It is often said that the Premier League is the best league in the world. What must also be remembered is that the strength in depth of England’s lower leagues, including the pyramid system, are admired globally too.
The success of English football is an achievement that should rightly be celebrated. Our clubs are great generators of tourism, jobs and local pride.
However poor governance, lacklustre industry self-regulation and poor incentives have left many clubs endangered, with growing numbers of organisations across the top five tiers at risk of financial failure. The nightmare of every fan is that their club suffers the fate of Bury, who were expelled from the English Football League in 2019.
Debt has been growing in all tiers of the sport, with pre-tax losses across the Premier League and Championship totalling nearly £1.1 billion in 2020-21, and net debt reaching a combined £5.9 billion.
It is clear that greater protection of the grassroots core of the sport is needed, and following the fan-led review, the Government is setting out measures to ensure this.
The Government has announced the introduction of a new Regulator, which will be empowered to safeguard interests of fans and local football communities, and will apply to the top five tiers of English football.
This Regulator will set out, and operate, a licencing system to ensure that all clubs operating professionally are licenced, and therefore meeting the relevant requirements for appropriate financial resources, management, conduct and fan engagement.
As part of this system, the Regulator will properly scrutinise the ownership, management and wider corporate governance of professional clubs, ensuring that any changes to these are in the best interests of the club as a whole.
Through these reforms the Regulator would conduct fitness and propriety tests for owners and directors, and potentially for other individuals at a club deemed to exercise significant decision-making influence. Clubs would be required to declare their Ultimate Beneficial Owner.
The Regulator will also put fans at the heart of football. This will include implementing minimum standards for fan engagement, reinforced protection of club heritage, and fan consultation and approval for any sales or relocations of the club. It will also ensure that clubs are only able to compete in approved competitions, preventing future ‘super league’ attempts.
These changes will protect the past, present and future of clubs such as Crawley Town.
The purpose of the Regulator will be to ensure English football is sustainable and resilient. Its three primary duties will be to ensure club sustainability, systematic sustainability and cultural heritage.
The Government has committed to legislate for a new Regulator when parliamentary time allows. These reforms will help safeguard our clubs.
Henry Smith MP