Proposals for a football European Super League shook the football world this week. Plans for Europe’s 12 self-declared elite clubs (though that itself is up for debate when you look at some of their sparse trophy cabinets!) planned a closed shop, multi-billion-pound football competition. In one crass PR launch (tellingly announced to meet US media deadlines, rather than where the clubs are based) they simply united everyone against these plans – leading to condemnation from fans, football authorities, clubs, media and the Government (and in a rare case of political unity, all politicians!). Thankfully the pressure was overwhelming, and all of the UK teams withdrew from the plans.This really did matter.
Football provides enjoyment (most of the time anyway!), entertainment, employment and during major tournaments, great national unity. Even for non-football fans, the financial benefits are shared out – the Premier League itself generates close to £4bn in tax, supports over 100,000 jobs and contributes £7.6bn to the UK’s GDP. Outside the Premier League there are thousands of clubs all of sizes integral to their respective local communities.
This would have all been put at risk with the European Super League as football is reliant on the principle that any team can rise or fall. This provides the hope, drama, the excitement – the very reason why football has such mass appeal. No wonder the collective opposition to these closed shop proposals was so strong. Thankfully common sense and the will of fans prevailed.
Locally, it is very worrying to see yet again Swindon Town struggling on and off pitch. There has been extensive coverage of the ongoing battles over ownership and the increasingly perilous financial state of the club. It is to the absolute credit of Trust STFC and the Swindon Town Supporters Club that they are working together to keep fans updated, and to prepare for all eventualities. Again, the power of fans is shown by the huge numbers who have signed up to contribute to the Trust STFC Red Army fund in recent days. I also want to pay tribute to Rob Angus of Trust STFC who has been very impressive in his media performances, with both the Trust STFC website and Price of Football podcasts an excellent source for the background and potential options going forward on these very complex and worrying issues.
The Government also launched a fan-led review of football this week. This will be a be a root-and-branch examination of football in this country. It will cover the financial sustainability of the game; governance and regulation; and the merits of an independent regulator. My good friend Tracey Crouch MP is leading on this and I will be feeding in the views of football fans here in Swindon.
We will need to highlight the importance of fan engagement, financial transparency and keeping football accessible. Despite the astronomical increases in football revenue, this has pretty much all gone into increased player wages, with admission/season ticket prices rocketing – pricing future generations of fans out. Yet at Swindon Supermarine, the Imagine Cruising sponsorship has been ring-fenced to make sure admission prices are the cheapest at their level – this has helped gates grow by 50 per cent in recent years. This community and fan focus and engagement needs to be embedded at all levels. As details are confirmed, I will make sure local fans (myself included) have an opportunity to feed in.