Boris Johnson says government will try to stop European Super League

Peter Walker Political correspondent
·6-min read

Boris Johnson has promised the government will “look at everything we can do” to block a plan by six leading English football clubs to join a breakaway European Super League, amid rising anger among politicians and fans over the idea.

Officials in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are understood to be urgently examining possible options for preventing the scheme and looking at wider ideas to reform the governance of English football.

While it remains unclear what powers ministers may have to impose change, possible options include action to stop the plan under competition laws, or imposing club ownership structures with greater fan involvement.

Downing Street has held open the possibility of legislation to block the plan, with Johnson’s spokesman saying the government was “not looking to rule anything out at this stage”.

He said: “We are considering a range of options. I’m not able to set out full details at this point. We’ll set them out in due course, once we’ve considered all possible options.”

Further details are expected when Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, makes a Commons statement at about 5pm on Monday.

Speaking on a visit to Gloucestershire, the prime minister said: “I don’t like the look of these proposals, and we’ll be consulted about what we can do.”

Johnson added: “We are going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed. I don’t think that it’s good news for fans, I don’t think it’s good news for football in this country.

“These clubs are not just great global brands – of course they’re great global brands – they’re also clubs that have originated historically from their towns, from their cities, from their local communities. They should have a link with those fans, and with the fanbase in their community. So it is very, very important that that continues to be the case.”

'European Super League' proposal

On 18 April, twelve clubs announced that they intend to be the founding members of a new "European Super League". The clubs are: AC Milan, Arsenal, Atlético de Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur

The proposal document states that there would be "An August start with clubs participating in two groups of 10, playing home and away fixtures, with the top three in each group automatically qualifying for the quarter-finals. Teams finishing fourth and fifth will then compete in a two-legged play-off for the remaining quarter-final positions. A two-leg knockout format will be used to reach the final at the end of May, which will be staged as a single fixture at a neutral venue."

UEFA 'Swiss system' for the Champions League

UEFA's proposal for a revamped Champions League is based on a system first used in a Zurich chess tournament over a century ago, but the 'Swiss system' has rarely featured in elite sport. At its heart it also attempts to guarantee more European group stage matches for the biggest clubs.

The new system would see 32 or 36 teams placed in one league, each playing 10 games (five at home and five away) against teams seeded in four different pots. The top teams would then advance to the knockout stages, with play-offs based on league position deciding who makes up the rest of the last-16.

The format is yet to be agreed and finalised, but it is thought that the teams ranked from 17th to 24th would drop into the Europa League. Positions in the table may also affect seeding for the last-16, with the top-ranked side playing the team in 16th place, and so on.

Separately, the chair of the Commons culture, media and sport committee condemned what he called a dark day for football” and said his committee would examine what more could be done in a meeting on Tuesday.

The Conservative MP Julian Knight said: “What’s needed is a fan-led review of football with real teeth and here we have more evidence to strengthen the case for it. Football needs a reset, but this is not the way to do it. The interests of community clubs must be put at the heart of any future plans.”

Labour has called on ministers to use the announcement of the plan, made late on Sunday night, as the impetus to tackle wider governance issues in the English game, a change some Conservative MPs had already been calling for.

Under plans for the midweek competition, which its organisers want to start in August, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham would join three teams from Italy and three from Spain, and three more to be confirmed, as “founder” clubs, which would always take part.

The merchant bank JP Morgan announced on Monday it would be financing the proposed new league.

Ahead of the announcement of the format, Johnson tweeted that the plan would be “very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action”.

Alison McGovern, the shadow sports minister, said the government must step in immediately, and introduce wider changes for the sport in England.

“For too long, the very fans who built football in this country have been treated as an afterthought,” she said. “We’ve seen communities lose their clubs, foreign owners strip assets and wealth, the neglect of the women’s game and fans priced out.

“That must now change. The government must get on with the fan-led review it has promised. There must be an independent regulator established. And these must all focus on long overdue action to ensure that fans can never again be separated from their clubs.”

Related: Share your views on the European Super League

Also commenting before full details of the plan emerged, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said the idea of a super league with some clubs guaranteed participation “cuts across all the things that make football great. It diminishes competition. It pulls up the drawbridge.”

Johnson is also set to face pressure from his own benches. In January, the Conservative MP and former sports minister Helen Grant proposed a bill for an independent football regulator for England, with powers to review finances and redistribute incomes.

In a statement on Monday, Grant said the clubs’ plan “only reinforces the need” for such a watchdog. She said: “A regulator is urgently needed to stand up for the interests of the wider game of football in our country and to put football’s governance on a fairer and more sustainable footing.”