A few days ago I was pondering the inadvisability of both knee-jerk reactions and the tendency for media outlets to focus on one aspect of a particular story at the expense of the “bigger picture.” A few days later, I was guilty of both, in response to The FA Chairman’s England Commission report and its proposal to insert Premier League “B” teams into English club football’s pyramid system. My knee-jerk, narrowly-focused response was identical to Southend United fan Iain McIntosh’s, writing in the Anfield Wrap digital magazine: “**** off. Seriously, just **** off.” I was cursedly averse to the idea that the team I support, Kingstonian – still of the Ryman League after recent play-off failure (sob!), should be flung maybe 20 places down the pyramid to help the EPL out of one of its many holes.
I realised such a reaction was ill-informed. I had not read the detailed proposals, or the rationale of FA Chairman Greg Dyke. After all, Dyke was, until he became FA chairman last July, non-executive chairman of League One (now Championship) Brentford (well done, them). He wouldn’t seek to push his old club down the pyramid without good reason, surely. And having read the proposals and their rationale, my well-informed, thoughtful, if still narrowly-focused reaction is (as I suspect regular readers may have already guessed): “Iain McIntosh is absolutely right. **** off. Seriously, just **** OFF!!”
Let me elaborate. Actually, no. I’m not going to elaborate very much at all. When something is as fundamentally, by-its-very-nature wrong as this, a blanket “go and stick your proposal where the sun don’t shine” should suffice. I don’t care if it sounds reactionary or Luddite. I care, like football supporters throughout the land, for my club. And I am not prepared to accept a proposal which lowers my club’s status in what is supposed to be a meritocracy in order to solve the perceived problems of others – especially not (and McIntosh makes this point far more vividly than I can) player-grabbing, too-big-for-their-boots EPL teams.
If there are not enough opportunities for young English footballing talent in the English club game, play somewhere else. All these foreigners coming over here playing our football – you go over there and play theirs. Yes, you might only earn as much as you can ever spend, as opposed to multiples of it. But, well, you get that message… And if this talent is that talented, surely it would be welcomed at enough European clubs good enough to allow that talent to develop. Playing in any number of European top-flights would be at least as developmental as playing in the apparent developmental wasteland of England’s “lower leagues.” And it’s available to you. Just be good enough as a player and a person. If a youthfully impetuous Cesc Fabregas could do it, without playing for Barcelona B, anyone can. Hell, even Joey Barton…
The arguments for and against the B team proposal – mostly against – are detailed in some style elsewhere, even if an otherwise admirable piece by Gabriele Marcotti claimed that “lower leagues teams (with) 6ft 4in 30-year-olds…play long ball and kick lumps” – presumably out of each other, although that phrase didn’t make the final cut. He qualified this by saying that “definitely not all” lower leaguers played this way. But he formulated his argument as if they did. Reading the proposal irritates me largely because it was framed as more of a diktat than Dyke would ever admit. Some have argued that the lower leagues and the National game (non-league) had the opportunity to make submissions to the Commission and that any opposition to the Commission’s proposals is undermined by their failure to take that opportunity.
But the proposal makes the reality of consultations all-too-clear. Their references to consultation are: “The eventual structure and distribution of B teams would clearly be a decision for the clubs in the Football League and the Conference. A major uncertainty facing the Commission’s proposal…is the number of clubs that will take up the offer… This concern can only be considered once the clubs and leagues discuss together the relative merits of the proposals and any other options they may favour.” If the consultation was genuine, the “clubs in the Football League and the Conference” could decide to distribute NO B teams among their number and that the proposals have no merits – relative or otherwise.
After all, the proposal may say that: “by creating spaces within the current footballing pyramid, no clubs would be displaced by this system,” but that just means Dyke needs a better dictionary. And I am simply reminded of my final days in the Civil Service, when the organisation for which I worked was the subject of a “prior options review” of its future. The organisation was a successful provider of both government services (payroll) and of value for money for the taxpayer. Yet remaining so was not an option, “prior” or otherwise. The review was of how we were to be privatised, not if.
Likewise, the “other options” the Football League or the Conference “may favour” are unlikely to include telling Dyke where to stick his B teams. The proposal also states that it “represents a major change to the competitive pyramid and is likely to be met with resistance from certain elements in English football.” True, of course. Dyke himself said that the Football League’s initial hostility to the B team proposal was “about what I expected,” – which sounded like a dismissal of their views along the lines of “they would say that wouldn’t they?” And it added: “We do not underestimate the sensitivities surrounding this idea.” This is true too, although only because the Commission appears not to have estimated the sensitivities at all.
My main gripe is more general, though. It is about the bigger picture. And a picture that is rather bigger than the England team that the “FA Premier League” (remember that?) was supposedly formed to benefit. The proposal contains no reference at all to the fate of B teams from clubs relegated from the EPL, nor to the rights of promoted clubs to set up B teams. And as I pondered why relegation from the EPL was not among the “possible concerns” with the proposal, the Guardian newspaper’s Owen Gibson tweeted: “Worth noting that when Dyke was at BBC his negotiating style was often to use the cover of a radical suggestion to get other stuff through.” Is it too radical a suggestion itself to suggest that “other stuff” might, in this instance, include eliminating PL relegation as a concern by eliminating it entirely?
My bottom line is this. If Kingstonian are to slip 20 places down England’s football pyramid, it should be on their demerits alone. And CERTAINLY not because EPL teams want to develop their young players better. As long as the pyramid exists, Kingstonian are their technical competitors. Why should we be helping them, to our detriment? Indeed, about the only thing going FOR Dyke’s proposal is the fact that Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore says he is against it; which made me, briefly, stop and think. So, knee-jerk reaction it is. Iain McIntosh’s reaction it is. “**** off. Seriously, just **** off!!”
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