The days following the publication of the Fan Led Review of English governance, the Premier League has rarely portrayed itself in good stand. They first offered a lukewarm reception to the prospect of an Independent Regulator of English Football (IREF).
But that did not last long. CEO Richard Masters flip-flopped and bowed down to pressure from club executives at an emergency meeting on Friday.
They agreed to reject the regulator, thereby rejecting the significant foundation the review’s recommendations were based on.
Of course, this derives from the culture of self-interest that is embedded within the football industry. This time around though, it has been deeper than simple self-interest. Executives know momentum is finally building. Crouch is confident her reforms will pass through Parliament and the desperation executives have shown in their opposition since its publication.
Premier League Desperation Shines in Reaction to the Fan Led Review
‘Killing the Golden Goose’
By now, many people would have seen Christian Purslow’s fiery response to Crouch’s review. The Aston Villa CEO prophesied an IREF could kill the ‘golden goose’ because of ‘over-regulation’.
For all the fire Purslow released, it seemed nothing more than a teenager yelling at his colleagues about their school improving their disciplinary code. One could wonder if he had even bothered to read the report himself – thousands, included Last Word on Football, have done.
The regulator is not a government tool to wield power over the industry by destructing it completely as monarchs did over the nobility centuries ago. It is there to save the egotistical executives from themselves.
Purslow may need his memory jogged but Aston Villa recorded £455 million of pre-tax losses in the Premier League over ten years. The club he represents was almost liquidated thanks to chasing the goose. It isn’t out of the question that Purslow would have calmly moved on to another club, while Villa fans would have needed to pick up the pieces.
Moving away from Villa, without a regulator, Everton owner Farhad Moshiri was free to splash millions on transfers and wages in a gamble to climb the football ladder – just like Villa had done to reach sanctuary. Last December, they recorded a £139.9 million financial loss, with £67.3 million being down to the COVID-19 impact. Their losses were set at £111.8 million pre-pandemic. Over the course of three financial years, Everton almost reached £265m in losses.
You don’t need to be a financial expert to know that isn’t a viable business. Nor does it play into Purslow’s narrative. Everton can not proclaim to be a golden goose. They are a rusty duck draining cash away from their supporters. If the regulator was in place, Moshiri and his team would need to send a business plan for at least three years of how they will financially operate.
The aim is to ensure football is flourishing, not heading down a sink as it has done for years.
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish was keen to push back against the regulator, as well as other recommendations, as much as Purslow.
He begins by insisting that an IREF would create ‘unintended consequences’ without indicating what such consequences would be. Maybe it is the fact that possibly English football’s growth will be “stymied” by the top end having their income reduced, causing it to be a less attractive investment.
For beginners, the regulator would not interfere in commercial dealings. At least Crouch does not want it to. She has made that plainly clear in the report and since its publication. Also, it is something of a unique, or foolish, take that clubs which make extortionate losses – inside and outside the Premier League – are more attractive than clubs turning a profit.
Parish moved on to suggest redistribution is barely addressed and parachute payments. This is particularly odd as redistribution is clearly targetted in the report as a key issue while Crouch has repeatedly insisted parachute payments are not fit for purpose.
The agenda Crouch wants to push is for these clubs to deal with football matters by themselves. She does not want the IREF to interfere, but it will have reserved powers to do so if the stakeholders cannot sort it out themselves.
Plus, Parish insisting the Championship is the world’s richest second division is true. But that falls in line with Purslow’s narrative and misses the point. What’s the point of having the money if all of it, and more, is being burnt away at breakneck speed?
Palace’s CEO also suggests the independent regulator will be run by the UK Government. Bluntly, he is wrong in his assessment. The regulator will not be operated by the UK Government. The independent regulator will be… you’ve guessed it. Independent. The government’s only involvement is to pass an Act of Parliament. Again, the report explains how the regulator’s board will work. Parish may have skipped that part.
Now for the transfer levy. To be fair to Parish, he has been caught in the trap that the media created when the report was on the brink of being published. How outlets worded it, it seemed Crouch had recommended a 10% levy on transfer fees.
The Tory MP did not do this. She used 10% as an example of what type of additional funding grassroots could receive to improve facilities. The levy could be 1%, 2%, 8% or if the Premier League clubs really wanted to be annoyed, even 15%. In addition, Parish’s defensive instinct is plain to see when he predicts that it will reduce the competitiveness of the Premier League when billions were spent during a pandemic. “Don’t plead poverty,” Crouch said on The Athletic’s Football Podcast.
‘We do Not Live in Russia, China or North Korea’
Karen Brady is another executive who you may have seen break the Premier League’s line of reluctantly supporting a regulator. However, in doing so, she wrapped herself into some hyperbole that in no way stakes up to reality.
Writing in The Sun, she deployed how an independent regulator is a draconian measure that would only be created in authoritarian countries. “The last time I looked we did not live in Russia, China or North Korea,” the West Ham vice-chairman said.
It is remarkable how a body that ensures clubs do not go bust, improves standards and lifts the culture of football can be labelled as such. Then again, she goes on to complain about how the regulator will be ‘unelected’.
That comment is not as strong as Brady might think. If she is such a leader of democracy, she – alongside the board – should have given West Ham fans the right to vote on the ownership’s leadership last February when protests broke out. Maybe she should hold one now after the emergence of Daniel Křetínský as an investor.
Similarly, Brady should direct the same agenda to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK independent regulator for financial markets, given she must have worked under their regulations for years as a businesswoman. Coincidentally, that is the body Crouch drew inspiration from for her report.
Her other views include that the regulator – who is there to protect clubs – will bully Premier League clubs into giving more than they can muster, how parachute payments do not skew competitiveness or how a 10% transfer levy to grassroots will make it “impossible” for them to compete in the transfer market.
The latter claim is perhaps the oddest considering a Premier League club recommended the stamp duty in the first place. Obviously, that means someone on either side of the extremes is wrong. It is just up to you to decide who.
‘It’s a Radical Idea’
Whilst Richard Masters never criticised the IREF, the Premier League CEO was consistent with his executive peers regarding the transfer levy.
“What we’re saying is just distribute some of that to grassroots, the clubs. The Premier League already, through its distribution of its broadcast rights, put a lot of money into the Football Foundation, for example. This is about the Premier League clubs’ contribution. I’m pretty certain that they can afford it,” she said.
Crouch wants the money to go to kids football to improve “grotty grass pitches”, not academies where there is still self interest investment. The levy is about greater investment into the tiers towards the bottom of the pyramid.
By Masters stating it will cause a “virtuous circle” for Premier League and Championship clubs to secure talent, he is probably ignoring the current doomsday cycle occurring right now.
Maoism Meets Football
Angus Kinnear had some tough opposition to beat but he somehow crowned himself with the most flawed reaction to the Fan Led Review. Somehow he turned football reforms into a plot that is comparable to Mao Zedong’s agriculture policies that caused the death of millions of people – something that is still scarring families today.
It is not only a severe overreaction and grotesque, but it shows how desperate a Premier League club is to retain its privilege and autonomy, regardless of the consequences. If Leeds United were still stuck in League One, or the Championship, stumbling along with poor finances, there is no doubt the club’s reaction would have been different.
The Football Supporters Association expertly breakdown Kinnear’s full statement to expose the flaws. Spoiler: there are more than a few.