Gary Neville exclusive interview: On the 'attempted murder' of English football and his vision for a better game – Sky Sports

  • September 28, 2022

In this in-depth interview with Sky Sports to coincide with the release of his new book The People’s Game: A View from A Front Seat in Football, Gary Neville talks us through those Super League plans and why he believes it is time for English football to change
Comment and Analysis
Tuesday 27 September 2022 23:47, UK
On April 18 2021, news emerged of plans for a breakaway European Super League that would include six clubs from the Premier League. The proposals caused widespread uproar and were soon shelved following fan protests.
The fall-out from that and the financial crisis caused by the pandemic provides the backdrop for Gary Neville’s new book, The People’s Game: A View from A Front Seat in Football.
Here, in this Q&A with Sky Sports, Neville discusses the state of the game and what he wants to see happen next…
It was a defining issue in football history, what happened with the Super League and what the top six attempted to do. I called it at the time a criminal act. It was the attempted murder of English football. And not just English football. Many leagues across the whole of Europe would have been devastated by it. We cannot just forget that. We would not just forget about it in real life.
The majority of those people are still owning those clubs and they still have intent because Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid are still saying that the Super League is going to go ahead in some way. We do not know in what form they will bring it back. We know that they will bring it back. They will edge their intent ever nearer to something like that.
I don’t think I am a lone voice. I might be the one who moans about it and whinges about it the most but I believe this is the most important issue in football today because our pyramid needs protecting and there are people within our pyramid who want to extract more from it than they should do. That means going to set up leagues in other parts of Europe where there is not fair competition.
It is not just the Super League. It is about Derby County. It is about Bury. It is about sustainability. It is about fairer distribution. It is about a fit-and-proper owners test. There are a lot of things that the game needs and it will only come through independence. It will not come through vested interest and greed. The game is quite stuck actually at all levels because you cannot get anything through because of the number of votes you need. That needs unblocking.
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In my book I suggest that a regulator definitely needs to come in. The fan-led review that Tracey Crouch has done that was part of the last Conservative government’s manifesto tells us that we basically need an independent regulator. They have done a brilliant job, Tracey and her panel. We just need to execute that now.
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I am coming up in a couple of years to my 50th birthday. I know a lot more than I did 20 years ago. You let a lot of things pass when you are a player, when you are an employee, and you are not in a position of leadership, even though I was a union rep, I was at times captain of Manchester United and I was on the players’ board with England. You are still in a position where you are told what to do and you abide by that. Those are just the principles of how I was brought up. Your leaders, your coaches, your teachers, [you listen to them].
That is why I admire those players now who do speak up on social issues because I did keep quiet. I am quite humble about that in the book. I said that when Roman Abramovich came to Chelsea and when the Glazer family came to United and when I witnessed Ashley Cole being racially abused in the Bernabeu and when I witnessed Raheem Sterling being targeted by the media in 2016, I did not do enough. I did not see it as the danger that I do now years later.
I do feel that I am at an important stage of my life where the experiences that I have had whether that is playing, managing, with the PFA or [as part-owner of Salford City], that there is a better way forward for football. I still think the priority of any regulator is to maintain the standards of the Premier League. I love the Premier League. It is outstanding. This is not an anti-Premier League stance, this is a pro-Premier league stance to make the game fairer and better and to strengthen the pyramid.
I love watching football. I am looking forward to the Manchester derby like you would not believe. I am excited by it. We have Liverpool versus Arsenal in a couple of weeks, great games to look forward to that are brilliant to watch and I fully respect that it is my job when I am doing that. But I love the idea of business in sport.
I feel more empowered to speak now and I feel stronger about those big issues that affect the game. People will say that maybe I should concentrate on the football side of things but I won’t do because the reality is that I believe we can have a better and fairer game for all.
That means better for Manchester United in the Premier League and Grimsby Town in League Two and Ossett United in step eight. I believe we have the best leagues in the world but I believe we can be better. We do need independence. We cannot have a situation where all the power sits with a few clubs at the very top. That is not right.
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The independent regulator should be regulatory experts, financial experts, not necessarily experts in football. They should oversee a fairer distribution model, sustainability, real-time financial management, prevent Derby and Macclesfield and Wigan and Bury situations happening.
We also need a fit-and-proper owners test so we have transparency and independence around which owners can come into English football because I do believe there should be a higher standard for owning a football club than an ordinary business.
