As the football season finally creeps to its infuriatingly late conclusion, there is growing support for a return to a fairer league structure and wider distribution of television and sponsorship money. Sadly though, this comes at a ludicrous price.
With May now almost over the people who run football can soon cast off the irritating distraction of fans and football so as to discuss what really matters. Money! As such this is a dangerous time for fans. The 39th Game was shelved not binned last year, but for now we face another threat.
New proposals would see the Premier League extended to two divisions. This would create something akin to the historic English league that presently languishes in the third and fourth tier of our national game. Alone it is a positive suggestion and might even set a trend that returns us to the simple unified four division league structure of days gone by.
However, while there is even political pressure from Parliament for better distribution of wealth within the game, this move is attached to an awful idea that should be blocked. You see, for some god-awful reason that has been adequately explained to absolutely no one, the change would include the loss of over 100 matches per season for the affected clubs.
This is not a joke. This is not a flippant remark meant to raise a smirk about the silly ideas that men with money come out with. This is a serious proposal. You see, the Premier League would be expanded to include 36 teams across two divisions.
That would mean each top flight team loses four matches, while a whopping twelve games are taken from each second tier side.
This is clearly an awful idea. Football is very very popular. Fans like watching their team play football matches. And most of the money that clubs make comes directly or indirectly from playing football.
Yet despite all that, most of the clubs concerned may approve of the move.
Among the 36 clubs involved there are sixteen who arrive at the table as non-Premier League teams. For them any chance to climb aboard the greatest money-spinning gravy train in world sport would be embraced at almost any price.
Then there are thirteen of the top-flight twenty who have at some stage experienced life outside of the Premier League. They understandably fear that fate returning one day. As such most, if not all, would welcome the safety net of a second tier of Premier League cash. Indeed their anxieties will be all the more acute right now after seeing recent top flight regulars Charlton and Southampton financially imperilled and plunging into the third tier this season.
And so to the permanent members of the Premier League.
The present top eight, excluding Fulham in seventh, make up the permanent members of the Premier League. And they don’t see relegation as a serious concern. Indeed this season has shown why. Spurs suffered the worst ever start to a Premier League season. They were still bottom three weeks into the January transfer window. Yet few expected they would go down. They splashed the cash, bought in a good manager, and they may yet qualify for Europe.
These teams have no interest in the second tier of English football unless a gem of a youngster turns up there. Indeed they somewhat resent sharing TV and sponsorship money with the rest of the current Premier League. Only Newcastle United among the rest can compete with them for interest among television audiences. Adding a lot more little watched sides will not drive up commercial contracts very far. But it will mean spreading the cash more thinly.
Of course we should not ignore the years of whining from Fergusson, Wenger and numerous less lasting managers about there being too much football in England. They have complained long and hard that what football needs is less football. Apparently players tire and clubs can’t compete in Europe while playing in three domestic competitions.
Fortunately that argument is defunct.
The Premier League once had 22 teams, not 20. FA Cup ties could run to countless replays rather than jump to penalties after 120 minutes. The league Cup had rounds with two legs and even required teams playing in Europe to start in round two rather than round three. Football has been more than adequately cut now and everyone knows it, especially after Manchester United’s expansive and successful year.
Instead those top clubs will note that they sell out of high priced tickets regularly, and that the loss of two home games would cost millions in lost revenue.
So it seems that those seven clubs, which form something of a ruling minority within the game, should block proposals for all the wrong reasons. And that is a good thing. Not because fans don’t want a fairer league format, but because we love football and don’t deserve to have yet more of it taken away from us.