Keir Starmer has declared that the plan for a ‘European super league’ breakaway competition is a “money-grabbing endeavour” as Labour ramps up calls for the government to intervene and block English clubs from joining.
In a roundtable Zoom session with fans, non-league representatives, Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens and shadow sports minister Alison McGovern this afternoon, the Labour leader spoke of the “wall of opposition” against the plan.
He told the online meeting that “nobody wants the government poking its noise into football every five minutes” – but described the proposal, and the resulting backlash from fans, as a “breaking point” for football in the UK.
“This breakaway proposal is against every principle of the game: open competition, merit, etc, etc. It’s against the values of the game and it’s certainly against what the fans want,” Starmer told attendees this afternoon.
But the Labour leader added that the move to launch a super league has not come as a “bolt from the blue” and stressed that the sport has been on a “slippery slope for a very long time”.
“Money, money, money has been the only driving imperative,” he said. “And fans have been disregarded and frankly disrespected. That’s why I think now is the time, we’ve got to seize this, we’ve got to do something about it.”
He highlighted that Labour first put reform of the sport in its manifesto in 2010, proposing powers for supporters’ trusts to be able to buy stakes in clubs, and said that the UK now “absolutely needs an independent regulator”.
“The Conservatives have been in power for 11 years, so they’ve had the opportunity to do something about it. Nothing has been done, yet. They’ve promised a fan-led review in their last manifesto,” he said. “Now is the time for action.
“There is nothing that prevents parliament stepping in, and government stepping in, if that’s what it chooses to do. This is about willpower now. It’s about having a clear plan and actually doing something about it.
“Let nobody on this call be under any misapprehension: if the government is determined to do something about it, we will back them and something could be done. So there’s no block in parliament to action if action is needed.”
The meeting today was held in the wake of the outcry sparked as 12 clubs, including six English teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – announced they would join the new league over the weekend.
The plans revealed that the 12 clubs would be permanent members and never face relegation. Critics say that it could supplant the existing Champions League and disrupt the current football ‘pyramid’ that sees teams rise or fall on merit.
“Whatever else we do, whatever else happens now in the coming hours, weeks and months, we must turn that anger into action. I have been banging on with others in parliament about changing football governance for far too long,” McGovern said.
“Far too little has happened. Well, if this is what it takes to change the way that football is governed in this country, then fine. Let’s crack on with it.”
Starmer stressed that something could be done to prevent the league’s creation, highlighting steps taken in other countries such as Germany to regulate the sport, and argued that “the problem here is lack of action so far by the government”.
The Labour leader told the online session that if the government were to put some legislative proposals before parliament, “we could debate those and we could vote on them and that is a very, very good thing”.
“I wouldn’t want anyone on the call to think that there is some practical or legal complexity that means it can’t be done,” he said. “The reason nothing’s been done is because there hasn’t been legislation in the first place.”
Also present at the Zoom roundtable today, Labour MP Clive Efford pointed out divisions between the anti-league voices, emphasising that Labour should be campaigning for fans’ control and ownership of their football clubs.
“Don’t think that we’re all on the same side,” he said, referring to comments from Crystal Palace FC owner Simon Jordan. “He is against the super league but he also let slip during his interview that what we’ll end up with is people demanding we have fans on boards.
“Well, yes we are demanding that fans go on boards because we can’t let these people get away with what they’re doing. The heritage of a football club belongs to the community in which it is based.”
The opposition party has launched a petition against the formation of the league. “Stand by for further actions,” McGovern told the group. “I consider this the official first meeting of the campaign team.”
The shadow sports minister wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority ahead of the Zoom call this afternoon, asking the regulator to investigate whether the proposals for the European league would fall foul of laws to uphold fairness.
A review of football governance has been announced with Conservative minister Tracey Crouch leading it, and the Prime Minister held an emergency meeting with FA and Premier League officials and fan representatives this morning.
Gavin Williamson said today: “The government reserves its position to take any action that’s required, including the need to take legislation, the need to take sanctions in order to ensure we protect football interests in this country.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told parliament on Monday that measures being considered include a windfall tax on clubs participating, fewer work permits, reduced help with policing on match days and German-style fan-majority ownership.
Scottish Labour revealed, ahead of its full manifesto launch for the 2021 Holyrood election, that the party will back fan ownership of Scotland’s football clubs and supports reform of the game in the devolved nation.
“Football belongs to the fans – not to a cartel of billionaires at the top,” Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray said today. “Scottish Labour is determined to reinvigorate the game in Scotland from the grassroots to national team.”