Exclusive: Newcastle United takeover roadblock likely removed as government fan-led review set to blunt Project Big Picture
The Gazette can reveal the government are set to step in and take control of the debate around the governance of the English game after the English Premier League and the English Football League demonstrated a failure to self-regulate and agree a bailout package for struggling lower league clubs.
It is understood a fan-led review of the game – headed up by MPs and prominent supporter groups – is imminent and will beat Richard Masters' proposed internal review of the governance in the top flight, and the Rick Parry-championed Project Big Picture talks, which supporters of the package hoped would be rekindled, in some form, in the coming weeks.
A recent Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee meeting revealed up to 10 of the 72 clubs in the EFL face severe financial difficulties – and may not be able to make payroll – due to the challenges arising from COVID restrictions.
And that need for swift action raised the fear that PBP 2.0 would reamerge on the English footballing landscape – but with the government set to now step in, those chances have been severely dampened.
One of the key components of PBP was that power would shift to the top six, plus three others – giving them the ability to make rules and dictate the future direction of the English game.
These proposals included the ability to block any possible takeover of sides in the 'other 14' and beyond.
Were those rules rushed through it would have potentially sounded the death knell for the stalled PCP Capital Partners, Reuben Brothers and Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia £300million buyout of Newcastle United.
It is understood a growing number of politicians and government ministers have grown increasingly frustrated with the EPL's inability to sanction a bailout for clubs in need further down the pyramid, something which ministers feel was part of the agreement which allowed football to return as part of Project Restart in June.
Government intervention is also understood to be supported by some within the Premier League hierarchy too, with officials believing the project has spiralled out of control, with clubs in the top six exerting pressure on the governing body after rounds of secret talks.
Keith Patterson, of Newcastle Consortium Supporters Ltd, who are taking the Premier League to court in relation to what they see as anti-competition behaviour, thinks the government stepping in can only be good for the future of the game.
He said: "It will come as a great relief to any concerned football fan that the government are having to step forward to regulate our national sport.
"Then when you observe many EFL clubs unable to pay wages whilst the so-called 'big six' use the COVID pandemic as a 'power grab' and you see these clubs proposing that they can choose with whom they compete, it becomes abundantly clear there's a conflict of interest. It's also obvious the EPL executive has lost control of the so-called 'big six'."
This week a number of prominent MPs called for a move towards a fan-led review of the game in a parliamentary debate. Sports minister Nigel Huddleston was in attendance at the meeting.
At the debate Huddleston, according to the Football Supporters' Association, claimed "the government would not kick the review into the long-grass" and that "following Project Big Picture supporters firmly believe it should be wide-ranging and encompass football’s power structure".
Huddleston revealed the government will announce a formal review of the game in due course.
As part of that review it's expected there will be an acceptance the Premier League will be reduced to 18 teams from 20 – a key rule change put forward as part of PBP – to align the top flight with the increased number of games an expanded Champions League will bring. The competition is expected to increase, with the Premier League likely to get five spots in the tournament, up from four.
It is thought the government fan-led review will end any hopes that Parry's PBP will return and keep hopes of change on Tyneside alive, with dealmakers currently maneuvering their way through legal channels, including a Premier League arbitration.