Monday 14th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott, and I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) for leading this important debate.

I want to begin by mentioning the league two club in my constituency, Tranmere Rovers. Tranmere were unfairly relegated during the first lockdown because the season ended. Behind the English Football League’s decision to end the season for league one and two clubs lay one thing, and one thing alone, and that was money. Maintaining the prize of entry into the premier league for three lucky championship clubs meant that Tranmere and others were relegated without a ball being kicked. That is one example of why I firmly believe that the fan-led review of football governance must result in the establishment of an independent regulator for football in this country. It is a burning necessity in the light of the scandal of the recently proposed, and thankfully abandoned, European super league.

However, my fear is that, like the Terminator, the ESL will be back unless action is taken now to reform the governance of the entire sport. Compare and contrast the fabulous wealth of the premier league with the tragic scuppering of clubs such as Bury. Compare and contrast the attempt to set up a selfish and permanent closed circle with the work that Tranmere Rovers do in their local community. During the lockdown, the club invested £60,000 in an abandoned recreation facility in one of my town’s most deprived estates, the Beechwood. They have installed a gym and transformed it into a community asset that is giving youngsters an alternative to the lure of county lines drug dealers, and Tranmere fans have supplied 50,000 meals to vulnerable people, more than 1,000 shopping and medication drop-offs, and hundreds of toys to those in need at Christmas. That highlights the reality that most football clubs are community assets. They are there for the local people and the fans, and the best of them work with their fans for the common good of the club and community. I know that many hon. Members have local clubs that do similar activities, but we need to go beyond simply applauding the good work of some and address the key issues that could so easily undermine the game in a way that the threat of the ESL almost did.

There are two issues that I believe an independent regulator can and should tackle. First, we need to reform the distribution of money in the game. The Independent reported the following comment from an official of one of the premier league’s top six:

“We don’t want too many Leicester Citys.”

That outrageous comment comes from a representative of a monopoly—not just in this country, but across European football. The financial giant Deloitte estimated that football clubs require a minimum of £400 million a year to compete at the top level. That needs reform, because it creates a scramble for money, instead of a scramble for sporting glory. The No. 1 priority on the independent regulator’s list must be to devise a genuinely fair and equitable distribution of wealth throughout the football pyramid. Otherwise, there will be a lot more Burys and Boltons.

The No. 2 priority on the list must be to tackle the fractured nature of football governance. We now have the Premier League, the FA and the EFL all pushing different agendas and looking after different aspects of the game, without checks or balances. I believe that the regulator we need is one that represents the whole of the game and ensures that, rather than sacrifice the long-term interests of the game for short-term financial gain, the entire football pyramid works as one. That way, we can put paid to the ESL Terminator ever coming back.