A nightmarish vision of the future of English football was provided this week by The Guardian’s Louise Taylor in support of a Championship breakaway and the creation of a Premier League 2. With spade in the face diplomacy, Taylor said that the Championship needs to ‘divorce’ itself from the rest of the EFL to address the gap in finances between the top two tiers.
Taylor, like a second division George Osborne, loved up with Middlesbrough’s ‘sweet passing’, mentioned ‘collateral damage’ and pain accompanying gain for the sport, with Leagues One and Two and the myriad non-leagues below seemingly cut adrift in her model. ‘Does League Two really need to be fully professional?’ she pondered; take a trip to any full-time fourth-tier side and speak to the staff for a very quick answer. The wreckage of Bury showed the damage to families and communities when the football club stops providing jobs.
Rory Smith, the well-respected New York Times writer, was part of this depressing journalistic direction of travel that sees full-time football as disposable by pondering whether 92 teams was always too many. Again, the idea of cutting is seen as easier than the careful job of nurture.
This was no Mad Max-style vision of a distant future that Taylor was presenting; it is scarily believable and one Accrington Stanley chairman Andy Holt has been publicly fearful of for some time. The threat of a Championship breakaway, first pushed in 2018 by a group headed by Leeds United, Derby County and Aston Villa, angry at the latest EFL TV deal, still lingers. This week the Telegraph said the Championship was ‘at war’ with clubs such as Stoke City, who are bankrolled by Bet365 millions.
We are already seeing a mirror Premier League with teams that haven’t delivered on the pitch despite spending astronomical sums but who have a sense of entitlement to join a club that can only have 20 members at any one time. The myriad hand-to-mouth clubs below the Championship who would have to negotiate the generous parachute payments to ever get to the top division seem to be lost in the argument.
Taylor’s masterplan came out the same day as the Premier League announced a six-year TV deal with Scandinavian countries worth in excess of £2billion. The excellent @uglygame blog on Twitter that deals with football reform was quick to retort:
There's more money than ever in football; the issue is how it's distributed. Suggesting bining off smaller clubs before we've actually explored a more equitable revenue model is like responding to stagnating middle class incomes by scrapping social security payments. https://t.co/GmRFZWM2Ap
— Martin Calladine (@uglygame) February 6, 2020
This is an old wound that festers from the creation of the Premier League in 1992, that some clubs are more equal than others and one that English football has to perform surgery on urgently. Taylor called for a neatly-trimmed Premier League 1 and 2, like the pre-’92 Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4 weren’t neat enough to start with, when the game had some kind of idea of a sporting body politic.
Leeds are no more important than Leyton Orient; Manchester United are no more worthy than Mansfield; they just happen to have a few more fans and more successful marketing. The Premier League would just be ‘the league’ without the reflected glory of thousands of clubs that make it the pinnacle of English football while we only need to look at ITV Digital to see what might befall a Championship breakaway.
What’s needed is a top to bottom enquiry into the financial distribution of the sport and a new deal that works for a team sport: one of crowds and a collective where every team should have a chance of a day in the sun.
The debate about scrapping FA Cup replays (which boost EFL club income) is just another layer of an argument that boils down to basic themes of inequality and sharing. Kids are taught not to hog the ball and football’s finances need to be spread game wide.
Accrington’s Andy Holt, fighting for the have nots almost single-handedly, has presented various financial packages to avoid a sociopathic abandonment of hundreds of community football clubs. It’s time we listened.
But here goes..
Instead of giving each @premierleague club £100m, (£2000m) and giving £250m in parachute payments that destroy competitive balance in @EFL on top of £4m to each @SkyBetChamp club not in receipt of the parachute (phew)
Why not give £80m to each @premierleague ..
— Andyh (@AndyhHolt) January 18, 2019
Meanwhile, fans of clubs from every league up and down the country need to get their heads out of the sand and be ready to fight for each other. If the base of the pyramid goes, the whole damn thing could come crashing down.
Tom Reed is on Twitter