Gary Neville is about to pile more pressure onto the embattled leadership of the Premier League and EFL when he appears before Parliamentarians to make the case for an independent regulator of football.
Former Manchester United and England stalwart, and now a Sky Sports pundit, Neville is part of a distinguished group that is pushing proposals for reform in English football, under the banner, ‘Saving Our Beautiful Game – A Manifesto for Change’.
Central to the group’s objectives is the creation of an independent regulator, which would oversee a fairer distribution of football’s considerable wealth to ensure clubs throughout the football pyramid are sustainable.
Gary Neville is to address Parliamentarians about proposals to reform football governance
Around 50 MPs and members of the House of Lords are expected to join a Zoom call
Neville and his partners, former FA chairman David Bernstein, ex-FA executive director David Davies, and Conservative MP Helen Grant, among others, are set to put the case to around 50 Parliamentarians via a Zoom call on Tuesday.
‘The aim is to get the case over to them,’ said Bernstein, who has been encouraged by the positive response the group has received to their intervention in the debate on governance.
‘We are being taken seriously.’
Ministers are believed to have read the Manifesto for Change, which it is argued would prevent clubs like Bury going out of business, and the latest initiative is to build wide support in Parliament.
The group are in a hurry to bring about change after the country’s biggest clubs, led by Manchester United and Liverpool, tried to force through a restructure of English football, which would have concentrated even more wealth and power in their hands through Project Big Picture.
A Manifesto for Change promoted by Neville and other senior figures suggests that better governance could protect clubs like Bury, which was forced out of the league last year
‘Saving the Beautiful Game – Manifesto for Change’ key recommendations
- Create a new regulatory body for football that is independent of the current structure of the game
- Decide on new ways of distributing funds to the wider game based on a funding formula and a fair levy payable by the Premier League
- Set up a new and comprehensive licensing system for the professional game
- Review causes of financial stress in the English Football League, including parachute payments and salary caps
- Implement governance reforms at the FA which are essential to ensure it is truly independent, diverse and representative of English football today
- Liaise with supporters’ organisations
- Learn lessons from abroad and champion supporter involvement in the running of clubs
That scheme was ultimately rejected by the 20 Premier League clubs, but it has underlined both the need for change and the apparent inability of football’s governing bodies to come together and find a common approach.
In the aftermath of Project Big Picture, the Premier League is conducting a review of structure and governance, which will report in March, the Government says it is committed to a fan-led review of the sport and some Championship clubs have explored a partial buy-out of the EFL to release funds.
‘Our concern is, there have been so many reviews but they all come to nothing,’ said Bernstein. ‘Another review is only going to take time.’
Neville has been outspoken in his criticism of football’s governance.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson supports the idea of a ‘fan-led review’ of football in England
The Manifesto for Change claims the “dysfunctional and damaging existing structure” of football has been highlighted by its inability to mount a convincing response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at the launch of the manifesto in October, Neville told Sky Sports: “The principle is that we don’t trust that football can govern itself and create the fairest deal for all, whether that’s the Premier League, EFL clubs, non-League clubs or the fans.’
Meanwhile negotiations continue between the Premier League and the EFL over financial support for financially-stricken clubs, while many teams continue to point the finger at government demanding more tangible support.
Current discussions centre on the Premier League offering a £200 million loan facility to support Championship clubs and a £50m package for Leagues One and Two. The lower league clubs say they need the money in grants, but so far, the Premier League has offered the majority of it in loans.
Rick Parry, chairman of the EFL ( left) and the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters (right) appeared before MPs on the DCMS Select Committee in November
Football fans could have a say in how the sport is governed under a government review
This week’s Parliamentary activity is likely to bring more critical focus on the leadership of both the Premier League and the EFL.
They have had a rough ride from Parliament in recent weeks.
Top-flight chief executive Richard Masters and football league chairman Rick Parry were required to appear before the Department of Culture Media and Sport committee earlier this month.
Committee chairman, MP Julian Knight, told the pair their failure to agree a bailout package for EFL clubs facing extinction as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has curtailed income due to a ban on fans, has been a ‘farce’.
If big clubs seize more power shock results like Burnley’s win at Old Trafford are more unlikely
He followed up the inquisition with a scathing letter that accused the two organisations of ‘squabbling’ and criticised them for a lack of leadership, and not doing right by the fans.
It described efforts to reach agreement on a bailout eight months after the pandemic struck as a ‘fiasco’.
Neville’s audience with MPs and members of the House of Lords on Tuesday is set to be followed by a debate in Westminster Hall on football governance, organised by MP Clive Efford on Wednesday.
DCMS committee Chairman Julian Knight MP wrote scathing letter to Premier League and EFL
On Wednesday, sports minister Nigel Huddlestone is expected to be quizzed over the government’s plans for a fan-led review.
Supported by the Football Supporters’ Association and cross-party MPs, the review is a Conservative Party manifesto commitment.
However, no timetable has been set for the review, nor have any details been published about how it would be conducted.