Football Shorts: The Death Of The “Whole Game Solution” 

by | Nov 16, 2016

When the end came, at least it came mercifully quickly. The Football League’s “Whole Game Solution” was lowered into the now almost full coffin marked “terrible ideas of 2016”, after the FA confirmed that it would not be moving any rounds of the FA Cup to midweek in order to accommodate a winter break for clubs. Whoever could have imagined that they would be resistant to lower attendances and most likely lower television audiences in what remains, for now, their prestige competition?

Over the course of the last few months or so, the Football League has stumbled from terrible idea to terrible idea. We’re already plenty aware of the now blackly hilarious omnishambles that the Checkatrade Trophy has become, with its hotch potch of academy clubs, three figure attendances and pointless penalty shoot-outs. This tournament has taken but a few months to become a standing joke, overseen by a body that seems to have its fingers in its ears with regard to the scale of the car crash they’ve created.

The Whole Game Solution always felt like a group of potential solutions in need of a group of actual problems. Thinking of increasing the number of clubs involved from seventy-two to eighty? Throw in the inference that clubs from Scotland might be invited, and allow a slew of criticism. Interested in a winter break? Heavily imply that you think it’s a brilliant idea without once signalling why this might this might be. Issuing a consultation called “Whole Game Solution”? Make almost no mention of the best interests of supporters.

Professional football as a business structure depends very much on trust. Supporters, whose bonds with their clubs are usually deep and unshakeable, rely upon bodies such as the Football League to do the right thing. To schedule matches at times that are convenient for them. To protect their clubs from rapacious – or just plain incompetent – owners. To carry out the work in protecting the integrity of the game that supporters simply cannot do for themselves. Once that bond of trust is broken, however, it can be difficult to rebuild. And there is a strong feeling that the Football League is not currently trusted by many to do the right thing by supporters.

This should trouble the Football League enormously, and who knows, perhaps it does at a fundamental level. The bullish language in response to ongoing criticism of its slap-dash remodelling the Checkatrade Trophy from its Chief Executive Shaun Harvey, however, hints that at the very least, the organisation is institutionally unable to admit that it has called this matter considerably wrong to such an extent that it’s difficult not to look at his ongoing occupancy of this position and wonder aloud, “Really? Is this the best that you can do?”, and in several different respects.

The Football League owns a product that is, considering everything, phenomenally successful. It’s top division, despite being a second tier division, is one of the top five or six watched in the whole of Europe. In the form of the League Cup, it has a knockout competition that has defied reports of its impending demise with remarkable hardiness. The ownership issues at a number of clubs requires immediate work – and is unlikely to receive any – but, on the whole, talk of financial crisis at clubs that hasn’t been brought about by spectacularly bad management seems to be on the wane.

At least, we might consider, such explosions of blue sky thinking give us a valuable insight of the id of these bodies. Over the course of the last eight or nine months, the Football League has launched a consultation that would have brought about huge changes to the English club game which has sunk without trace and desecrated the junior of its two cup competitions for reasons that still, once the management speak is removed from the equation, defy ample explanation. Next time, perhaps, when the urge to brainspurt ideas to change the face of the professional game in this country, they might be better advised to to focus on those things that need fixing, rather than creating a bunch of problems in order to try and solve them.

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