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As the Football Governance Bill is introduced in Parliament, Solent's Senior Research Fellow, Dr David Webber, reflects on what it means for clubs, players and fans.

19th March 2024
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Football's long and winding journey towards the appointment of a government-backed regulator has almost reached its conclusion. 

Lauded by a cross-section of MPs, ministers, supporters and some club owners outside the game's elite, it has also been met with scepticism and concern by the Premier League, and several of the owners of its clubs.

Dr David Webber has been watching the journey unfold. 

"For decades, football has long been in need of reform," Dr Webber argues. "Even before the shambles of the European Super League, the game in England especially has been scarred by inequality and governed in the interests of a few rather than the many. And this political and economic settlement has had profound consequences for both the bank balance of clubs, and the wider competitive and sporting integrity of the English game.

"The Premier League has established itself as the 'best in the world', and while it is hard to disagree with that statement in terms of its box-office entertainment, it is a position that is maintained by its very top clubs benefitting disproportionately from an unprecedented and exponential growth in broadcasting and matchday revenues, global commercial deals, and owner investment.

"Critically, the proceeds of that wealth have not been downwards or beyond this elite. Supporters, their loyalty and their passion continue to be exploited. The cost of watching football, whether at home or in terms of going to matches continues to increase season upon season. Clubs outside this elite live a precarious existence, struggling to keep afloat amidst rising costs and little of the coverage afforded to the Premier League.

"In terms of the Premier League itself," David continues, "There are huge issues around state of ownership and multi-club ownership that, in terms of the regulator's remit, are conspicuous by their absence - one suspects because neither the government nor the football regulator will want to disrupt the global expansion of the Premier League or disturb the UK's wider political relationships across the Gulf and beyond.

"Closer to home, there are ongoing issues with clubs like the former Premier League side, Reading, who are being hopelessly mismanaged and run into the ground. And they are not the only ones. As the Premier League has become Europe's 'super league', flexing its financial firepower and leaving even all but the very top clubs in Spain's La Liga and the German Bundesliga trailing in its wake, more than two-thirds of clubs across the English football league pyramid have experienced some degree of financial distress that has pushed them to the brink of either relegation or extinction altogether.

"In footballing terms," Dr Webber suggests, "the appointment of a regulator is a score-draw. It is, at least, not a defeat. It may even prove to be a hard-won point, but at best, the terms of its remit represent only a decent result amid a difficult run of form.

"There is much to build on. Presently, what the Government is proposing safeguards rather than meaningfully empowers and democratises supporters and their clubs. Yet the underlying politics of the regulator fails to uncouple football from those capitalist relations that have created the conditions of crisis and inequality that have scarred the modern game. As a result, the regulator will be unlikely to address football's much wider and far more urgent structural crisis, let alone re-plot an alternative, altogether more sustainable future for the English game."