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Football Governance: Fan-led Review

Volume 695: debated on Thursday 20 May 2021

Football is nothing without fans, so it has been a joy to see them back cheering on their teams this week, and we stand unequivocally on the side of fans. Our manifesto committed to putting them front and centre of our review of football governance and we are delivering on that. That is why I appointed my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) as chair and, this weekend, I will announce the membership of the expert panel, which will include players, management, regulators and, of course, fans. This is a serious review; I know people want to see change and this review will deliver it.

I am sure the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating Hull City on being league one champions this year. Hull City are one of many examples in recent years of where football club owners have not had the best of relationships with their fans. The recent breakaway attempt by the European super league cartel of greed brought many of the issues that concern fans to a head. Fans do not just pay a lot to support their clubs; they are custodians of their heritage and they deserve respect. To avoid taking his eye off the ball, will he explain a bit more about exactly how fans will lead the fan-led review and when it will report back to the House?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. First, of course, I join her in congratulating Hull City. She is absolutely right that football clubs form the heart of their communities and, indeed, our heritage. It is essential that fans play a significant role in the fan-led review, and I have been discussing that extensively with my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford.

In terms of explicit engagement, the chair will be engaging extensively with supporter trusts and fan groups over the coming weeks, but I understand that that will not work for everyone, so there will also be a consultation process, which we will set out. Of course, the chair, the Sports Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—and I will be engaging with parliamentarians as part of the review as well. On the question about timing, I would expect an interim report by the summer and a further report by the autumn.

There are two football teams in my life: Manchester United, who are No. 2 in the premiership, and Rochdale, who are sadly heading for league two of the football league. The idea that they are part of the same football pyramid has frankly been a nonsense for many years, but what unites the supporters of both those clubs and many more is the demands that we will never again see the ability for a European super league to take place, that the clammy hand, the dollar-studded fingers, of the corporates such as the Glazers be taken off the throat of football—that is so important—and that, once again, we will recreate a proper pyramid of football in this country. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will legislate to bring about those kinds of ends?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The points he made about the football pyramid are precisely why the terms of reference of the review, which we set out to the House, explicitly covered examining

“the flow of money through the football pyramid, including solidarity and parachute payments, and broadcasting revenue.”

I have said before, and am happy to say again, that I have set up this review with someone who is genuinely independent in the form of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. I fully hope and expect to accept the recommendations, and should those require legislation, we will find time to do that.

As an MP for Coventry, where, in recent years, our football club has repeatedly forced fans to drive miles from the city to watch home matches, and as a diehard Liverpool fan, one of the clubs involved in the proposed breakaway European super league, I know fans’ anger at owners’ decisions all too well. Ultimately, this will be changed only with fan ownership, like the 50+1 rule in Germany, but the Government could make a more immediate change to improve this. On major decisions such as moving ground or forming a new league, they could require clubs to secure a 50% plus 1 majority of season-ticket holders. Will the Government heed that demand or will they just kick the problem into the long grass?

The hon. Lady mentions the governance structures in other countries. The terms of reference of the review explicitly say that we will be exploring

“governance structures in other countries, including ownership models, and whether any aspects could be beneficially translated to the English league system”.

The review will proceed at pace, as I set out in a previous answer, and we will then proceed at pace to implement any recommendations that follow from it.

The greed of the super-rich club owners who wanted to destroy the football pyramid, which benefits everybody, and proceed with their botched plans for a European super league has been well and truly kicked into touch by the power and solidarity of football fans across our country, but this Government helped to create the crisis by ignoring Labour’s calls for years and by failing to progress with a fan-led review of football governance, so would the Secretary of State like to apologise on behalf of the Government for failures and missed opportunities and tell us exactly when the review will report back to this House?

I do not intend to apologise. I would have expected the hon. Gentleman to welcome the robust action that this Government took, standing behind fans and standing alongside the nation, in stopping these outrageous proposals. On the fan-led review, while Labour has talked for years and years, it is this Government who are actually delivering on it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

“Guess what? Next time you come into the stadium you will be paying, son, not playing.”

That is how one youngster of my acquaintance had his dreams crushed by a Premier League club when being released as a player. With the fan-led review into football, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), under way, does the Minister agree that it needs to be more than about the architecture of our national game and that it needs to incorporate a review of how clubs treat the 98% of young people who do not make it, how they equip them for life beyond football, and how they safeguard them and their mental health?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I have discussed with him. As ever, he is absolutely right. Clubs clearly owe an obligation and a duty of care particularly to the young people they work with, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford will consider those points. As my hon. Friend is aware, the Football Association has recently received a report on safeguarding and has committed to implementing all its recommendations. We will certainly be holding the FA to account for doing that.

Given that there was a Select Committee report and a Government response saying that they would legislate 10 years ago, it is a bit rich for the Secretary of State to claim that he is acting swiftly—but anyway, that aside, given the announcement only last week that the Government are prepared to set aside competition objections to preserve the status quo for three years, he will understand the healthy scepticism at the idea that the Government genuinely want change. So to answer that scepticism, will he confirm that, by the end of this Parliament, we will see a better model of redistribution in football that will see more money shift down the pyramid—yes or no?

The hon. Lady is conflating two issues about competition law and the Premier League. The Sports Minister has set out the Government’s position in a written ministerial statement. This is about securing football finances during a period of crisis, and it is essential that we do that. Clearly we will all have an open mind as we get the response, but the reason for considering this is that we want to ensure that money keeps going into the game.

On the point about change, of course that is precisely why I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, who I know the hon. Lady has worked closely with in the past, and I think we can trust her to come up with serious recommendations to address precisely the issues that the hon. Lady raises. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of that review, but I can give an assurance that I will deliver on the outcome of the review as much as we possibly can. I am not pre-empting it, but we will find legislative time for doing so.