KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his British government, riven by internal dissent, a cost of living crisis, hard-pushed health service, immigration controversy and bankrupt local councils has leaped into action . . . proposing a football regulator.

Of all the areas of national life in need of legislative attention, football hardly ranks as the Premier League generates an annual £6bn from foreign earnings and with lively attendances recorded in all the top four tiers.

The proposal for an independent regulator received a mixed welcome as a bill was introduced in parliament. The legislation would grant powers to a body, independent of government and football authorities, to oversee clubs in England’s top five men’s tiers.

It would have the power to fine clubs up to 10pc of their turnover for non-compliance with financial regulations. The plan is to strengthen tests of the suitability for club owners and guard against “closed-shop competitions” such as the big bad wolf of a European Super League.

Clubs will also be obliged to consult fans over matters such as strategic direction and anything that impacts their heritage.

Quite how the regulator will divine such dangers in advance has not been explained. The modern history of regulators in commercial life – from water to energy – hardly offers any reassurance that a football version can cope the game’s structural fault lines.

Sunak, a supporter of second-tier Southampton , said: “For too long some clubs have been abused by unscrupulous owners who get away with financial mismanagement, which at worst can lead to complete collapse.

“This bill is a historic moment for football fans – it will make sure their voices are front and centre, prevent a breakaway league, protect the financial sustainability of clubs, and protect the heritage of our clubs big and small.”

Settlement row

A running sore within the domestic game is the failure of the Premier League to reach a new financial share-out settlement with the Football League which runs the lower three divisions.

The Premier League said it would study the bill.

A statement said: “We agree it is vital that football clubs are sustainable, remain at the heart of their communities and that fans are fundamental to the game.

“We are mindful that the future growth of the Premier League is not guaranteed, we remain concerned about any unintended consequences of legislation that could weaken the competitiveness and appeal of English football.”

The EFL welcomed the bill. Chairman Rick Parry said: “We hope (it) will be an important milestone to help us secure the long-term financial sustainability of England’s football pyramid.

“The establishment of the independent football regulator will be at the heart of this reform, and we are encouraged that the regulator will be given backstop powers to deliver financial redistributions should the game be unable to agree a deal itself.”

Payment penalties

The legislation follows a fan-led review, which said a regulator was necessary for the long-term financial stability of the men’s professional game after issues including financial mismanagement. Everton and Nottingham Forest have both been deducted points this season for breaching Premier League profit and sustainability rules.

The regulator will have powers revolving around three core objectives: improving financial sustainability of clubs, ensuring financial resilience across the leagues and safeguarding English football’s heritage.

As part of their licence, clubs will be required to consult their fans on key off-field decisions, such as club heritage and the club’s strategic direction.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “Football is nothing without its fans. We are determined to put them back at the heart of the game and ensure clubs as vital community assets continue to thrive.

“The new regulator will set the game on a sustainable footing, strengthening clubs and the entire football pyramid for generations.”

‘Sigh of relief’

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch, who chaired the fan-led review, said: “Football fans can begin to breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that the next steps towards protecting the long-term sustainability of the pyramid have now been taken.”

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, added: “The FSA warmly welcomes the tabling of the Football Governance Bill arising from the 2021 fan-led review, and particularly its central proposal to introduce statutory independent regulation of the game.

“The regulator must be given the power to impose a financial settlement in the interests of the sustainability of the game as a whole. It is far too important to be left to the squabbling between the vested interests of the richest club owners.”

However, campaign group Fair Game said “at first glance” it looks like the bill has “missed the target” and that they have “failed to get assurances that the regulator will have the power to intervene”.