And then we need to make sure we can prevent proposals like Big Picture and Super League and other examples that may come forward in the future. There are many different reasons why an independent regulator needs to come in but the main reason is because football has demonstrated over the past 30 years that they have allowed the gap to widen so much between the Premier League and the Championship and then obviously League One and Two that it needs revisiting quickly or it will never be brought back.
You have people who believe they should have all the money and the Championship, League One and League Two should get what they are given. That is wrong. It is not how it was set up 30 years ago. The gap was minimal. The gap now is described perfectly by Rick Parry in the book, you don’t need parachutes unless you have got a cliff – and there is a cliff between the Premier League and the Championship. That cliff creates a desperate situation, gambling like in a casino to get back in there. We don’t need that. There should be sporting disappointment and economic loss if you are relegated but it should not get to the point where you are worried about your club’s future.
I am not saying that the Premier League should hand money down the pyramid without rules, without sustainability or real-time financial monitoring. They absolutely should or we will end up in this situation again with teams spending money on players. There has to be change all across the board. It cannot just be a redistribution, it has to be regulation.
Football has demonstrated that it cannot run itself. The FA is powerless. The Premier League applies that power to the FA and other organisations because they fund them.
But the Premier League has 20 clubs. There are another 30 clubs who have represented the Premier League in the Championship, League One and League Two. There is even one in Oldham that is non-League. It is a transient membership. It is not a franchise league. It is part of the pyramid and we have to protect that pyramid. It is a strength of our game in this country.
But the pyramid has demonstrated that it has too much-vested interest and it needs independence – at least for a few years until we can reset the FA and it can become, potentially, the governing body that it needs to be in five to 10 years as Tracey Crouch has said in her review.
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That is the reason why not a lot gets done in football. You have got this log jam. Vested interests. Competing interests. Greed. Not thinking about the wider good of the game. You end up with a situation where you cannot get anything through that is meaningful.
But this fan-led review cannot be kicked into the long grass or shelved. It is a brilliant piece of work. A lot of those things in my book are reflected in that review. This seems like a really easy one for Liz Truss because there is cross-party support and overwhelming support in the community to execute the recommendations of the review. So I was a little bit concerned last week when I saw there were rumours it could be shelved. I will hold back for now and hope that they were just rumours and that is not the truth.
Sports ministers, cabinet ministers, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs, there has been overwhelming support across the board. The only thing that could pull this back is the fact that there is a new PM who may for some reason decide she does not want to see it through but that would be against the wishes of 99 per cent of football and 99 per cent of the political will across parties. This is quite an easy win. Particularly if you are looking for good news at this time in the lead up to an election in 18 months to two years.
I am always nervous of power, hierarchy, vested interest and greed winning because it seems at this moment as if it has overtaken our society, not just football. Can we just look after each other and do the right thing for once? During the pandemic, should League One and Two clubs have had to wait 10 to 12 months for a rescue package? Should we be arguing over those things when £1.9 billion pounds was spent in the latest transfer window and they are arguing over a few million to keep football clubs in this country alive?
To say it would take away competitive advantage for the Premier League is a nonsense. It is scaremongering and it creates fear where there does not have to be fear.
I will always be concerned because there is a long way to go, particularly given the reports that came out from Martyn Ziegler in The Times. So there is something potentially happening behind the scenes. But at this point it is time to keep calm because there is widespread, overwhelming support within football for the fan-led review recommendations. I don’t know why that would be ignored.
Societal issues around LGBTQ rights and racism, the game can do a lot better in these areas. There is absolutely no doubt we need a fully invested women’s game. We need to make sure that Karen Carney, who is doing the review of the women’s game, is allowed to do her job and that those recommendations are implemented. Those things are mentioned in the book. It is wide-ranging.
But football is not complex. It is quite simple. You just need some regulation and some independence and it will sort itself out. Just bang a few heads together and realise that the reason people fell in love with the game in the first place is because we like kicking a ball around. Take it back to that innocence because we take it away from that far too often.
The People’s Game: A View from A Front Seat in Football is out now

In this in-depth interview with Sky Sports to coincide with the release of his new book The People’s Game: A View from A Front Seat in Football, Gary Neville talks us through those Super League plans and why he believes it is time for English football to change…
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