Patronising The Lower Divisions
Whatever one might think about the current goings-on at Meadow Lane, it’s difficult to not feel come degree of sympathy for their supporters over the media reactions to their appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson and Tord Grip. Heaven forfend that some elements of the British media would find the time to go out and actually learn anything about Notts County Football Club, the oldest of all of the Football League clubs and founder members of the oldest football league in the world – it was far easier and more convenient to run a number of patronising articles that read as something like print equivalent of the “Accrington Stanley? Who are they?” adverts of the 1980s.
The Sun, as one might expect, excelled themselves. Outside of the sports pages, their news team managed to persuade themselves that Eriksson was primarily heading for Nottingham to take advantage of the apparent “fact” that there are six women for every man in the city and detailing what the girls are like in some of the other towns for teams in League Two. Never mind that this particular nugget of information was passed to them by a dating website. It was good enough for a whole page in – sigh – Britain’s biggest selling newspaper. The sports section was no better. They also confirmed that the money men behind County are the Al Thani Investment group (which would be splendid were it not for the fact that this is still unconfirmed – Peter Willett, one of the public faces of the takeover, is a vice-president of Al Thani, but Munto Finance has not been confirmed as being funded by them as yet).
Most wearying of all was a page of reactions of other clubs’ supporters (most of which were and the words of people that already seem heartily sick of all the attention that County are getting) and of the chair of the Supporters Trust, Glen Rolley. “I’m ecstatic. I’ve had to pinch myself. I feel like we’re in Disneyland now. This is how they want to run the club. It signifies their ambition. Appointing Sven will reverberate around the football world”, said Rolley, with pound signs having replaced the pupils in his eyes.
The Mirror led with Sven’s first press conference, at which he demonstrated his encyclopaedic knowledge of lower division football by stating that “I don’t know League Two at all” and that “We have together to try to find good players if we want to leave League Two. We have to have good football players. Without good football players you can’t reach the League One or the Championship”. The Daily Star, perhaps surprisingly, were the soberest of the red tops, with just one piece on his press conference, although their lead football story today did seem to feature a number of young women in bras offering £50,000 to the winner of their “Fantasy Football” competition.
The one thing that did seem to unite all of today’s press coverage of this appointment was the extent that League Two was patronised by all concerned. There was a thin veneer of understanding of the difficulties that clubs at the foot of the professional ladder may face, but mostly today’s sports pages were an exercise in guffawing at Eriksson choosing to take the Notts job while the man himself skilfully batted away questions about whether he was only there for the money. Very few people seem to have addressed the fact that managing a League Two club is very different from managing a Premier League club, and that different skills may be required to be successful at this level.
Most troublingly of all, the concept of Supporters Trust ownership is being criticised when the elephant in the room of football’s financial affairs – that the distribution of money in the game remains grotesquely distorted – is ignored. Once again, the idea that one can only be successful with a billionaire Arab owner (even if exactly who that owner is retains a degree of mystery) is being propagated with scarcely a thought for where County will be in five, ten or fifteen years’ time. No-one seems to be giving much thought to what will happen if promotion after promotion doesn’t come very rapidly. Ultimately, at a time during which one might have hoped that lower division football clubs might have taken a moment to consider that spending money carefully and living within their means, the steamroller of money is stealing the headlines again.