Boris Johnson urged to keep election promise of a fan-led review of football

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to bring forward a fan-led review of football promised in the Conservatives' General Election manifesto
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to bring forward a fan-led review of football promised in the Conservatives' General Election manifesto (PA Wire)
14:18pm, Fri 06 Nov 2020
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to fulfil a General Election promise and kick off a fan-led review of football.

Ian Mearns, the Labour MP for Gateshead and chair of the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters, has written to the PM warning that the football pyramid faces a “fundamental and existential crisis” as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mearns’ letter also referenced the Project Big Picture proposals which emerged last month, which if implemented would have represented the biggest change to professional football in England for a generation.

Project Big Picture has exposed a deeply concerning agenda by some clubs who are in the best financial position to support the pyramid.

PBP was formally rejected by Premier League clubs within days of it becoming public knowledge, but Mearns is also concerned about the direction of the strategic review which is continuing instead.

Mearns wrote: “Right now, the football pyramid faces a fundamental and existential crisis and while there were hopes that the return of fans to stadia across the UK this month, this is now understandably not possible for the foreseeable future.”

Mearns added: “The Covid-19 disruption has brought to the fore some of the many challenges, both financial and at a governance level, which have been allowed to fester out of the spotlight for decades.

“There is now the very real possibility of a number of clubs falling into administration in the coming months without urgent financial support.

“Project Big Picture has exposed a deeply concerning agenda by some clubs who are in the best financial position to support the pyramid; trying to manipulate that support to increase their own power within the game.

“While this proposal appears to have been rejected in the first instance, it is most concerning to read of the newly established review conducted by the Premier League and administered by an American-based consultancy who are reportedly exploring all options including the naked power grab by football’s top clubs.

Liverpool, and their owner John W Henry, were involved in Project Big Picture discussions (PA Archive)

“It is becoming increasingly urgent that the Government intervene in this process and deliver on its promises.”

PBP was described by the Football Supporters’ Association last month as a “sugar-coated cyanide pill”.

On the one hand, it promised an immediate £250million rescue package to the EFL’s cash-starved clubs and a 25 per cent share of future Premier League media revenues, but it was also criticised for concentrating power in the top-flight’s big six clubs.

The Boston Consultancy Group is the “American-based consultancy” Mearns’ letter refers to.

It is understood BCG was appointed early on to assist in the Premier League’s strategic review process which began in February, separately to the PBP talks.

Mearns added: “We are lucky in England to have a comprehensive competition structure from grassroots to the Premier League, revered across the world, which has been left to self-govern with a detrimental impact on sustainability.

“In the last six months football has faced the acute challenges which have arisen from a lack of proper governance over decades.

“I believe we have a very real opportunity to effect positive change which would allow the pyramid to exist but to do so in much more sustainable way, which protects fans of clubs from unscrupulous behaviour putting their clubs at risk.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said last month that the fan-led review would have to be brought forward “imminently” if the Premier League and the EFL could not settle their differences over PBP.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, EFL chairman Rick Parry and Football Association chairman Greg Clarke are all due to face the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee next week over the failure to agree a pandemic bailout, and over the future of the football pyramid.

FA chairman Greg Clarke faces questions from MPs next week (PA Wire)

As part of the Premier League’s strategic review, it is understood a working group comprised of a cross-section of club representatives is developing initial recommendations to put to the clubs at a shareholders’ meeting next month.

Those initial recommendations will cover areas such as the competition’s structure – whether to stick with 20 clubs or cut to 18 as proposed in PBP – deal with calendar issues like scrapping the Carabao Cup and tackle broadcasting arrangements.

Governance and revenue distribution will then be looked at next year.

On the bailout, the Premier League has made an offer of grants and loans to EFL clubs, but EFL board member Steve Curwood told PA on Wednesday that it “barely touched the sides” of what was needed and called on the Government to provide financial assistance.

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