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Downing Street could claw back Covid support money from European Super League clubs

Andrew Woodcock
·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Downing Street has said it does not rule out clawing back Covid support money from football clubs taking part in the proposed breakaway European Super League.

The development came as prime minister Boris Johnson said the planned contest was “not good news for fans” and vowed to work with football authorities to “make sure” it does not go ahead in the way currently being proposed.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said that nothing was off the table as the government reviews what action could be taken.

Asked if this could included a move to a German-style model of minimum 51 per cent fan ownership of clubs or demanding back taxpayer-funded loans to teams like Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, he did not rule either option out.

“We are considering a range of options and the prime minister wants to look at everything we can do to make sure these proposals don’t go forward in the way that’s proposed,” said the spokesperson in response.

“We want to look at everything possible. We are not ruling anything in or out. We want to look at the options.”

Arsenal borrowed £120m and Spurs £175m through the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, a form of low-cost borrowing made available to help larger firms get through the pandemic.

The spokesperson said that a fan-led review of football governance, promised in the Conservative manifesto for the 2019 general election, will be launched “as soon as possible”, blaming delays on need for ministers to focus on the Covid pandemic.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is due to make a statement in the Commons on the shock announcement that six English Premier League sides - Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs - have signed up to a new tournament involving some of the continent’s biggest clubs.

And the cross-party House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee is to meet to discuss what its chair Julian Knight referred to as “a dark day for football”.

The proposal, also including three teams each from Spain and Italy, has sparked outrage among fans, football authorities and other clubs, as founding members would be spared from the threat of relegation, limiting opportunities for smaller sides to break through.

Speaking to reporters during a local election campaign visit to Gloucestershire, Mr Johnson said football clubs were more than “great global brands”, and needed to have a link with their fans and communities.

Asked if teams joining the breakaway league could be compelled to pay back state-backed coronavirus loans, Mr Johnson said: “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.”

He added: “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 fan base in their community.

“So it is very, very important that that continues to be the case. I don’t like the look of these proposals, and we’ll be consulting about what we can do.”

Mr Knight said: “This is a dark day for football – a deal done behind closed doors apparently with no regard for supporters.

“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 leader and Arsenal fan Sir Keir Starmer said the Super League plan “cuts across all the things that make football great”.

“It diminishes competition. It pulls up the drawbridge. It is designed for and by a small elite,” he said. “But worst of all, it ignores the fans.”

Scottish Tory leader and football linesman Douglas Ross said the move would be “detrimental” to the game.

“It would help a small number of clubs that are already very well off and it would actually work against the smaller clubs and spectators of those clubs,” he added.

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