I may never forgive myself for saying this; but for a Tory MP, Tracey Crouch is eminently likeable and eloquent. Anyone who keeps half an eye on politics these days will be so bored of media-trained, zombified MP’s swotting away any question on any subject with a pre-programmed, monotonous, party-line answer. However, on a recent podcast for The Athletic, Crouch offered none of those usual placations, quite the opposite in fact, as she spoke at length about her review into football, her recommendations for an independent regulator, and some of the responses it has received recently from a handful of Premier League club executives.

She engaged with the presenter Mark Chapman, explained her decision making processes, and gave a fantastic overview of the current state of Premier League football as an industry, and Premier League clubs as businesses. The following is an extract from the interview; 

Crouch: ‘I was in the city, working for an insurance company, when the banks went bust. And the system of regulation that we’re proposing for football is very similar to the system of regulation that was set up post banking crisis.’ 

Chapman: ‘Do you think there’s as much self interest in banking as there is in football?’ 

Crouch: ‘No (…) I think there’s definitely more self interest in football than in banking.’ 

Crouch’s appearance on the podcast followed the recent publication of the review into football governance, following the attempted establishing of a European Super League earlier this year. The full 162 page document can be found here, but if, like me, you’re not someone who enjoys immersing yourself in long government documents, then might I recommend that you skip straight to page 136, where you can read a summary of the 47 recommendations the report has come up with. 47 ways to make football better. When I was at Uni, my friends and I used to sit around in the pub wondering how many ways the modern game could be improved. Well, lads, if you’re reading, we’ve finally got our answer – 47. 

Reading through these 47 recommendations, the principal reaction most will have is surprise that some of these ideas don’t already exist within the game. Suggestions regarding player welfare, fan involvement and crucially, an independent financial regulator are all raised. Unsurprisingly, this was the issue that some current chief executives took issue with. 

Karen Brady, of West Ham, was incredulous at the thought of an independent body keeping tabs on her flouncing the Hammers’ chequebook. ‘The last time I checked this wasn’t Russia, China or North Korea’ Brady demanded. Christian Purslow from Aston Villa, Crystal Palace’s Steve Parish and Angus Kinnear from Leeds were equally incandescent, with Kinnear describing the proposed changes as ‘Maoist’. Those of us who see ourselves on the left of politics are pretty used to this criticism, with some voices in recent years decrying such abhorrent and unthinkable activities as riding a bicycle, or caring for other human beings as ‘Maoist’. Basically anything other than bloodthirsty remorseless fighting over even penny of potential capital is ‘Maoist’, and this is clearly a philosophy that runs through the boardrooms of Premier League football clubs.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s nothing at all suspicious about a currently unregulated collection of billionaires being up in arms about the idea that someone may soon be appointed to keep tabs on them. No, nothing at all suspicious about that.

 Another of the 47 recommendations to stand out from the crowd is the suggestion of a fan held ‘golden share’ of clubs, and for fan-led shadow boards to be appointed – a move already set in motion by Liverpool fans from the Spirit of Shankley group. It’s an admirable step from the Scousers, but given what we know about John Henry’s involvement with the ESL and Liverpool FC’s role in Project Big Picture, along with Crouch’s own admission that the so called ‘big 6’ in the Premier League do tend to throw their weight around – it’s an interesting observation to note the difference in approach between the fan group and the club itself. 

This is a schism that may only be tested more and more if some of these suggested changes are brought into action, with the ‘golden share’ being a voice for fans to act on things such as stadium developments, club crest changes, and kit colours. These might seem like relatively whimsical issues – but try telling that to fans of Hull City, or ‘Hull Tigers’ as they very nearly became, or to any Cardiff fan who watched their team play in red shirts, or indeed to anyone who went to watch a game at the S*orts D*rect Arena.

And just because fans will (hopefully) have more of a voice, does not mean that owners will immediately swallow their medicine. The recent protests of Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd fans seen in reaction to the announcement of the European Super League may yet be the tip of the iceberg. 

And so onto the golden question – how will all this effect the recently minted Newcastle United? Well, one of the recommendations is that an owner’s and directors test should be passed not just when a club is purchased, but every three years. Some fans may baulk at this and immediately fear for our newly found riches, but I would suggest that we stop and take stock. Yes, it’s great that the club is being backed by a wealthy owner and could potentially sign world class players, improve facilities, and all rest of it. But what use is a football club if football itself dies out? These regulations are designed to save the game, and anyone who doubts whether that’s a serious assertion need only speak to fans of Bury, Macclesfield, or even those in red and white up the road. 

Football is in a precarious position, make no mistake. The issues brought up by the pandemic, the ESL debacle, and the very fact that each season seems to bring with it another story of a lower league club entering administration (most recently Derby County) are more than enough proof of that. The last few weeks have only proven what most of us already knew; the greed of those in charge of the wealthiest clubs is the main obstacle to a more sustainable and fairer game.

Unless the recommendations from Crouch’s report are taken on board and progress is made towards an independent regulator and wide-reaching football reform, the situation will only deteriorate. It may well be that the custodians of the clubs we love so much, could end up being the ones responsible for the demise of the sport as a whole, and it would serve us all well as fans, to keep an eye on how this story unfolds.  

Ed Cole – @edsamuelcole