What Will Brexit Do To UK Football?

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Today (29/03/19) was meant to be “Independence Day” with the UK due to leave the European Union for good, following the referendum vote in June 2016.

Street parties, minted coins and a host of merchandise, including t-shirts have all been cancelled, or postponed.

While Brexit’s ultimate destination is currently unknown, its potential impact on British sport, and especially around football, can’t be underestimated.

Transfer Of Players

Authorities of the game were quite clear which way they wanted the referendum to go. Richard Scudamore, Executive Chairman, said in 2016 that the Premier League supported a remain vote, and by extensive, all 20 clubs in the league.

The biggest issues surrounding Brexit and football in the UK is obvious the movement of players who are nationals outside of the UK. Research found that at the start of this season that, of the 152 Premier League players, split across the 20 team league, that roughly a quarter (25%) would not get a work permit post-Brexit, if strict immigration rules were put in place.

“Analysis of squads in the first two tiers in England and the Scottish Premiership has revealed a total of 332 players would fail to meet the current permit standards.”

BBC Sport, 2016

Many clubs, to date, rely on the Exceptions Panel to push through work permits for players that may not qualify instantly for such permission to play football in the UK. This is really the last resort for clubs to sign a foreign player. For example, Riyah Mahrez’s original transfer from Le Harve to Leicester City in 2014 would like not have been allowed in a post-Brexit world, even if the club tried to push it through with the Exceptions Panel. Yet, according to the BBC, if the same criteria is applied to his move to Manchester City last summer, he would have qualified for such a permit.


Why do you think? It all comes down to money. His wages of roughly £6.2 million a year would be significantly taxed and go straight into the government’s coffers.

In addition, applying this scenario to the start of the Premier League in 1992, research has found that more than half of EU players would not have received a permit. Players who would not have qualified included N’Golo Kante and Gianluca Vialli, according to FiveThirtyEight.

The Bosman Ruling & Brexit

Moving beyond the availability of players, Brexit, whenever it does arrive, could change a host of EU regulations on football. The most critical of which is the Bosman Ruling from 1995. The decision was made by the European Court of Justice in 1995 allowing players to leave clubs once their contracts are finished. Brexit could put an end to this rule in the UK game.

What Do Those In The Game Think?

Figures within the game haven’t been shy about airing their viewpoints either on the referendum. In the Leave camp are two stalwarts of British football, Sam Allardyce and Neil Warnock.

“We voted for Brexit, we voted for it!”

Sam Allardyche, Independent.ie

Meanwhile, Warnock was much stronger in his viewpoint.

“I don’t know why politicians don’t do what the country wants, if I’m honest. They had a referendum and now we see different politicians and everyone else trying to put their foot in it … Why did we have a referendum in the first bloody place? I can’t wait to get out of it, if I’m honest. I think we’ll be far better out of the bloody thing.”

Neil Warnock, Cardiff City Manager

Meanwhile, other prominent former players, including Gary Lineker has consistently voiced his opinion against leaving the EU.

Economic Impact On The Game

New research released today has revealed that the UK’s exit from the EU could cost £725 million, according to Free Super Tips (see more here). This is primarily based off the UK missing out on the taxation of players.

Meanwhile, Brexit’s impact could also be heavily felt in the transfer market with Premier League clubs spending more than £2.1 billion on players from EU countries over the last three seasons.

If access to these players is removed, much less money on transfer is likely to be spent, and also the transfer negotiation period will likely be lengthened significantly, if permits are required for every player, even from the EU.

Free Super Tips

However, an impact has already been felt by clubs in the Premier League according to Burnley Chairman Mike Garlick.

“The hit to the value of the pound against the euro, largely caused by Brexit uncertainty, is already making it harder for clubs to sign players.”

Mike Garlick, BBC Sport

Elsewhere, other clubs might see their wage bills decline sharply if they have to sell off EU players.

For example, Chelsea are the Premier League’s biggest contributors to the economy with largest wages for EU players, the club’s EU-based squad have been taxed £99.2 million since the start of the 2016/17 season. The Blues are followed by Manchester United in second with £74.9 million, Manchester City with £70.7 million, Arsenal (£53.1million) and Southampton (£48.5 million). If a quota on EU players is implemented these clubs will be forced to sell off many of their EU stars.

Competitive (Dis)advantage

Undoubtedly, the Premier League is the richest league in the world and enables its teams to compete for the best talent globally. as said, Premier League clubs have spent an eye-watering £2.1 billion in the last three years on players. This financial muscle is primarily based off clubs receiving huge revenues from broadcasting deals with BT and Sky Sports. Last season teams in the Premier League earned £2.42 billion thanks to these deals.

Yet if teams can’t sign the best players in the world, the Premier League’s quality will, unfortunately decline and give a huge opportunity for other leagues to catch up to the UK’s nouveau riche clubs. A clear knock-on effect of this is that the broadcasting value of the Premier League, and also UK football in general, will decline too. It really could be a vicious circle.

What happens next is anyone’s guess in the Brexit process. However, all the indicators in terms of its impact on football are not good and could have long, long reaching implications and consequences for the game in the UK.

Are clubs actually prepared for what could be coming? I really don’t think so, and that’s really quite worrying.