LONDON • The controversial proposed shake-up for English football has been rejected by Premier League clubs following an emergency meeting yesterday.
All 20 clubs debated radical plans to restructure English football at a shareholders’ meeting as British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden acknowledged the proposals as “Project Power Grab”.
The “Project Big Picture” plan, backed by Liverpool and Manchester United and championed by English Football League (EFL) chairman Rick Parry, has also been criticised by the government, Football Association (FA), Premier League and fan groups.
Under the proposals, the number of teams in the English top flight would be cut from 20 to 18, while the League Cup and the Community Shield would be scrapped.
There would also be changes to voting rights and a substantial financial settlement for the struggling EFL due to the pandemic.
While there was much praise for some of the financial proposals – including a £250 million (S$442 million) bailout of the EFL plus an annual 25 per cent of revenue payment to the lower leagues – many of the reforms were considered nothing more than a “power grab”.
Under Project Big Picture, nine clubs – the “Big Six” of Liverpool, United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham and the three longest-serving teams – would have all voting power which includes the ability to veto takeovers of rival clubs.
Following the virtual meeting yesterday, the 20 clubs swiftly rejected the plan and have also agreed to commission a strategy review and a new bailout offer to the EFL.
An EPL statement read: “Premier League shareholders today unanimously agreed to work together as a 20-club collective on a strategic plan for the future structures and financing of English football. Premier League clubs also agreed that Project Big Picture will not be endorsed by the Premier League, any of its clubs or The FA.”
Mr Dowden, speaking to Parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee, said the proposals “tended towards a closed shop” in favour of the Big Six.
Plans dubbed “Project Big Picture” sought to consolidate decision-making among nine clubs that have spent the longest extended period in the top flight.
Asked for his view on Parry specifically, he said: “I would have preferred that at the end of this, that rather than reading about this Project Power Grab as you rightly put it, instead I was reading how they had come to a deal to secure the future of football.”
His comments come after FA chairman Greg Clarke said a breakaway from the top flight was wielded “as a threat” during talks over the divisive plans.
In a letter to the FA council, which convenes today, he said he had taken part in initial discussions before walking away when he felt the aim had become “the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few clubs, with a breakaway league mooted as a threat”.
Clarke also warned that the FA could use its so-called “golden share” as a trump card if it felt the wider interests of the game were being compromised, and suggested that any breakaway competition would not receive the necessary sanctions from the governing body.
Fans of the Big Six have opposed the Project Big Picture idea as well. According to goal.com, a statement released on Tuesday on behalf of supporter groups from all six clubs said fans were “totally opposed” to the idea of a departure from the “one club, one vote” ethos of the Premier League, and to “concentrating power in the hands of six billionaire owners”.
Former FA chairman David Bernstein is expected to call for independent regulation today with a different proposal – produced over six months with a small group of people independent of the FA.
The Guardian reported Bernstein’s group believes that the sport cannot be trusted to reform itself and therefore requires independent ideas and body to cater to the different needs of the FA, Premier League, Football League, National League and women’s game.