Monday 14th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Elliott. I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) for introducing this really important debate.

Many football clubs were created by workers at the heart of their communities. Luton Town, the club that I am so proud to have in my constituency of Luton South, was founded democratically when John Charles Lomax and George Deacon arranged a public meeting at the town hall on 11 April 1885 to form a town club. Lutonians opposed another group’s secretive plans to create a club and instead supported the transparent, democratic creation of the club that we are so proud of now.

As industry grew in Luton, so did the club, and that cuts to the heart of what football represents for so many. Sports clubs are not a business like any other; they are intrinsically linked to the communities they represent. Having met Luton Town Supporters’ Trust and Loyal Luton Supporters Club, what stands out to me most is how much they care about the club as a central feature of our town’s identity that should be celebrated.

The driving force of football is the comradeship among fans and communities, and at the weekend we saw an overwhelming display of heartfelt solidarity in response to Christian Eriksson’s collapse, and I wish him a speedy recovery. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] The principal—indeed, the only—concern of all fans across the world was Christian’s health, and to see the Danish and Finnish fans united in showing their support when the match restarted was truly moving.

Football transcends borders and communities, and fans come together through our shared love of the sport. I have experienced that first hand with the passionate Scandinavian Hatters from Norway and Sweden, who are an excellent part of Luton Town’s fan base, and I call many of them friends.

Measures must be put in place to protect and extend fans’ influence in their clubs.

The Labour party has called for reform of the governance of football for more than a decade. We need the Government’s review to be truly fan-led, in order to make this a watershed moment that reforms our game’s dysfunctional governance. We must put an end to the billionaire owners of the biggest clubs running our sport purely for profit—they clearly cannot be trusted to regulate themselves—and strict measures must be put in place to prevent any further attempts to create a European super league and to stop clubs such as Bury suffering the awful situations they have experienced.

As one of the vice-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters, I support the Football Supporters’ Association’s “Sustain The Game!” campaign, which outlines a plan: to protect our clubs as community assets; to improve transparency, to ensure that everyone knows who owns their club and how they operate; to impose financial controls with teeth, to ensure that clubs and leagues are regulated; to strengthen the football pyramid, in order to safeguard its long-term sustainability; and to ensure that supporters’ voices are at the heart of their clubs.

The fan-led review needs to bring about lasting change through the introduction of legislation to create a thoroughly independent regulator. As Saving Our Beautiful Game has put it:

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to reboot the game and side with millions of fans during a summer of football.”

I hope to read an interim report from the fan-led review in July that lays the ground for systemic change in our game.