Another set of half-baked proposals from the Football League
Two summers ago, I stood on the stoop of a pub in Oxford and was interviewed over the telephone by the We Are Going Up podcast about the proposals to introduce reserve teams of Premier League clubs into the Football League.
Met with a volley of outbursts and snorts as it was, the idea was given short shrift in most quarters (aside from Mark Warburton — a man who knows a thing or two now about ‘big’ clubs operating below their natural level) and we have heard little since. Yesterday, however, the Football League announced a new set of points for discussion.
To quote the Football League’s website:
Under the proposal, The Football League would become a four division competition below the Premier League, including a new League Three, with 100 clubs competing across the professional game. In addition, the League Cup and League Trophy will be retained with the latter potentially having a revised format include a group structure of three games before becoming a knockout competition thereafter.
It’s my natural reaction to meet such announcements in the manner I would welcome a new single from Travis or a speech from Michael Gove but I’ll admit to being initially seduced by one of the major points made.
A reduction in the number of midweek matches per division to 1 — while a somewhat dramatic lessening compared to the current 9 in the Championship, does, on the face of it, seem like a good idea.
I speak primarily as a consumer and it’s long been a real sense of anguish to me that it’s impossible to attend a distant midweek game in England because there are no trains or other forms of public transport back after the match. Even within a region, it can be a real effort getting home at a godly hour.
This factor seems to have been continually ignored by a phalanx of supporters for midweek fixtures including hotel-abiding journos and car driving Clarkson admirers. True, I find as appealing as anyone the attractions of a game under ‘under the lights’ but I’ve been denied trips to Brighton two years in a row now and when a soon forgotten FA Cup run led to a match at Middlesbrough being served up on a Tuesday night, is it any surprise that the away support struggled to get into three figures?
The number of deadening games seems to have become larger in recent years and, along with the tendency to schedule a full programme at mad times of years such as early December, the impact of the play-offs which for a time seemed to allow every team to have a cause to fight for until very close to the end of the season, has lately been impaired. I am also inclined to agree with the Football League that 24 teams in a division is an unnaturally high number.
But on twitter yesterday, esteemed journalist Michael Calvin had this to say:
Let’s judge the FL leadership on their record. Bought off by the PL when convenient to the PL. Unconvincing on ownership issues. Hardly reassuring.
Is this fair? Is this a thin end of the wedge that will see us undertaking away trips to Bournemouth reserves in a few short years? Is the whole concept of ‘The 92 Club’ out the window — will Converse serve an injunction to ban usage of the phrase ‘The 100 Club’.
The proposals do, I’m afraid, reek of FA and Premier League pressure. Next season is a key one for the Championship in particular and one imagines huffiness at UEFA headquarters that Newcastle may face Leeds in a televised fixture on the same evening as Gent versus Wolfsburg or, let’s face it, the approximate 197th meeting between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the past 3 seasons. As my fellow blogger Lloyd tweeted this week — he longed to be watching Accrington against AFC Wimbledon rather than Liverpool’s failed bid for Europa League glory.
There’s also that B team spectre again — one of the cited reasons for the proposals is that they will bring ‘increased importance of reserve team football’ — how exactly? I can only see this being true if the floodgates were opened an inch and the Trojan Horse of Premier League under-21 sides allowed in. That whole suggestion of Stoke or Manchester City’s reserves competing in a league with the first teams of our clubs remains a reason for boycott to set alongside the 39th game, the Qatar World Cup and Robbie Savage’s continuing deployment as a pundit.
The League also suggest there will be an ‘increase in the sale of season tickets due to the reduction in midweek game’.
How so? Will clubs be forced to bring down the price of season tickets? There is already massive variation from club to club and a drop in match day revenue from 23 to 19 matches has already been voiced by club owners as a reason to resist the proposals. If the idea is that TV money will fill the hole in revenue that remains, then who remembers ITV Digital?
It’s for this last reason in the main that there is a fair chance the proposals won’t succeed despite the ‘in principle’ support of executives (does anyone else immediately picture the well fed face of Wolves’ Jez Moxey in their mind at this point?).
There has to be 65% support for the new four team format and while another mooted reason — a reduction in squad size — might please club finance officers, they are free to do this anyway given the precariousness of contracts and record numbers of players being released. On the flip side of this, the Professional Footballers’ Association won’t welcome a lessening of its membership.
Central to the plans is the idea of no relegation in the 2018-19 season — a ‘readjustment’ perhaps but words that are likely to be jumped upon by executives of struggling clubs as evidence of a precedent that could be introduced more permanently to suit the wealthy. The League is at pains to state that three up, three down will exist as a principle with the Premier League but, quite frankly, it won’t be up to them if someone tries to change this.
While a degree of change is to be welcomed and there are certainly things that need altering about a structure that can serve up an alarming degree of unexciting matches, that 65% requirement seems likely to leave the plans, if not in tatters, heavily modified by the time they become reality.