Gary Neville ‘unnerved’ by reports new football regulator plans could be shelved

Labour Party Conference 2022
(Image credit: Stefan Rousseau)

Gary Neville said he had been “unnerved” by reports the Government was preparing to shelve plans for an independent regulator for football.

The Government gave its formal backing to the idea of a regulator in April in its formal response to the fan-led review, but The Times reported that Prime Minister Liz Truss and her new administration could be set to abandon those plans.

The Labour Party committed itself to bringing forward the legislation needed to underpin a regulator at its annual conference on Monday should the Conservatives not do so.

A White Paper setting out the regulator’s remit had initially been due for publication in the summer before the upheaval in the Conservative Party leadership. The departure of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has led to question marks over the regulator’s future, but Neville has not yet lost hope.

Neville, a big advocate of independent regulation in football, said at a Labour Party Conference fringe event on Monday: “It’s a really easy win for Liz Truss and her Cabinet to bring forward and execute what’s already been set out in the (fan-led review) recommendations.

“(Fan-led review chair) Tracey Crouch is a very credible MP who has done a brilliant job on behalf of football.

“The cross has been played into the box, all Liz Truss needs to do with the other Cabinet ministers is head it into the back of the net.

“I think we’re a little unnerved at the moment. We’re a little nervous at the moment about the fact that last week there were rumours that potentially the regulator would be scrapped.

“But I am going to stay calm for now because I have not had it validated or verified by Government.”

Fair Game, a campaign group featuring EFL sides and other clubs further down the pyramid which supports independent regulation for football, welcomed the stance Labour had taken.

“This is a welcome shot in the arm for football clubs across the pyramid,” Fair Game chief executive Niall Couper said.

The Times has reported that Liz Truss and her Government could be prepared to abandon plans for an independent regulator in football

The Times has reported that Liz Truss and her Government could be prepared to abandon plans for an independent regulator in football (Toby Melville/PA)

“Football outside the top echelons has been ignored for too long. The pandemic was a hard pill to swallow for lower league clubs. But the cost-of-living crisis has made it even worse, leaving dozens of hard-working community clubs in intensive care.

“Football urgently needs an independent regulator. It is now up to the Conservatives to complete the treatment before it becomes terminal and decades of history and tradition disappear forever.”

EFL chairman Rick Parry, speaking at the same event as Neville, said redistribution of finances had to go hand in hand with better regulation, and again called for an end to parachute payments as part of an increased 25 per cent share of Premier League broadcast revenue going to the pyramid.

He said the riches on offer in the Premier League had turned the Championship into an economic “basket case”.

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“On the debate about redistribution in football, we are getting precisely nowhere,” he said.

“Why does it matter? Well I guess the fundamental question is, do we value the pyramid? We do, and we think the Premier League should as well.

“You need redistribution to make (EFL clubs) solvent and you need regulation to make them sustainable.

“The point we made to (fan-led review chair) Tracey (Crouch) was, you cannot have regulation without redistribution. Because we can save the regulator a lot of trouble by pointing out that two-thirds of our clubs are insolvent.”

EFL chairman Rick Parry says redistribution of the game's finances has to go hand in hand with better regulation

EFL chairman Rick Parry says redistribution of the game’s finances has to go hand in hand with better regulation (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Premier League and its clubs are understood to be discussing proposals for a ‘New Deal For Football’ which would change how money from the top flight is distributed to the pyramid.

It is understood many clubs feel there is a decreased sense of urgency to get a deal done under the new Government, but discussions are continuing over the proposals.

Kevin Miles, the chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, said: “The only people I come across now who are not in favour of independent regulation of football and the thrust of that report are ideologues – probably political weirdos who have an ideological resistance to the idea of state involvement or independent regulation interfering with the market, and that’s a pretty narrow end of the spectrum at the moment.

“And then the others are those with a blatant vested interest, because I don’t think that the threat of a European breakaway Super League has entirely receded.”

The Government brought forward the commissioning of the fan-led review in April last year in the wake of attempts to form a European Super League which included the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ clubs.

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