The Football Association (FA) should be given a year to sort out the financial management of football clubs or face legislation, an influential committee of MPs said today.
The threat from the Commons' culture, media and sport committee comes after years of political attempts to persuade the English football system to become more financially sound and responsive to fans.
"Much greater reform in football is needed to make the game inclusive, sustainable and driven from the grass roots, where it should be," John Whittingdale, chair of the committee, said.
"The financial risk-taking by clubs is a threat to the sustainability of football as a family and community orientated game.
"This is a central issue which must be addressed and real solutions – and the will to make the necessary changes - have been glaringly absent from the proposals so far," he added.
"If football cannot reform itself, the government should introduce legislation as soon as practically possible."
Whittingdale's committee and the FA have an acrimonious relationship. A previous critical report was met by a response on future governance which was considered by many in parliament to be purposefully impossible to understand.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said the report was a worrying indication that the political world was prepared to get involved in football.
"That the government wants clear rules for football to be managed - I agree completely. But politics rule football, I am not for it," he said.
"Government has a view on how [football] has to be managed and how the sustainability of the club is supported. That's very important.
'All of our customers are international and we need those transport links to be as efficient and effective as possible'
'If politicians continue to dither on a decision on airport capacity we will start to prejudice London's premier position'
"But apart from that it has to be managed in an independent way.
"I think, personally, the real pride of a football club is to be independent."
Many campaigners for change in English football believe the balance of power has shifted entirely to the Premier League, where all the money is – leaving the FA with governance responsibilities but no actual power.
"No government wants to get into that sticky business of legislating around football," Clive Betts, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on football, told politics.co.uk last year.
"It's the gun in the draw that hasn't been pulled out yet. It's saying: we might do something if you don't. That's the threat."
Some experts warn that a perfect storm is taking place in English football which could lead to a financial crisis in one of Britain's main cultural exports.
They point to the increasing commercialisation of the game, coupled with a lack of financial regulation, which are causing clubs to take financial risks with dire consequences if they go wrong.