Twice a year, Phil Gartside lays bare his most inner fears. Bolton Wanderers may some day be relegated from the Premier League, and Phil doesn’t like the idea of that. He is scared that they will relegated and that they won’t be prepared for life back in the Footbal League. He’s right to be. That Bolton haven’t been relegated since they last returned to the top table in 2001 is one of the more surprising statistics of the last ten years. Of course, Phil isn’t so stupid to turn around and say, “Let’s stop relegation from the Premier League and then we can keep it all for ourselves”. He knows that he will be shot down in flames for saying that.
So, what he does is this: he makes his plans, brings them to the Premier League and they get shot down in flames. He then goes back to the drawing board, makes minor adjustments to them, and brings them back to the Premier League again. Twice a year, as regular as clockwork. He did it in October 2008, when his idea was to have two Premier League divisions of eighteen clubs with no promotion or relegation. He returned in April 2009 with, umm, exactly the same idea except with added Old Firm sectarianism. And now, in November 2009, he’s back again with the same idea again, only this time there’s some garbage about allowing promotion and relegation through a “size and finance threshold”.
Let’s tackle the question of Celtic and Rangers first. Whatever they may or may not have done to themselves financially over the last few years is down to them to sort out, and them alone. If they wish to make the football more competitive at home (which may give them both a chance of not crashing in Europe as wretchedly as they both are at the moment), they should give back some of the enormous slice of the money that goes into Scottish football to the other clubs. If they don’t like that… well, that’s life. Quite why two clubs in England in every division that have been playing in the this system for decades (in the case of many, for over a century) should be shunted down to make way for them still hasn’t been satisfactorily answered apart from some vague nonsense about “excitement” and “glamour”.
Here’s the thing. Most English football supporters don’t give a tu’penny damn about Celtic or Rangers. If you say to them, “Wouldn’t have been pretty cool if Celtic and Rangers, with their 50,000 crowds and their big derby match, were in English football?”, they might shrug and say, “I guess so”, but there are no major protests going on down here to get them invited to join the English leagues. There hasn’t been any specific research on the subject, the it is likely that the opinion of most peopple would be to say, “Okay, if they’re desperate to, they can join, but they can start in Division Two of The Northern League and work their way up like anyone else would bloody well have to”. And that’s without taking into account the potentially perilous affect that them moving into English football for the future of seperate English, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh teams.
Then we come to Gartside’s fresh, new innovation. Teams should be allowed into the Premier League 2 if they meet certain criteria. The thing about this fresh, new innovation is that it has already existed for over 120 years. It’s called promotion and relegation, and it is determined on the basis of whether teams deserve it it because of their performances on the pitch. Not the size of their crowds. Not how big their turnovers are (because if that is anything to do with it, they’re going to need to relegated the likes of Hull City and Portsmouth to the regional divisions and promote, say AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester straight away – not, it hardly needs to be added, that FCUM would accept such a invitation). If that’s what he wants, we may as well just do away with the football altogether, sit two accountants down in the centre circle and have them calculate an algorhythm based on annual turrnover and crowd size, and award three points to “the biggest”.
Promotion and relegation, however, aren’t really issues that bother Gartside that much because we already know that he doesn’t want them there. It’s a sweetener – a sop because he has already been told that this plan won’t fly unless it contains some sort of concession. We already know that he doesn’t want it. Gartside blames the current difficulties that smaller clubs are facing on “the huge additional revenues from the Champions League and remaining clubs” and “the gap between Premier League revenues and those of the Championship”, but this is fatuous, self-serving nonsense by anybody’s stretch of the imagination. It is only fair, however, that we should explain why this is.
Gartside seems to be blaming the financial difficulties that the lower order Premier League clubs on everybody but themselves. On the one hand, the biggest clubs take too much and, on the other hand, the clubs of the Football League turn over too little. Gartside, however, runs a business (and people like him are only too pleased to tell us that “football is just a business like any other nowadays” when it suits them). Most businesses have a projected annual turnover to which they work, and upon which they base their spending for that period of time. Football is more stable than most in this respect. They know what television money they will get, and they know how many paying customers they will get every week. If they can’t budget on this basis, then tough. They deserve to go bust if their debts become unmanageable. The clubs in the Premier League could manage their budgets better.
If they are that worried about relegation, they could give, say, £10m per year to the Football League to further cushion the blow should they be relegated. There’s nothing to stop them from doing this. They won’t though, because they are greedy, avaricious beasts that just want to throw as much as money as they feel that they “deserve” at players with no consequences. They have no understanding of the concept of finite money because they have become so tied into the belief that the Premier League is a land of milk and honey that they don’t and can’t understand anything else. “Why should we rein in our spending?”, they whine, “We’re in THE PREMIER LEAGUE”, without seeming to understand that if most businesses ran themselves in the way that they did, the British economy would be in an even worse state than it already is at the moment.
The danger with these recurring schemes is that one day they will be agreed. The drawbridge will be pulled up and that will be that. And who will stand up to them? A couple of years ago, we may have expected the FA and the Football League to but, frankly, it seems as unlikely as ever that these organisations will do anything other than make soothing noises and completely kowtow to them. As this site said in April 2009:
These plans will doubtless be dusted down, maybe slightly watered down and marketed as “football’s new revolution”. You can be almost certain that this revolution, when it comes, will be of little benefit to you and we should continue to resist it where possible.
Nothing has changed much in the last seven months, apart from the layer of gloss that Phil Gartside is now putting on this nasty, wretched, selfish scheme.