We need a radical overhaul of the way football is governed
Covid has exposed the financial flaws at the heart of the game’s structure. The government must honour its manifesto promise and kick off a fan-led review to bring about change
The issues in football have been exposed and heightened by Covid-19. No one can look at the current situation in football and not conclude it is in crisis. Before understanding how to fix the problems, we must recognise that football is not a business like any other.
Football has a public purpose because it serves communities. It’s part of who we are and our identity. For many across our country, the local football club is still the place where young people turn for inspiration and older people come for connection and community. Whether big clubs or small, football has a purpose alongside the finances. And if your club goes bust, you can’t just go down the road and get your football from elsewhere.
It’s not only what football means to a community by existing, it’s the work they do. Just five minutes up the road from my constituency in Merseyside is the fantastic League Two club Tranmere Rovers. Throughout the pandemic, Tranmere Rovers has run schemes to help people, from arranging food banks and drop offs for those in poverty or shielding, to tackling loneliness in older residents due to the pandemic. That’s just one example. Clubs across the country have stepped in when the government was still deciding what path to take.
For the government, Covid-19 seems to be an excuse to kick new initiatives into the long grass
We’ve got to make sure these vital community hubs can survive this crisis. Especially when we know so many other types of community assets did not survive the last decade of Tory austerity. But Covid-19 has exposed the financial flaws at the heart of the game’s structure.
The need to respond to this crisis also exposed the vacuum of constructive leadership across the game. We need to sort this out for the fans it serves. That’s where the government’s fan-led review of football comes in, which the Conservatives promised in their election manifesto.
For the government, Covid-19 seems to be an excuse to kick key decisions and new initiatives into the long grass. For football, Covid-19 makes starting the fan-led review urgent. This year, we have seen clubs like Wigan Athletic go into administration. Although the club folded during the pandemic, the issues had been ongoing for years. Similarly, it was heartbreaking for local fans when Bury was kicked out of the football league after 135 years. Now this vital sporting institution is gone.
We are now in the situation where clubs are losing between £30,000 and £100,000 per game on gate revenue, owe £77m in unpaid taxes and nearly 10 clubs have been in real danger of not being able to pay staff this month. We need a radical overhaul of the way football is governed, and only a fan-led review can bring about the sort of change that places fans and their needs at the heart of reforms.
Any assertion from inside government that football can sort it out themselves is a fantasy. The past couple of months in the footballing world have been messy. We’ve had the ‘Project Big Picture’ plans for the Premier League leaked, as well as the temporary introduction of pay-per-view games, both thrown on to the scrapheap shortly after being announced.
Covid-19 has shocked all aspects of our country. The question for the Conservatives will be how they react to facilitate recovery. Nearly 10 years ago, the then Conservative-led government acknowledged that reform to the game of football was needed. And Labour has supported significant changes to the way the game is run since 2015. So, luckily for football, there is already a plan. We just need to see the political will to get on with it.
Alison McGovern is the Labour MP for Wirral South and shadow sports minister.