Labour Party leader Keir Starmer plans to wrestle control away from football clubs' billionaire owners

"What is a club in any case?

By Dan Black
Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 11:51 am
Labour Leader Keir Starmer sits in social distanced seating during a visit of Walsall Football Club on September 19, 2020 in Walsall, England.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer sits in social distanced seating during a visit of Walsall Football Club on September 19, 2020 in Walsall, England.

"Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it.

"It's not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes.

"It's the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer sits in the board room during a visit of Walsall Football Club on September 19, 2020 in Walsall, England.

"It's a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father's hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love."

Those were the immortal words of the late, great Sir Bobby Robson - an icon, a man of the people, a national treasure.

But, most of all, he was a man with principle, who understood what the game meant to the supporters.

The same, however, can't be said for the decision-makers in command of today's self-titled "Big Six", who haven't given fans a second thought amid their ploy to further line their expensively woven pockets.

Chelsea Technical Advisor Petr Čech (centre) speaks to fans of Chelsea Football Club protesting outside the team's Stamford Bridge ground on April 20, 2021 in London, England.

Yes the European Super League crashed before it even got off the ground, but there are lessons to be learned from the chaos that ensued this week.

It presents an opportunity for reform in English football and one that Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is determined to grasp with both hands.

The Leader of the Opposition conducted an emergency meeting with supporter trusts to address club ownership in this country just hours before the project seemed sure to self-combust.

Starmer demanded that the "Cartel" - his own words - were held accountable for bringing their respective clubs and their reputations into disrepute.

He condemned the behaviour of Gunners owner Stan Kroenke and KSE, and the rest of his conspirators, as they collectively dishonoured the sport while desecrating its history and threatening its future.

The game had looked powerless at one stage, crumbling under the pressure of this rich man's power-play, but managers, players, staff, supporters and politicians came together as one to obliterate these preposterous proposals.

One by one they fell. Manchester City's withdrawal engineered the unraveling before others followed suit. Now Starmer wants the Government to act to ensure nothing like this happens again.

"There is such a wall of opposition for this proposal that has been unveiled in the last 24 hours from all fans, from the top to bottom of football," he said.

"There comes a breaking point when action is needed and this is really a breaking point. There has been such attention on what parliament can do and now is the time for parliament to show its true colours.

"This isn't a bolt from the blue. We've been on this slippery slope for a very long time where money, money, money has been the only driving imperative and fans have been disregarded and, frankly, disrespected, and now is the time we've got to cease this and do something about it.

"The club is huge for our communities. This has to be a turning point. Now is the time for action.

"There is nothing that prevents parliament stepping in and the government stepping in, if that's what it chooses to do.

"This is about willpower now, it's about having a clear plan and doing something about it. If the government is determined to do something then we will back them if something can be done.

"There's no block in parliament if action is needed and action can be taken. This is the time for everyone to pull together."

The MP for Holborn and St Pancras vowed to explore a number of different ownership models to help wrestle the control of football clubs away from billionaire owners.

Fresh legislation could hand responsibility over to the fans, similar to the Bundesliga's '50+1' model, which ultimately protects clubs from the influence of external investors.

“There are different models around the world, there’s the German model obviously," identified Starmer.

"Two things need to be tackled, the first is there has got to be a mechanism on ownership, and what the percentage of ownership would be on any given club, and the German model is quite interesting there.

“The second is giving fans a proper say, to think through carefully how that works."

The burning embers left in wake of the Super League's demise may still be glowing, its identity now unrecognisable, but this is no time to stop and dance on its ruins.

This, according to Starmer, is a watershed moment and one that needs to be acted upon. The 'true' fans of football have united to take a 1-0 lead into the break, but they've got to see out this advantage right through to the very end.

A bill from Tory MP Helen Grant calling on an independent football regulator to be established, which was initially tabled in January, is scheduled for a second reading and could be used as a vehicle to introduce meaningful change.

Starmer concluded: "Action can be taken, laws can be passed, legislation can be passed. The question is willpower.

"We need a mechanism to entrench a way of fans having a much greater say in what happens to their clubs. I would be open to different models.

“What we want is much greater say for the fans, much greater degree over the control of clubs but also, alongside that, we need to be much more supportive of grassroots football and lower league football.

“I would be open to different models, and would look at any models that the government puts forward but if it has to be legislation then it has to be legislation.

“The government is talking a good game, it has the power to bring forward legislation, and it now knows the other parties would almost certainly support it so the government has within its power to do something."