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‘English football governance is broken’ – Helen Grant MP leads push for reform

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(Image credit: Jerry Young/English Heritage)

An MP has brought forward a bill to introduce an independent regulator in football, saying the current system of governance is “broken”.

Helen Grant, the Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald and a former sports minister, is part of a steering group which has put forward a ‘Manifesto for Change’.

Other members of the group include former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville and ex-Football Association chairman David Bernstein.

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The regulator formed part of a new Football (Regulation) Bill brought forward by Grant, and it is proposed that it would have the authority to distribute funds, implement a club licensing system, review the causes of financial stress within the game and “modernise and strengthen the FA”, an organisation she described as “outdated and out of touch”.

It follows a turbulent period in the English game, including the rejection of ‘Project Big Picture’ proposals put forward by Liverpool and Manchester United which would have placed greater decision-making power in the hands of the country’s biggest clubs, and months of negotiations over a rescue package for EFL clubs from the Premier League.

The English top flight is working on a strategic review, but Grant likened this to “a student marking their own homework” and said true independence was required to ensure the fair governance of football.

Grant told the Commons: “The governance of English football is broken. Our national game, the beautiful game, is in crisis.

“These issues are not new but have been laid bare and amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic during which, sadly, football has failed to speak with one voice.

Gary Neville

Former Manchester United player Gary Neville is among those backing the proposals (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We’ve seen much-loved clubs go to the wall, sadly many more may well follow.

“And at the heart of this is broken governance and gross financial disparities between the rich clubs and the poor clubs and unsustainable business models.

“Indeed, it’s staggering that the wage bills of Championship clubs are equal to 110 per cent of their revenues – just one example of the downward spiral as lower league clubs seek the financial nirvana that Premier League promotion dangles.

“Ultimately, it’s the loyal football supporters and communities up and down the country who suffer the most.

“Football is different to any other sector of the economy, it’s not just a business, this is our national sport.

“We in this place (the House of Commons) and the other place (the House of Lords) surely have responsibility to protect them from maladministration, blinkered leadership and commercial suicide.”

She said the proposed regulator would be “funded from within football” rather than public money and would not require the Government to run the game.

A specified date for Grant’s Bill to be heard a second time in Parliament has not been set and it would need Government support to progress.

The FA has previously said in response to the manifesto: “The Football Association plays a vital role in governing and regulating English football and our league structure and ecosystem is the envy of the world.

“We work hard to maintain this system, with a clear focus on the wider game; not just serving the elite level, but the whole football pyramid and throughout the grassroots game.

“As English football’s governing body, it is our responsibility to work together to determine what is best for our game as a whole, with full dialogue between all key stakeholders.

“Any changes have to be done in the right way and with a long-term perspective in mind. We are not interested in any changes that are designed to serve one area of the game, nor will we entertain ideas that are primarily in the interests of the few.

“If the Government would want to amend and increase our responsibilities and powers to further improve the system, then we would be happy to discuss that with them, and of course we would consult with the leagues in the process. But most importantly, any changes must benefit clubs, fans and players across the English game.

“The FA has a clear direction and ambitious targets to ensure English football continues to be a force for good across every level of the game.”