Boris Johnson has said the government will seek to put fans at the heart of how English football is run, raising the prospect that the influence of billionaire club owners could be greatly reduced even after the demise of the European Super League.
Asked at prime minister’s questions about the now-abandoned plan by six English clubs to join a cross-Europe league where the majority of teams would be exempt from relegation, Johnson said the government would push ahead with a wider review of the game.
Responding to the plan earlier in the week, Downing Street promised to legislate if needed to scupper the proposal, but also announced a longer-term review into how the English game is run, led by Tracey Crouch, the Conservative MP and former sports minister.
Crouch, Johnson told MPs, “will do a root and branch investigation into the governance of football and what we can do to promote the role of fans in that governance”.
One of the key worries about the ESL plans “was that they would have taken clubs that take their names from English town and cities and turn them just into global brands with no relation to the fans, to the communities, that gave them life and that give them the most love and support”, Johnson said.
While Downing Street has refused to say what measures could be taken following the much-criticised move by Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham to sign up to the new league alongside teams from Spain and Italy, one possibility being considered is a greater role for fans.
Options that Crouch is expected to look at is the so-called 50%+1 German model for club ownership, where fans have to possess a majority stake, or other ways to give fans’ groups a greater say or veto on major decision.
Speaking earlier on Wednesday the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, also said the review would look at the German model.
“The German clubs didn’t participate in this [Super League] proposal. One of the points that was made to me by fans when the prime minister and I met with them was the fact that there was that financial stake,” he told LBC radio.
“I think we should look at it,” he said. “International investment in football has been a good thing. It has increased the quality of the game and the players and everything else … but I do think it is right that we look at how fans can have a stake in the game.”
Dowden paid tribute to the fans whose pressure prompted the withdrawal of the six English clubs initially signed up for the breakaway competition, leaving the project in tatters, but warned that more needed to be done.
Speaking on Sky News, Dowden said: “It’s very important that we don’t see this as the end of the process. What this is highlighting, more than ever, is the need to look at the wider governance of football … to look at how we address local governance, football finance and indeed the whole fan experience.”
“This is as much part of our national heritage as our great stately homes, our galleries, our museums out our theatres, our cathedrals, and we as a government will do whatever it takes to step up to protect it. And I’m very glad that working with fans, we have given strength to fans in stopping this and I pay tribute to all of the fans – and we saw it last night with Chelsea fans – they won’t put up with this and I’m glad that clubs have listened to it.”
Chelsea were the first Premier League to pull out on Tuesday, only 48 hours after Sunday’s bombshell announcement about the creation of the league. Manchester City were next, before Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham completed the U-turn by English clubs.
They had been the subject of a furious backlash of fans, players and managers over the past two days. The UK government had threatened legislation to derail the project, while there was also a royal intervention from Prince William.