Monday 14th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne (Jarrow) (Lab)
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I thank all those who have signed the petitions and the 9,000-plus people who responded to the Committee’s survey.

More than 10 million people sat down yesterday to watch England play Croatia. Football is our national sport, and football clubs stand as historic institutions in our communities across the UK. Although I acknowledge that a move towards a 50+1 ownership model for clubs in England cannot be achieved overnight, the forthcoming review must be used as an opportunity to rebalance the current ownership structure in favour of match- going supporters.

In April, I co-ordinated a letter from more than 60 MPs and peers, cross-party, calling for a simple change in the law to force Premier League and English Football League clubs to give their long-standing season ticket holders a 51% voting majority on any decision affecting a club’s identity or future. The ESL debacle highlighted why it is essential that supporters are given the majority vote in their clubs. It underlines a growing sense that our clubs are all too often run in the interest of remote and unaccountable owners.

The Glazer family takeover of Manchester United is a prime example. Before the Glazers took over in 2005, Manchester United had no debts. Today, the club’s net debt stands at around £455.5 million, yet the Glazer family continue to pocket huge dividends. The forthcoming review must recommend additional criteria to prevent rogue owners from buying clubs solely for their own gain.

I represent thousands of Newcastle United fans in my Jarrow constituency. Their club has stagnated under Mike Ashley, who applies to his football club the same business model as that used by his Sports Direct empire—minimalism, low spending and little or no regard to decent, hard-working people. It would be remiss of me not to mention that I also have a few thousand Sunderland fans in my constituency.

There is no doubt that the football pyramid needs reform and improvement. It must ensure that a proportion of money from Premier League clubs trickles down to teams below them and to grassroots football, in turn securing the future of the game. It goes without saying how much grassroots clubs matter to our communities. Earlier this year, Hebburn Town won the FA vase, which got the town noticed and had a massive impact on Hebburn’s civic pride. However, a huge number of our grassroots teams are on the brink. If they go, it will not just hit the football pyramid, but tear the heart out of many post-industrial communities that are already struggling. That is why it is essential that the forthcoming review recommends an independent financial regulator to represent the interests of supporters, protect against bad practices and generally seek to prioritise the wider good of the game rather than allowing clubs to act solely in their self-interest.

Football must act as an equaliser. Clubs must do all they can to ensure social justice in their own communities and in the wider football community. We cannot allow further disconnection between fans and their teams while a wealthy few line their pockets, because, ultimately, football is nothing without its fans.