PM holds emergency football talks and government threatens European transfer ban in bid to halt super league

Ministers consider range of possible actions to take action against English clubs planning to join new continental league
European Super League logo

By John Johnston

20 Apr 2021

Prime minister Boris Johnson will meet with senior football officials later today to discuss the new European Super League as he vowed to give the plans a "straight red".

Officials from football's governing bodies the FA and the Premier League as well as members of fans' representatives groups will attend the roundtable meeting to discuss plans to block the controversial ESL proposals which have come under intense criticism from fans.

It comes after culture secretary Oliver Dowden said on Monday the government would do "whatever it takes" to stop six of England's largest teams from joining the new breakaway league, including a potential ban on signing players from abroad.

Plans for the ESL triggered an outpouring of anger on Sunday after it was announced Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur planned to join six other European clubs as "founder members" of the new league which would play a series of high-profile midweek games but would not see them being promoted or relegated based on performance.

Johnson said he hoped the meeting would offer an opportunity to "find a solution within the football family", but warned the government "reserves its position to take any action required, whether that be legislation or sanctions to protect football interests in this country".

Writing in The Sun today, the PM said he was "horrified" at the plans.

"It is your game - and you can rest assured that I'm going to do everything I can to give this ludicrous plan a straight red," he wrote.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson told Sky News the plans were "not right and not fair" as he said the prime minister would use the summit to "outline his clear view that this is a super league that must be stopped".

Labour leader Keir Starmer backed the government's plans to block the creation of the Super League, telling The Independent he was "really detecting now a willingness among politicians to legislate if that is necessary".

"It's not an area where you'd expect legislation, but the strength of feeling is such that if the government is prepared to bring forward legislation, we would certainly look at it and support it," he added.

"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. The question is whether it will do that.

"They've got a majority, they've got support from other parties including ours, if they need to do something, there's no excuse for not doing something, given the level of support."

Dowden said on Monday that the government would "do whatever it takes to protect our national game" and would "not stand by and watch football cravenly stripped of the things that make millions across the country love it."

He hinted that the government could effectively put a ban on the six clubs signing players from abroad by refusing to approve work permit applications. 

"We are examining every option, from governance reform, to competition law, to the mechanisms that allow football to take place, like work permits and policing arrangements and taxation," Dowden told MPs.

As part of the government response, Dowden also announced a "root-and-branch examination" of English football to be led by former sports minister Tracey Crouch as he hit out at clubs for deciding to "put money before fans".

In a tweet on Monday, Crouch said she was "delighted" to be given the role, adding: "I can assure fans that I will work with you, and for you, to consider how we keep the traditions of integrity & fair competition at the heart of the sport".

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens revealed she had joined shadow sports minister Alison McGovern in writing to the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether the plans could be a breach of competition law.

"Rivalries have been put aside. Everybody is against this other than the people who are organising and participating in the Super League," she told Sky News.

"Fans should lead on this and their voices have been loud and clear over the last couple of days."

"But there are some urgent steps that can be taken. I have written along with the shadow sports minister... to the Competition and Markets Authority asking them to investigate whether this breaches competition law.

She added: "We are also asking the CMA if they will advise parliament whether or not new legislation is necessary in order to prevent this competition from going ahead because it is anti-competitive and it does represent a cartel.

"If the advice is that legislation is needed then we will offer our support to the government to introduce primary legislation immediately."

The CMA is yet to indicate whether they believe the ESL to be in breach of competitions rules.

"It is a complex area and we will be carefully considering any competition aspects of these proposal," a CMA spokesperson said.

John Johnston is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appearedAdam Payne also contributed to this report.

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