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Sports minister urges top-flight clubs to support EFL and ‘those most in need’

Northampton Town v Hull City – Sky Bet League Two – Sixfields Stadium
(Image credit: Zac Goodwin)

The Government is looking for the Premier League to “play its part” to help the football pyramid through the crippling financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, sports minister Nigel Huddleston has said.

Despite successful pilots, the return of fans to sports events has been paused following new restrictions aimed at tackling rising infection rates nationally.

National League clubs have received an offer of financial aid from the Government which will help them start the season this weekend.

It had been hoped more fans would be able to watch live sporting action again from October 1

It had been hoped more fans would be able to watch live sporting action again from October 1 (Nigel French/PA)

It was feared that without Government intervention, many of the 67 member clubs could have faced financial ruin if they could not rely on matchday revenue.

The Premier League, though, remains under pressure to help provide a bail-out package for those clubs across the EFL and below, whose very existence is under threat following last week’s decision to keep turnstiles, which were due to re-open on a limited basis from October 1, closed.

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons tabled by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch on Government support for amateur and professional sport, Huddleston stressed dialogue was continuing over how best to channel support “focused on those that are desperately in need”.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said the Government support must go to

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said the Government support must go to “those most in need” (David Davies/PA)

“For football, we are asking the Premier League to support EFL clubs, the higher end of the football pyramid,” Huddleston told MPs.

“(On Tuesday), we also provided the National League with assurance that financial support from the Government will be forthcoming so they can start this season this Saturday.

“We have asked for detailed financial returns from all major spectator sports to see what support they need.

“We expect those returns by the end of (Wednesday) and any club in immediate financial distress should alert their sport’s governing body.”

There had been “constructive conversations” with the Premier League and EFL, Huddleston added.

The sports minister, though, did not confirm or deny whether the Premier League will have to foot the entire bill for any financial relief package for lower-league football clubs.

“They do recognise their responsibility,” he said. “They are at the top of the pyramid and it is perfectly fair and reasonable that those with the broadest shoulders carry the biggest burden.

“They accept that and understand that, and we are working on those details at the moment.”

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Labour MP Chris Evans said British football’s top 100 earners should consider donating a week’s wages to support community clubs across the country.

Evans, MP for Islwyn, proposed the creation of a trust funded by high-earning footballers, some with wages of “£350,000 a week, £500,000 a week,” he said, after pushing for the expansion of community ownership for sports clubs.

Huddleston replied: “Both now and in the future, I encourage all stakeholders in sports to do the right thing and play their part, and he’s making some good points about voluntary donations as well as what we will be requiring and expecting from sport at various levels.

“He’s also highlighting some innovative models and business models which again I think should be looked at very, very carefully.”

Premier League Brighton were one of the clubs to take part in a pilot event for the return of supporters

Premier League Brighton were one of the clubs to take part in a pilot event for the return of supporters (Adam Davy/PA)

Huddleston also confirmed technologies are being considered with the aim of potentially opening sport sooner than having a vaccine.

“We will not pursue wasteful initiatives, we are very aware and conscious of making sure public money is spent very carefully, and we have conversations with the Treasury about those very topics,” the sports minister said.

Huddleston, though, defended the decision to put the return of fans to sports venues on hold.

The planned return of fans to grounds from October 1 have been paused

The planned return of fans to grounds from October 1 have been paused (Steven Paston/PA)

“We all want our fans back in stadia as soon as possible. Sport without fans is poorer in so many ways,” he said.

“We did trial the return of fans with 12 successful pilot events, however, rising infection rates across the country meant that the Government had to act and we could not proceed on October 1 as planned.

“We have to contain the virus and given the backdrop of rising infection rates we had to press the pause button.”