Minister Stuart Andrew's speech at the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) and Football Supporters Europe (FSE) AGM
Sport Minister highlights the key role of fans in the football governance reforms, alongside an update on the future of women’s football review, the EURO 2028 bid, and reflections on his experiences of interacting with fans at matches this season
It is great to be here to talk to members of both FSE and the FSA.
I want to use the time I have today to discuss the next steps for the football governance reforms we are taking forward, reflect a bit on the season that has just finished, and look ahead to some of the government’s priorities for football.
But before I get on to that, I think it is worth reflecting on how football fans have responded to developments in the sport over the last couple of years and their pivotal role in its growth going forward.
Fans are the foundation of every football club across the country and across Europe. Two years ago, however, major changes were proposed in the shape of the European Super League without any fan consultation whatsoever.
The response was immediate, and it was deafening.
Fans would not countenance a league without relegation, designed for a small group of owners and devoid of the heritage and history of the game. You made your views entirely clear, and the proposal was swiftly axed.
For many, this was final proof that football had lost sight of the people who make it what it is.
The Government’s response was to launch the Fan-Led Review of football governance chaired by Tracey Crouch, taking in evidence from around 130 supporters’ organisations across England and Wales.
The Government has since accepted the strategic recommendations outlined in the Review and announced the groundbreaking commitment to establish a new statutory and independent regulator for English football.
Despite the phenomenal success of football at home and abroad, we have seen too many examples of the devastating impact the failure of a beloved club can have on a local community.
Since the Premier League was created in 1992, there have been 64 instances of clubs collapsing into administration.
Historic clubs have been lost, taking with them chunks of our history and heritage, and leaving huge holes in their communities.
Bury football club was one example. A club founded 138 years ago was driven to the wall in a matter of months by financial mismanagement, damaging the local economy and leaving behind a devastated fan base.
But I am pleased to say that with support from the FSA, a vote to unify Bury FC and Bury AFC passed last month and Bury Football Club will be playing once again at Gigg Lane next season.
But it is not just Bury that has been affected.
The same is true of Macclesfield Town, another century-old club, and Rushden & Diamonds. Countless others, such as Derby County, have been driven to the brink after stretching far beyond their means.
This is where our reforms for football governance come in. The very first meeting I held when I took office was with the FSA and fan representatives from clubs across the country.
This was an eye-opening experience which really brought home the case for reform in football to me.
I was struck by the passion and deep sense of duty which fans have for their club and the wider game, but also the shocking cases of mismanagement which have been allowed to go on within the game.
Since then, the perspective of fans has been at the forefront of my mind as we have developed our plans for reform.
With consistent support and constructive challenge from the FSA, the Government has developed detailed proposals for the introduction of an Independent Regulator for English football.
The Regulator will have a clear focus, centred on ensuring that English football is financially sustainable and resilient for the benefit of fans and the local communities which football clubs serve.
The Regulator will operate a licensing system for all clubs in the top five tiers of English football.
The model we have set out is proportionate and flexible, allowing English Football to continue being a global-success story, while tackling harms where they exist.
Under the Regulator’s regime…
We will legally strengthen the owners’ and directors’ tests, to protect clubs and their fans,
We will guarantee fans more of a voice in the running of their clubs,
And we will protect the assets which matter most to their supporters.
Clubs will also need to seek regulator approval for any sale or relocation of the stadium, and fan engagement will be a crucial part of that process.
And, to avoid another European Super League debacle, we will give the Regulator the power to block clubs from joining closed-shop breakaway leagues.
On financial distribution, we were clear in our White Paper that the current distribution of revenue in football is contributing to the growing problem of financial unsustainability.
It introduces incentives that can have a destabilising effect on the entire football pyramid.
It remains our firm belief that the best solution is a football led one. If one is not found the Regulator will have a backstop power to intervene and ensure a solution is found.
We want football to move to a mutually acceptable system which provides more systemic stability - providing certainty for clubs, their fans, and the communities which rely on them.
Since the publication of the White Paper in February, we have been consulting with the football industry on our proposals.
I would like to thank the FSA for your support throughout this process as we look to further develop and refine our policy.
Alongside fans, we are also talking to the FA; the leagues; financial, legal and academic experts; individual clubs; and international partners.
I can’t, I’m afraid, preempt that work today but we will be publishing our response to the initial period of consultation in the coming weeks.
Looking further ahead, I wanted to touch on the major sporting events happening across the UK.
The government remains committed to securing the greatest sporting events to host across the UK, for fans to enjoy, to inspire new generations and to boost our local economies.
The UK has a world leading track record of hosting successful major sporting events over many decades. Last year saw:
the record-breaking Women’s EUROs;
the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham; and the Rugby League World Cup – whose Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair finals were all held here in Manchester.
Having recently witnessed the blue side of this City triumph in Europe - just days after West Ham did the same - I am also pleased that we have secured the Champions League Final in Wembley next year.
Looking further ahead, the government has fully supported the five Football Associations across the UK and Ireland to submit an unprecedented joint bid for UEFA EURO 2028.
Should our bid be successful – and we will find out in October – it will be the biggest sporting event our islands have ever jointly staged.
Our iconic stadia will act as the perfect stage for the best players in Europe to perform to passionate, record-breaking crowds.
Our bid has a bold and compelling ambition to make football more inclusive, more accessible, and more family-friendly – delivering a welcoming, exciting, and safe festival which players, fans, and the entire football family will enjoy in every town and city and at every game.
Like Southgate’s squad’s run to the final in 2021 and the Lionesses celebrations in Trafalgar Square last year, this is a chance to create memories and iconic moments that will last a lifetime.
And we’ll ensure that the tournament leaves a lasting legacy for communities - the bid partners have already pledged more than £500 million between 2019 and 2025 to upgrade and level up access to grassroots facilities across the UK and Ireland.
I’ve already mentioned the stunning recent successes of the Lionesses. Undoubtedly this has accelerated interest in the women’s game, with more people now watching, attending and playing women’s football than ever before.
The Review of Women’s Football which we launched last September and is being Chaired by Karen Carney, is looking at how to deliver bold and sustainable growth of the women’s game at elite and grassroots levels.
This was the first recommendation taken forward from the independent Fan Led Review, and I look forward to seeing the findings published this summer.
I know that the FSA have played an important role in shaping Karen’s thinking, and I am sure you will continue to provide insight ahead of the Government’s response to that Review.
This season I’ve had the opportunity to watch some great football matches. I was in Qatar for the World Cup, I saw Manchester United win the League Cup, and earlier this month I was in Istanbul to see Manchester City clinch a historic treble.
At every game I have engaged with fans to understand their experiences.
I was pleased to see how well safe standing has been introduced when I was at Wembley for the League Cup Final.
In Qatar, I talked with LGBT fan groups to hear their perspectives on the World Cup.
And in Istanbul, it was a pleasure to speak with Ronan Evain about the work FSE have been doing with UEFA since the Independent Review into last year’s Champions League Final was released.
It is really important to have these discussions because it keeps me focussed on the central reason the government is intervening in football - the supporters.
Away from the big set piece matches, I know that fans around the country work tirelessly to support their clubs and the communities they sit within in a huge number of ways.
From education programmes to health initiatives, this help often goes on without much fanfare but it is absolutely vital and makes football clubs what they are - central pillars of their community.
We can never lose sight of that fact. We will protect these important community assets for the benefit of fans, the benefit of the clubs themselves, and the benefit of football as a whole.
I want to finish by thanking the FSA and the FSE for inviting me to speak at this year’s joint AGM. I would also like to thank Kevin in particular for his continued support and engagement on these important issues.