Football’s governing bodies have come under fire in recent weeks for certain shortcomings regarding providing support to clubs in the EFL, among other things.
The proposal of ‘Project Big Picture’, captained by the EFL’s ‘poster boy’ Rick Parry seemed to offer little respite to those clubs struggling financially at the hands of the Covid-19 crisis.
In short, this ‘support package’ enabled the six most financially stable clubs in the country to dictate changes and policies to the other 86 football clubs in the professional leagues.
Thankfully, the Premier League clubs unanimously rejected the plan, and those behind it came under a substantial amount of scrutiny. However, what confidence can we have in the decision makers of English football, if this is the sort of self-interested scheme they come up with to save the game from a financial crisis?
Parry, the current Chairman of the EFL, and original CEO of the Premier League, was quoted saying that Huddersfield Town should not get the same say in our game as Manchester United. Now, if he thinks Huddersfield – who have an FA Cup in their trophy cabinet, along with the honour of being Champions of England three times – do not deserve much of a vote on issues that affect them directly, then I would love to know what power he thinks league newcomers Harrogate Town should have. This is not democracy; this is a meritocratic dictatorship. This cannot be an attitude that is acceptable in any way for someone who is the head of the governing body that controls 72 of the 92 clubs.
The gulf between the Premier League and EFL clubs is already too big. What we see now in the PL has become a completely different game to the rest of the pyramid. VAR; odd kick-off times for television coverage; winter breaks; wages so high they are physically impossible for anyone to spend, it is worlds away from the game fans of football league clubs turn up at three o’clock on a Saturday to watch. We are on the verge of losing our unique footballing pyramid, and it really does appear from the outside that those at the top are consciously letting the fire of English football slowly flicker away. There is so much money in the top-flight, surely a proper support package for the lower leagues cannot be difficult to mastermind. Project Big Picture was a pathetic attempt at disguising a power grab for the ‘Big 6’ under the guise of a meagre financial package.
It is frightening just how disconnected people who have surrounded themselves in the turbocapitalism of the Premier League are from the rest of football. Arsene Wenger, who now works for FIFA as their Chief of Global Football Development, was interviewed by Sky Sports about Project Big Picture. He argued that having 92 professional clubs in England “is too many clubs to survive” and agreed that football in England needed a complete restructure. Wenger has long been respected as one of the finest managers ever, and even he does not recognise how important the English football pyramid is to fans and to communities all over the country.
There are too many elitist attitudes like this, as if football clubs only exist because they play in lucrative competitions. In that same interview, Wenger demonstrated his disconnected view of English football fans when he claimed: “the modern supporter supports his national team; he supports a big team; and he supports his local team”. This could not be further from the truth for hundreds of thousands of people across England. For us, it is a necessity we simply cannot live without, and this needs to be recognised and considered in decision making.
We, as fans, need to be asking more questions of the authorities in football. If people like Parry and Wenger, who hold enormous potential for influencing decisions on changing how the game is set up, hold views that disregard 132 years of history in the English Football League, its heritage, longstanding fanbase, and ever-presence in communities up and down the country, then that is very concerning indeed.
Football appears to be on course to lose track of its roots in working class communities, togetherness, rivalry and competition, in favour of being purely a money-making machine with only a few clubs deemed good enough to survive, thanks to their trophy cabinets; their bank balances; and the demand from fans globally to watch them play on television. We see this as clear as day with the introduction of the £14.95 pay-per-view matches, which, for now at least, has been put in place for games that were not originally scheduled to be broadcast. How long do you think it will take for those PPV games to be the big games? The title-deciders, the derbies, the relegation six-pointers?
If they let our game continue down this path, then quite frankly I want no part in it, and I am sure I am not alone in feeling this. Please save football, we need it more than you can know.