Monday 12 October 2020

Project Big Picture and the end of hope.

Sad but hardly shocking news this weekend that the 'Big Six' football clubs in England are engineering cunning plans to further accelerate their growth and control of football in this country. Under the patronising name of "Big Picture" (only they are capable of seeing it) they are seeking to capitalise on the current financial weakness of other clubs and especially those in the EFL.

The plan is to reduce the Premier League down to 18 clubs and leave 24 in each of the three EFL leagues. For now, promotion and relegation from the PL would remain but would be reduced to two automatics and a third PL side involved in the Play-Offs. This would mean the PL clubs would only play 34 league games a season, twelve less than the grafters in the EFL. That would free them up to play more lucrative matches elsewhere. It would also, of course, be a step on the journey to a closed Premier League, where the elite remain there with no fear of relegation and all the clubs left stranded in the EFL would lose any hope of their day in the sunny uplands of the top flight. 

A closed league is the model deployed in many US sports, where city-status rules and where the big money players can build their fortunes immune from the threat of  losing their lucrative TV and commercial revenues. No surprise then that these latest proposals have emanated from Liverpool and Manchester United, both owned by Americans. 

You might think that the EFL would be circling the wagons at this time but you would be wrong. The third big sponsor of these changes is none other than the EFL's CEO, Rick Parry. Why, I wonder, would the former Liverpool FC Director, CEO of the PL and one time board member of NewYork Cosmos be in favour of this move? Parry  took over at the EFL little more than a year ago and many fans of EFL clubs have been screaming for him to reform the EFL and safeguard clubs from unsuitable or unscrupulous owners. He appears to have been sitting on his hands but clearly he has had his eyes on the bigger picture. 

The sop here is that the PL are offering up £250m to bail out Covid-hit EFL clubs and a promise of 25% of future PL revenues. They would scrap the parachute payments to help pay for this but that in itself would only be another step towards a closed PL. I am no fan of the League Cup or the Charity Shield (other than it's for charity) but Big Six also want these scrapped so they don't have to tire out their U23's and don't have their lucrative Summer friendlies inconvenienced by having to appear in a gala game where the revenues are given to charity. 

My suspicion is that beleaguered EFL club owners may be supportive of the proposals as for many it may prove a short-term lifeline. The Big Six are offering improved status to those clubs with longest top flight pedigrees in order to get them on board and the others would probably like the idea of a closed league as long as they are it. 

For the country's rank and file supporters who follow their local team through thick and thin, these proposals could be a final kick in the teeth. The PL needs a thriving EFL because it's the breeding ground for talent and builds the pyramid upon which the PL sits. However, their primary aim is to make more money for themselves at all costs. This proposal comes at a time when Macclesfield Town were allowed to go out of business because of debts of £500,000 when that sort of figure is typically paid out by the Big Six as wages to each of their first-teamers every month or less. 

The success of football in this country has been built over the generations by the ambitions of every club and every team. The chances of winning your league and gaining promotion or by battling to beat the drop is what gives meaning to every match your team plays and an interest in all the others. 

The Championship has for years now been the most competitive league in the world and hosts the most valuable match in world football. All driven, of course, by the tantalising glimpse of joining the PL elite, if only for one season for most. If that is to come to an end, and make no mistake, this is where the Big Six want to get to, it would have a profound effect on football in this country. Imagine not having the excitement of a Bielsa-led Leeds United challenging once again in the top flight? Or a rejuvenated Wolverhampton Wanderers challenging the Big Boys and thrilling competitors in Europe? You can be pretty sure, too, that the slim chances of any of the smaller clubs 'doing a Leicester' would disappear for ever. 

When it is safe once again to return to our local football grounds, I expect a boom-time as supporters are eager once again to experience the thrill of live football in front of large and passionate crowds. They will want to see their team fighting for promotion with one eye on the league above in hope and anticipation of joining it. All we need in the meantime is a fairer share of the money that continues to pour into the game at the top. that is where Rick Parry should be thinking, not how he can help the rich get even richer because almost inevitably that will be at the expense of the rank-and-file that he is paid to represent. 

1 comment:

  1. Very well said my friend. Honestly, I'm done with it. Non league for me I think. I've seen my club (West Ham) lose our ground, our identity. We've got 25,000 "new fans" who complain about bad language in from the stands. Eating popcorn, complaining that the wifi is a bit iffy. We, the old guard. Will fade away, and they will inherit the new, sterile, game. RIP the working class game.


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