The Football League & Premier League B Teams By The Back Door
The opening day of the 2016 European Championships, then, turned out to be considered a good day to bury bad news for the Football League. With the tournament starting this evening and England’s involvement in it due to start tomorrow evening in Marseille, it hardly seems unlikely that that some bright spark in their public relations department might consider this a good idea to release this particular bit of news, a story that they presumably knew would go down like the proverbial lead balloon.
And with a dramatic late goal in Paris and a good number of supporters of the England national team living down to many people’s preconception of them, perhaps their logic was understandable. After all, on the front page of the Guardian’s football section this morning this story was relegated to one small entry, a short article copied and pasted from the Press Association as an afterthought in comparison with stories from the European Championships and unsavoury allegations being directed at the Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.
But the Football League – which, with one eye on the hashtag potential, is now calling itself something called the “English Football League” – should be aware that supporters of their member clubs are most assuredly watching, and that the response on social media was as scathing as we would have expected it to be. From the start of next season, the Football League Trophy, a competition previously reserved for the clubs of League One and League Two, will from next season also contain sixteen Premier League clubs.
The sixteen academy sides will be evenly distributed throughout the groups with the forty-eight clubs from Leagues One and Two, with the whole competition running on a north/south basis until the final, and the Premier League has provided £1m to create a total prize fund of £1.95m, with bonuses awarded for each win, a small price to pay for a league which has a television deal with more than £5bn over the next three years to get its foot in the door of their eventual aim of getting B teams into our league system.
Of course, a large part of the reason behind why the Premier League wants to invade the Football League is because so many of its clubs have hoovered over so many players over the last few seasons, a phenomenon that might well be laid at the door of the EPPP regulations, which tilted the axis of control over the development of young players so firmly in their direction. The biggest clubs can now cherry-pick just about whoever they like from wherever they like, but the problem for Premier League clubs seems to be that the laws of the game still only allow only eleven players to be on the pitch at the same time.
So, how else are Premier League clubs to decide which academy players are worth sticking with and which are to be thrown onto the scrapheap when they’ve outgrown their usefulness? The Premier League itself is too VALUABLE and IMPORTANT – mostly the former, of course – for this to be done in league matches, so a surrogate tournament has to be found to offer them this facility. And who else cares about the Football League Trophy? After all, that competition has never been the subject of a multi-million pound television contract tug-of-war.
Next year’s Football League Trophy will be a combination of group and straight knockout football and, with there being no guarantees that Premier League academy sides stuffed with inexperienced, callow youths will advance beyond its first couple of rounds, some might wondering what’s in it for all concerned to create this much disquiet amongst the supporters of Football League clubs. For Premier League clubs, the answer is obvious. It has long been clear that the Premier League would dearly love to get its B teams into the Football League, to justify the building of ever bigger squads, the consolidation of power and control, the land-grab that such an eventuality would be.
It’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty what, exactly, is in it all for the Football League. The amount of money being put in by the Premier League is a trifling amount by modern standards, and it seems unlikely that many supporters are going to be sufficiently enthused by the prospect of their lower division team playing at home against, say, Southampton’s academy team to cause a spike in attendance that would seriously benefit their cashflow position. It is entirely possible that the clubs either a, do want Premier League B teams in the Football League, are concerned at how they will be able to market this to supporters and wish to use this as an opportunity to soften us up for it being introduced, or b, they’re trying a form of ham-fisted appeasement, in the apparent belief that Premier League clubs will be satisfied with this arrangement and will stop knocking at the door of trying to get their teams into the lower divisions.
The Football League is, of course, little more than a collection of its member clubs and, although the bar for getting this particular motion carried was set particularly low – 50% were required to vote in favour of it for it to be passed- questions should be asked concerning why clubs voted this way having carried out no consultation whatsoever with supporters or honestly explaining their reasoning for voting the way that they did. When decisions like these are made, supporters – who will still be expected to turn out for them, lest they get accused of “disloyalty” at some point or other – are seldom consulted. For all their slick marketing, clubs continue to treat those who fund their continuing existence with little more than contempt.
To support the Football League Trophy in anyway, however, now feels like a stretch too far. This competition is now irredeemably tainted by the manner in which this matter has been dealt with by the Premier League and the Football League, and surely the only way that supporters can react to this is by treating it with the same contempt with which those who run the clubs treat us over such matters. If we are not to be consulted, then surely our only option is to boycott this competition, to make it a pariah, to make it clear to those who playing their games behind closed doors that we have drawn our line in the sand, and that they have overstepped it.
This is now a tournament shorn of all credibility. Its very point – to allow smaller clubs a little more revenue and the certainty that two of them will be playing a Wembley cup final every season – is now rendered completely worthless. They’ve sold it down the river, and it’s down to us to demonstrate the folly of such a decision. As they have demonstrated time and time again, professional football clubs seem blithely incapable of giving consideration to anything apart from money and empty seats. Our only option, therefore, is to boycott this tournament. It’s not a decision that many would take particularly lightly. After all, the very essence of being a football supporters is, well, going to matches.
In this case, however, it is completely clear that the only language that the Premier League, the Football League and the clubs that inhabit them understand is that of money. The only answer is to hit them where we know it hurts: on the balance sheet. Perhaps then, the Football League might finally begin to understand that ultimately they should be running the game for our benefit rather us paying for it for theirs. Because this feels like the thin edge of a very thick wedge, and it’s one that will irrevocably change the face of football in this country, if we let them get away with it.
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