The government could impose sanctions or introduce legislation in order to prevent the breakaway new European Super League, a senior cabinet minister has said.
The comments came as Boris Johnson is to meet officials from the Football Association, the Premier League and fans to discuss proposals for the European Super League on Tuesday.
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, told Sky News: “The government reserves its position to take any action that’s required, including the need to take legislation, the need to take sanctions in order to ensure we protect football interests in this country.”
There were a “whole range of sanctions”, that the government could impose, he added.
There has been a backlash after six of England’s biggest clubs unveiled proposals for the breakaway tournament, alongside six Spanish and Italian clubs. The competition would be played alongside domestic leagues but would rival the Europe-wide Champions League.
Much of the anger has been directed at a structure for the new league that does not allow for promotion or relegation.
Writing in the Sun on Tuesday morning, Johnson said he was “horrified” at the implications for clubs up and down the country that had a “unique place” at the heart of their communities.
“The joy of the game’s current structure, one that has kept people coming back year after year, generation after generation, is that even the most seemingly endless period of frustration is made bearable by the possibility, however remote, that one day you could see them rise up,” he writes.
“But that can only happen if the playing field is even vaguely level and the ability to progress is universal.”
The prime minister added: “It is your game – and you can rest assured that I’m going to do everything I can to give this ludicrous plan a straight red.”
Labour has written to the Competition and Markets Authority watchdog asking it to investigate if competition issues were at play in the creation of the league.
The shadow sport minister, Alison McGovern, told BBC Breakfast: “I think on the face of it there are competition issues here at play and I have asked them to tell us whether they can investigate and, further, if they can commission a market study and give us advice about what they can do.”
The Duke of Cambridge – who is the president of the Football Association – was also among those who voiced his dismay at the “damage” the plan would do to the national game.
“Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness at its core,” he said on Twitter.
Sir Keir Starmer said the proposed new league “cuts across all the things that make football great”.
The Labour leader, who supports Arsenal, said: “It diminishes competition. It pulls up the drawbridge. It is designed for and by a small elite. But worst of all, it ignores the fans.”
The plan, which would create a new league bringing Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham together with the Spanish sides Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona and the Italian clubs AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan, has already been condemned by both the FA and the Premier League.
Protests took place outside English football grounds on Monday, with anger focused on overseas owners of the clubs, none of whom have come forward to justify the scheme. The PA Media news agency reported that the Premier League had called its other 14 clubs to an emergency shareholders meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss the proposal.
The clubs involved now potentially face attempts by the government to block their plan. Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said that if football authorities were unable to prevent English clubs from going ahead with the new league the government would do “whatever it takes” to protect the national game.
Dowden also announced he was bringing forward a wider fan-led review of the game to be led by Tracey Crouch, a former sports minister.
Richard Caborn, another former sports minister, said the UK should consider removing foreign ownership of clubs in response to the proposed league.