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Dr David Webber on what a potential Brexit might mean for British football

The possibility of Britain leaving the European Union raises a number of issues that British football, and in particular the Premier League, might need to consider. Here, Dr David Webber Teaching Fellow in the Politics and International Studies department at the University of Warwick tackles those questions.

  • What might a change to the ‘free movement’ of footballers from within the EU mean?
  • What might be the financial effects for supporters?
  • Would the national team benefit from Brexit?
  • How much is the European Union actually to blame?

What might a change to the ‘free movement’ of footballers from within the EU mean?

"Exiting the EU may signal the end of the free movement of people from other member states to Britain, including footballers. Currently, Home Office guidelines on work permits for ‘non-EU’ players are strict and a similar situation might be extended for EU players if Britain was to vote to leave.

A potential ‘special arrangement’ with other EU associations to allow transfer of players has been mooted. However, while this would benefit the Premier League, there is little incentive for European leagues to reciprocate this agreement.

Only a handful of British players have switched to clubs on the continent – Gareth Bale being the most recent. As a result, the European clubs could easily perform to the same standard without any British influence. British football relies far more heavily on European players than European football relies on British players."


What are the financial effects for the supporters?

"A lower quality and less entertaining league would have serious financial implications. Interest in the Premier League from countries around the world may be affected if players from European nations no longer represent clubs in the league. This could potentially result in making the British game less lucrative to TV companies. Premier League clubs will, as a result, receive less money in TV rights.

Clubs rely heavily upon these TV revenues and any financial ‘hit’ is likely to be softened by the supporters. For supporters of those clubs competing in Europe, flights to the continent may become more expensive. Visas are likely required for entry into more countries, a weaker pound will make foreign goods and services more expensive, and travelling fans are likely to lose some health benefits."


Would the national team benefit from BREXIT?

"A common reason cited for the perennial failure of the England national team at major tournaments is the influx of ‘cheap’ foreign players in the Premier League. These, so the argument goes, have prevented home-grown players from getting game time. If this were true, leaving the EU would increase the need for clubs to use English players and the national team would benefit.

"However, if being in the EU was harmful to national teams then four of the last five World Cups would not have been won by different EU nations (France, Italy, Spain, and most recently, Germany).

"European club football has certainly not suffered as a result of participation in the EU. Many of the German squad play their club football in other European countries (including England) and yet Bundesliga teams still consistently go further in European competition than British clubs. The European Union is evidently not the cause of the lack of English international success."


How much is the European Union actually to blame?

"The long-standing belief that foreign imports are having a detrimental effect on the English game could be described as a mere excuse for a more accurate reason. England’s long barren spell is due to the inherent reluctance to embrace the European Union and the benefits it brings.

"Whilst players and coaches in other member states have taken advantage of the opportunity to work abroad, an English player making a move to the continent is very rare news. Even in cases of such moves, there is a further unwillingness to integrate and learn from the experience.

"England’s current manager, Roy Hodgson, has extensive European experience having managed in Italy and Sweden among others. Despite this, he has come to epitomise the stubborn mentality of the English game, reluctant to advance from traditional methods of coaching.

"The effects of Brexit on British football are not as advantageous as they first appear. An isolated league damages the possibilities for clubs in European competition, while only the richest clubs will be able to afford European players who meet Home Office guidelines, increasing the gap between the ‘big clubs’ and the rest of the league. Clubs in general will be less competitive, and the effect on the national teams will be nothing if not negative, as players no longer have the opportunity to play with and learn from talented players and coaches from Europe."


Alex Buxton

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