There has been a great deal of speculation about the future of football on these shores, following a series of concerning events and the general influx of investment from overseas over the course of the last decade.
These issues led to an independent, fan-led review into football governance in the UK, which was led by MP Tracey Crouch and delivered its initial findings last July. More recently, the review published its final report, which set out 47 recommendations to help safeguard the future of football on these issues.
But what events conspired to lead us to this point, and what are the main proposals to have originated from the review?
The Case for an Independent Fan-Led Review
There were several triggers for the independent, fan-led review, starting with the collapse of Bury FC. One of English football’s oldest clubs and institutions, the 134-year-old entity was forced to close its doors in August 2019 after a potential rescue package collapsed at the last minute.
This jarring event was soon compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused huge financial issues for lower league clubs and exacerbated the struggles of those in the lower echelons of the English football pyramid.
Then came the catalyst for change, as the so-called “big six” Premier League clubs joined a number of European giants in an attempt to form a European Super League.
Although it was argued that this move would ultimately create a more lucrative iteration of the Champions League and not necessarily replace domestic football, critics argued that its lack of competitiveness and accessibility would further exacerbate the financial chasm between Europe’s elite clubs and the rest.
This move sparked outrage and fan protests nationwide, forcing owners to perform a rapid U-turn and withdraw from the proposal. However, a bitter taste remained, while the move also undermined the government’s trust in football’s existing governance structures and encouraged them to legislate.
The biggest issue here was a perceived conflict of interest, with influential clubs at the top of the pyramid and organisations like the Premier League arguably preoccupied with the desire to optimise the financial value of English football as a commercial product.
This raised concerns that future decisions would continue to be taken at the expense of smaller clubs and the wider integrity of the game. So, a fan-led review was announced on April 19th 2021, with a number of fascinating proposals having been made as a result.
The Three Main Proposals From the Fan-Led Review
At the heart of the findings is the recommendation that the government should create a new, independent regulator for English football (referred to as the IREF).
This regulator will have a number of clearly-defined responsibilities, including the following:
1. The Focus on Sustainability:
The IREF will have the statutory and primary objective of ensuring that English football is sustainable, transparent and enduringly competitive going forward. This is to aid existing and future fans and clubs lower down the pyramid, while also delivering investment into the local communities that clubs serve.
2. Licensing Operational Clubs:
To achieve such objectives, the IREF will utilise a licensing system, under which each club operating in professional football (from the National League upwards) will be required to apply for and hold qualifying accreditation. Of course, licensing would be based on a number of stringent conditions, with fees based on a sliding scale pertaining to broadcasting revenues.
3. Introducing a Financial Regulation Scheme:
Similar to the Financial Fair Play (FFP) guidelines introduced by UEFA, the IREF would be tasked with introducing and operating a financial regulation regime. The main objective of this would be to maintain fiscal fairness, as clubs will most likely be forced to limit their spending on wages, transfers and agents’ fees to a fixed percentage of their total revenue. This is the most contentious proposal of all and likely to see significant pushback from some EPL clubs.
The Last Word
These proposals are far-reaching and potentially game-changing for English football, while the IREF would have to create a system of advocacy to help clubs comply with any new rules that were introduced.
Unsurprisingly, the club’s at the higher end of the football pyramid in England have questioned aspects of the fan-led review, particularly ambitious entities who are looking to join the EPL elite and don’t want their spending restricted in this regard.
However, the ultimate aim of the review is to create a fairer structure within the English game, with a more even distribution of wealth and the introduction of checks and balances that curb the excesses of the richest clubs.
This should also benefit the grassroots of the English game, in terms of increased investment and clearer paths for young players to progress their careers.