By Matt Birch
English football is broken. Very, very broken.
On the one hand we have seen a series of pathetic performances by the England team at the World Cup and in the recent friendly versus Norway. The English fans are now almost unanimous in their apathy towards the England team, staying away from Wembley and hardly even tuning in to watch the games on the box. They seem to have accepted England are a second rate footballing nation these days, with no chance of progressing very far in any major competition in the coming decades.
On the other hand we have recently heard that only 19 out of top 170-odd football clubs in the English pyramid system are running at a profit, with most of the top 10 of them coming from outside of the established 92 Football League clubs to boot. With so much money flying around in the Premiership and with the so-called Financial Fair Play coming into play, these statistics seem almost unfathomable. Yet these are hard facts.
Then we have the Premier League, allegedly the best league in the world. Certainly the richest league in the world, but one where home grown players rarely get a chance and where transfer window upon transfer window, 75% of transfer fees leave the country and where Johnny Foreigner can come and earn 350k per WEEK!
Not only that, but the Premier League has engineered themselves into a position of such strength that they can now snap up other clubs youth players for virtually nothing – meaning they can have an academy of thousands of youth players from all over the country, happy in the knowledge that a minute percentage will make their grade while the rest are discarded. Some clubs further down the pyramid have already disbanded their youth set ups and more are likely to follow. For what is the point in having a youth academy if the all best players leave for almost nothing?
There is a massive gulf between the Premiership clubs and the rest of the Football League. With the parachute payments, there is also a gulf between the Championship clubs with parachute payments and those without. And in the Premiership, there is a gulf between the Champions League clubs and the rest. The way we are going it is entirely feasible that the big six clubs will take all four Champions League places for the next 50 years, without interruption.
The Premiership is such a cash cow that clubs are betting their future on either reaching the Promised Land or on staying there. Over the years we have seen clubs gambling and failing and ending up in real dire trouble. Bradford City, Wimbledon, Coventry, Portsmouth, Blackpool, Derby, Birmingham, Leeds, the list goes on and on.
For a decade now there has been regular talk of how to fix English football. Introducing play offs at the top and bottom of the Premiership, reducing or increasing the number of clubs in the top division, adding a 39th league game abroad to bring even more “much needed” funds. Most recently there has been the talk of adding another division to the pyramid where the biggest teams can play a B-team and even allowing B-teams to compete in the JPT trophy. But it seems to me that the men in charge are missing the blindingly obvious.
The Premier League is everything that is wrong with English football and it is destroying not only the national team but also the entire Football League. While there are of course huge problems in the grass roots of English football, the one biggest problem is also the one problem that is easiest to fix. The FA need to stand up, grow a set of balls and boot the Premier League into touch.
86 of the 92 football league clubs have absolutely no chance of ever winning the Premier League. And however much money the Premiership can earn a club, it seems that 99% of the clubs will shell out even more than they earn.
A win-win solution for everyone would be for the ‘Money’ League to cut all ties with the ‘Football’ League. No promotion or relegation. In fact they can go ahead and call themselves the British and Irish Super League and become a proper monopoly. A 20-team division consisting of the biggest 13 English clubs: Tottenham, Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Newcastle, Sunderland, Man Utd, Aston Villa, Southampton, West Ham and one other. Throw in the big two Welsh clubs, Swansea and Cardiff, plus the three Scottish clubs with the financial and promotional pulling power, Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen and finally offer up two franchise opportunities for brand new clubs, one in Belfast and one in Dublin.
The Monopoly League could take up the Scottish Champions League spot as an extra nugget, while the English and Scottish Football Leagues get to keep the FA and League cups and a handful of Europa League places.
With the money clubs out of the picture, the Football League would be able to agree its own television rights and sponsorship deals, it could get back to basics with a clean slate on the whole setup, for example bringing in a salary cap and stronger FFP rules, a quota system of say minimum seven English and minimum nine UK players on the field at any time (per team of course).
Good old fashioned division names: Division 1, Division 2 and then, most logically for gates and club expenditures, Division 3 North and Division 3 South with the football pyramid continuing straight into the Conference North and South. The FA and Football League can take the power back rather than have everything dictated to them by the top handful of clubs.
There would be many other details to work out for example the parachute payments in the transition seasons after the shakeup, new rules for transfers between the Super League and the Football League (in particular the aforementioned youth transfers so that clubs get decent value for their youth players etc).
As a fan of Bradford City – a club who have over the past couple of seasons been one of the very few clubs in profit, a club who recently basked in the glory of a League Cup final, a club who were last week dreaming of a sell on clause from Tom Cleverley to help balance the books again this season, a club who pride themselves on their cheap season tickets, but most of all a club who went to the Premier League and paid for a second season overspend by being a minute away from extinction following two spells in administration – as a fan of this wonderful club I want us to climb the Football League ladder but do not want to see us in the Premier League again. While it is a whole lot of fun getting to the Promised Land, once there all the fun stops.
Let us have a Football League we can be proud of, a fair Football League, an English Football League, a Football League about FOOTBALL. The Premier League hasn’t been English since the 90’s and it hasn’t been about football since its inception. So it’s a big bye-bye to the Premier League from me.
Let’s bring football home.