In a rare act of solidarity, the biggest supporter groups from Liverpool FC and Manchester United have jointly issued a statement urging ministers to include a beefed-up test for club owners and directors in an imminent white paper.
The joint statement by Spirit of Shankly (SoS) and Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) comes as plans for an independent football regulator are expected to be announced next month and also as both Liverpool and United’s owners are exploring sales of the respective clubs.
In the statement, Joe Blott, SoS chairman, and Duncan Drasdo, MUST chief executive, say:
“By common consent, our clubs are the biggest in English football and, with a combined worldwide fanbase of over 200m people, they are widely recognised global institutions - in fact perhaps two of the most well-known British institutions worldwide.”
“That global profile will likely attract many potential bidders, including some whose primary motivations may not respect either the cultural heritage of our clubs or the values and interests of supporters.”
“We think that should be a matter of importance to the government.”
“Just as the government would not allow our most important cultural or heritage assets to fall into unfit or improper hands, it should not allow our football clubs to do so either.”
The two supporters’ groups are both in favour and welcoming of a new independent football regulator, but also warn that “there is a danger it will come too late for the country’s two biggest and most successful clubs”.
“Manchester United and Liverpool fans are the most fierce rivals.”
“If we can come together with common cause then we believe the government can work out a way to ensure its intended Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF) and stronger ownership rules can be introduced quickly enough to safeguard the future of our two clubs.”
The two groups are particularly focused on the scope and content of a strengthened owners and directors test, the corporate governance framework within which they would be required to operate, and rules guaranteeing supporters “significant input into how their clubs are run”. We’ll see if anything happens with next month’s announcement. With Qatari investment constantly linked with Liverpool as of late, these new regulations could change the game.