Gary Neville to join call for independent regulation in fight over football's future

David Conn
·2-min read

Gary Neville, Andy Burnham, the former Football Association chairman David Bernstein and five other prominent people from varied career backgrounds are expected to intervene in the escalating battle over the game’s future by calling for independent regulation.

The group have been involved for months in working on a plan for reform and have signed up to a report to be published on Thursday, according to David Davies, the former FA executive director until 2006, who has been centrally involved.

Related: Manchester United and Liverpool forced into Project Big Picture climbdown

The others involved are the Conservative MP and former sports minister Helen Grant, Denise Lewis, the sports television presenter and former Olympic heptathlon champion, Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, and Greg Scott, a sports lawyer.

It will be far from the first time Bernstein has expressed this view since he ended his stint as the FA chairman in 2013 but the idea this time is understood to have been fleshed out in a report worked on by the group for six months.

The idea of independent regulation has been discussed for decades and proposed by supporter groups but always opposed by the FA and leagues, including when Bernstein was the chairman. The proposal now has extra appeal given the disruption caused by the emergence of Project Big Picture, the plan developed by Liverpool and Manchester United with the English Football League chairman, Rick Parry.

Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, was intensely involved in arguments over football reform and greater distribution of Premier League money as the administrator of the Labour government’s football task force from 1997 to 1999 and subsequently as the culture secretary.

Neville, the TV analyst, former Manchester United captain and England defender and co-owner of the League Two club Salford City, has regularly spoken out on governance issues. In April he urged the Premier League to “do the right thing” by financially helping lower division clubs and the FA during the Covid crisis. Neville has said that parts of Project Big Picture “require negotiation, but there is too much good in this plan to dismiss it”, and called on the leagues, FA and Football Supporters’ Association to discuss it.

In 2016 Bernstein and two other former FA chairmen, Greg Dyke and David Triesman, with Davies and the former FA chief executive Alex Horne, publicly called for independent regulation, saying their experiences had shown them the FA was incapable of protecting the wider game from the “financial might” of the Premier League.

The FA chairman, Greg Clarke, has publicly opposed Project Big Picture and said the game’s “key stakeholders” should work together but Bernstein’s group are expected to argue the FA itself has long been unable to be a robust governing body of the professional game.