Minister’s threat: New laws to tame football fatcats after European Super League

Joe Murphy and Nicholas Cecil
·5 min read
<p>“We will not have our national game taken away from us for profit,” said Culture Secretary <a href=

“We will not have our national game taken away from us for profit,” said Culture Secretary

Oliver Dowden

(AFP via Getty Images)" />

Football’s fat cat bosses today faced being reined in by new competition laws and an official regulator after their bid to launch a breakaway league collapsed in disarray.

They were warned by a Cabinet minister that the greed would never again be allowed to endanger the “cherished national game”.

Penalties being considered alongside a fan-led review of the game could include an Ofcom-style independent regulator — a national referee with powers to call out behaviour that undermines healthy competition and fair funding.

Fans will get more say, possibly through new ownership, and owners could be tamed by competition laws reflecting the importance of the sport.

“We will not have our national game taken away from us for profit,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. Football, he said, deserved the same protection as historic cathedrals and galleries because it was “as much part of our national heritage as our great stately homes”.

Today’s pledges of action followed an astonishing drama last night as the six English clubs who signed up to the European Super League lost their nerve in the face of fans’ fury.

The collapse started with reports that Chelsea were going pull out after 1,000 supporters staged an angry protest at Stamford Bridge. Manchester City then withdrew.

Arsenal and Tottenham, the other London sides involved, later pulled out along with Liverpool and Manchester United.

Manchester United chief Ed Woodward, one of the key figures behind the “league of greed”, resigned after a reported showdown with his team’s players, including captain Harry Maguire.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said the club “regret the anxiety and upset caused by the proposal” while Arsenal apologised for their “mistake” in signing up for the venture.

The disastrous £3.45 billion venture left the sport facing chaos, with rumours of some wealthy owners putting clubs up for sale and more executive jobs on the line.

Liverpool’s principal owner John W Henry said: “I want to apologise to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the last 48 hours.”

The focus quickly turned to what measures the Government will now take to protect football better from rapacious businessmen and insensitive owners causing a similar crisis in future.

Boris Johnson indicated that action was on the way by tweeting: “We must continue to protect our cherished national game.”

Mr Dowden gave further clues during a round of interviews. Pressed on what legislation could come forward, he said he was impressed by German rules that ensure fans have a stake in ownership and prevent owners having outright control.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I welcome foreign investment in the UK game..the English’s ensured that we have a fantastic game up and down the country, pretty much every day we have world-class players playing.

“But I do think it’s important that as part of the fan-led review, we look at how we can empower fans.

“It’s interesting for me to look at what happened in Germany. German clubs did not participate because fans had a strong stake in it.”

He also highlighted French laws governing the sale of clubs. “Competition law, for example in France, also takes into account national heritage and cultural implications and it’s important that we weigh those up.”

PA Wire
PA Wire

Mr Dowden would not rule out appointing an Ofcom-style regulator to oversee football. “The fan-led review will look at this,” he told LBC Radio.

“Clearly we have got to get a balance. .... The game is rightly self-governed, but I do think it is right that we look at governance questions like that, and that will not be off the table.”

Former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch was appointed on Monday to lead a review of the sport. Mr Dowden vowed: “We don’t intend to let this go, we intend to proceed following that review.”

All sides were united in agreeing that the passion of fans, some of whom staged noisy demonstrations, had won the day.

“Fans of football up and down the country should savour this - it’s their victory,” said Mr Dowden.

“They stood up and said ‘you can’t take our game away from us’.”

He told Sky: “This is as much part of our national heritage as our great stately homes, our galleries and museums, our theatres, our cathedrals, and we as a government will do whatever it takes to step up to protect it.”

Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli said the Super League project cannot proceed following the withdrawal of the six Premier League clubs.

Agnelli was one of the chief architects of the breakaway plans, which involved 12 clubs from England, Spain and Italy.

“To be frank and honest no, evidently that is not the case,” he said, when asked whether the Super League could still happen.

“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project, of the value that it would have developed to the pyramid, of the creation of the best competition in the world, but evidently no. I don’t think that project is now still up and running.”

The biggest crisis in the beautiful game for a generation was sparked by plans football revealed on Sunday for the six English teams to join Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan to create a rival competition to the Champions League.

It attracted particular anger because the small elite would be spared from relegation, regardless of how well or badly they fared on the field, although five of the best-performing teams from outside the league would be invited to participate each year.

It led to calls for the clubs involved to be expelled from the Premier League amid suggestions that their players could be barred from representing their countries in the World Cup or the European Championship.

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