Boris Johnson has said he is prepared to legislate to block a new European Super League as he accused breakaway football clubs of forming “a kind of cartel”.
As anger continued to sweep across the game at the actions of the so-called Big Six, the Prime Minister told the football authorities he was ready to “drop a legislative bomb” if necessary.
In a morning conference call with the FA and the Premier League, he indicated the Government could act to ensure they did not fall foul of competition laws if they imposed sanctions on the clubs involved.
Speaking later at a Downing Street press conference, he said he was determined to prevent historic clubs being “dislocated” from their towns and cities and turned into “international brands and commodities” by billionaire owners without any say for the fans.
“It’s not in the interests of fans, it’s not in the interests of football,” he said
“How can it be right to have a situation in which you create a kind of cartel that stops clubs competing against each other, playing against each other properly, with all the hope and excitement that gives to the fans up and down the country?
“I think it offends against the basic principles of competition.”
Mr Johnson said legislation was an option, but added: “What we want to do first of all is back the FA, back the Premier League, and hope that we can thwart this proposal before it goes very much further.”
Under the plan unveiled at the weekend Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham would join six leading Spanish and Italian clubs to set up an alternative competition to the European Champions League.
The proposal has attracted particular ire as there would be no relegation from the Super League, regardless of how well clubs do on the field, although five of the best performing teams from outside the Super League would be invited to participate each year.
It has led to calls for the clubs involved to be expelled from the Premier League amid suggestions their players could be barred from representing their countries in the World Cup or the European Championship.
Football Supporters’ Association chief executive Kevin Miles, who was also on the conference call with No 10, said Mr Johnson had made clear he would be prepared to use legislation to protect authorities from legal action if they moved against the breakaway six.
Mr Miles said the rule books of the FA and Premier League, which were represented by chief executives Mark Bullingham and Richard Masters, give them the power to exclude clubs from their competitions but they may face legal challenges under competition law.
“The mood music from the Government was they would do what was required to make sure that the measures to exclude those clubs from competitions would not fall foul of competition law, and that they would amend the law if necessary,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said they were also considering preventing players of the clubs involved getting work visas and the withdrawal of police funding for match days.
“All these options are on the table at the moment,” the spokesman said.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party would back any legislation the Government brought forward to prevent the Super League going ahead.
“This is about willpower now. If the Government is determined to do something about it we will back them. There is no block in Parliament to action if action is needed,” he said.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it would be “carefully considering” the proposals following a request from Labour to investigate.
“The proposals for a European football Super League have attracted high levels of public interest. It is a complex area and we will be carefully considering any competition concerns relating to these proposals,” a spokesman said.
Protests against the proposal continued around the country with Chelsea fans gathering outside Stamford Bridge ahead of Tuesday night’s Premier League match against Brighton to demonstrate against their club’s involvement.
At an emergency meeting with the FA and Premier League, the 14 top-flight teams in England not involved “unanimously and vigorously” rejected the scheme.
“The Premier League is considering all actions available to prevent it from progressing, as well as holding those shareholders (clubs) involved to account under its rules,” the League said in a statement.
But while the English clubs involved remained silent, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez spoke out, insisting the proposals were necessary to enable the sport to “evolve” after the coronavirus pandemic.
“When you don’t have income beyond television, the way to make it profitable is to make more attractive matches. That’s how we started working,” he told Spanish TV in his first public comments since the plan was announced at the weekend.