Should fans have the final say? UK government plans to set up a new governing body for men’s football have prompted controversy.
Huge shake-up to future of English football
Should fans have the final say? UK government plans to set up a new governing body for men's football have prompted controversy.
"Football belongs to us, not you". At around 6pm on Tuesday 20 April 2021, hundreds of Chelsea football fans blocked the entrance to the club's home stadium at Stamford Bridge.
The message was simple. They were protesting against the news that 12 top European football teams, including Chelsea, were planning to break away from UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) and form a "super league", replacing the long-standing "Champions' League". However, later that evening, not only Chelsea, but each of the six British teams involved, had dropped out of the plans.
Nearly two years on, in what is being called the "biggest shake-up to football ownership in years", the British government has announced plans to set up a new "football regulator" - a governing body which will have the power to control various aspects of men's football in the UK.
The government has decided to set up football's new regulatory body for several reasons. In contrast to the "super league" plans, teams will only be able to compete in approved tournaments. The regulator will also prevent the closure of historic clubs that cannot afford to stay in business by sharing money from wealthier clubs, as well as setting up tests in which club owners must prove they are suitable for the job and have built their own wealth legally.
In addition, the regulator will insist that fans are involved when it comes to decisions such as choosing the logo, kit and names of their teams. Explaining the plans, the government commented: "The English game remains one of the UK's greatest cultural exports. That is why the government is taking the necessary... steps to ensure that continues for generations." 1
The new announcement raises vital questions for the future of "the beautiful game". How much should fans be involved with the running of their clubs? Should clubs be left to govern themselves independently? If they can afford to, should anyone be allowed to buy and own a British football club? And if not, why not?
Some key figures in football were unimpressed with the new plans, believing that too much interference could prevent football clubs from attracting new financial investors and becoming more successful. The Premier League said it appreciated the government's "commitment" to protecting the league's success, but also added: "It is vital regulation does not damage the game or its ability to attract investment and grow interest."
Non-football fans may argue that none of this really matters, especially at a time when wars are raging around the world and the cost-of-living crisis is causing immense hardship to so many. Yet football contributes a huge amount to the British economy. Between 2019 and 2020, the league made an £8.6 billion impact on the UK economy.2 The Premier League also supported 94,000 jobs, paying around £3.4 billion in salaries. Whoever controls and manages British football, surely its survival and continuing success must be ensured but also be managed with integrity.
Should fans have the final say?
Yes: Football would not exist as a professional sport and industry without its fans
providing vital income to the clubs. Therefore they deserve a say in how it is run.
No: Football's financial contribution to the UK economy is huge. It is a
business as well as a sport. As such it should be run by professional businesspeople
who understand how to ensure its success and profitability.
Or... British football plays a significant part in British culture as well as the economy,
so its future should not just be decided by businesspeople and financiers but also by
the fans who support it.