Jo Stevens – 2021 Speech on the European Football Proposals

The speech made by Jo Stevens, the Labour MP for Cardiff Central, in the House of Commons on 19 April 2021.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of parts of his statement. This is a watershed moment for our national game, and this statement is welcomed, as is the chair of the review, but it is short on detail and on the urgency that this situation merits; fans will have noted that. The Secretary of State tweeted last night extolling the virtues of the football pyramid, but if anything exposed the Government’s lack of understanding of our broken football system, that tweet summed it up. Tory trickle-down economics does not work, and it especially does not work in football.

Football governance is broken, football finance is broken and football fans, whichever club we support, are ignored. The hedge fund owners and billionaires who treat football clubs like any of their other commodities have no care for the history of our football, for the role it plays in villages, towns and cities up and down our country, and especially for the fans who are the beating heart of it. They should understand their role as custodians, rather than cartel chiefs. The future of our national game and all our clubs depends on it.

Labour has repeatedly called for the reform of the governance and finances of football by the Government. Government intervention is needed to fix this broken system. That is why we pledged in all four of our manifestos going back to 2010 to take action, and it is why I and the shadow Sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), repeatedly urged the Government to get on with their promised fan-led review of football—a promise that they made in 2019. It is nearly a year since our letter to the Sports Minister offering support and help with 16 questions that the review should focus on. We know that Members across the House have supported reform for the past 11 years of Conservative-led Governments, so it is time for the Government to get off the subs bench and show some leadership on the pitch, because we need reform of football.

It is not as if there has been a blockage in Parliament preventing the Government from taking action to sort out the problems. Former Conservative Sports Minister, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), has said:

“no one is speaking for the football world with the independence and authority needed to address the big issues.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2021; Vol. 688, c. 207.]

She is right. The former Conservative Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), has said:

“We should have long ago reformed the governance of football”.

He is right as well. The current Conservative Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), has said:

“What’s needed is a fan-led review of football with real teeth and here we have more evidence to strengthen the case for it.”

I welcome the review, but why the long delay? Why create the vacuum that has allowed these super-league proposals the space and ability to become a reality? Eleven years have been wasted when a small amount of Government time could have been found to bring primary legislation to the House to sort out the problems. Instead, it has been all punditry and no progress on the pitch, and in that time, clubs and fans have suffered disasters. Fans in Bury know only too well the importance of reforming the way in which football is governed, and supporters in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Manchester, my city of Cardiff, Portsmouth and most football towns and cities have seen the damage done to clubs when profit outstrips the role of supporters in our game.

We are in a global pandemic and the owners of the six clubs behind this proposal think that now is the time to ride roughshod over their fans and endanger the future of football, on the back of a year when fans have been at the heart of supporting communities up and down the country. What a contrast! These proposals have been carved out behind closed doors without consultation with fans or players, and they have at their heart a plan that is anti-football—a super league from which teams can never be relegated and in which they are always guaranteed a place because of their wealth. That represents a fundamental attack on the integrity of sporting competitions.

It is very rare that an issue unites football fans and organisations across the rivalries and divides, but this super league proposal has managed to do just that. From supporters trusts and groups, including the Football Supporters’ Association, to the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Football Association, UEFA, the Premier League, the League Managers Association and the European Clubs Association—I could go on—it has been universally rejected as the greedy, obscene and selfish proposal that it is.

Let us act urgently. It is already too late for some clubs and their supporters, so I ask the Secretary of State when the review will be launched, what the terms of reference will be, who will take part and when it will report. What exactly will the Government do to stop the European super league decimating our national game? They should explore every option, and I hope that they will, whether that is a super-tax on revenue or investigating whether the proposal breaches the clear rules that govern markets and competition in this country.

For football fans up and down the country, our message is clear: Labour stands ready to do whatever it takes to stop this plan, and I hope that the Government will make exactly the same commitment.