,000 in League One and £250,000 in League Two. And clubs can apply for additional money in ‘monitored grants based on need.
‘Saving the Beautiful Game – Manifesto for Change’ key recommendations
- Create a new regulatory body for football that is independent of the current structure of the game
- Decide on new ways of distributing funds to the wider game based on a funding formula and a fair levy payable by the Premier League
- Set up a new and comprehensive licensing system for the professional game
- Review causes of financial stress in the English Football League, including parachute payments and salary caps
- Implement governance reforms at the FA which are essential to ensure it is truly independent, diverse and representative of English football today
- Liaise with supporters’ organisations
- Learn lessons from abroad and champion supporter involvement in the running of clubs