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Let’s give lots of power in football to that jolly bunch of ne’er-do-well feudalists

By Tony Attwood

Andy Burnham, the former Culture, Media and Sport secretary, spoke at the annual Supporters Summit organised by Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct.   He told the people present what they wanted to hear, and they applauded.

Well, what else would they do?

He said, “No Premier League football is worth £60. It’s not that good. It’s greed that makes a ticket cost that much. It shouldn’t be the case that players are being paid what they are so supporters have to pay that much for a ticket. The message has got to go back that there needs to be some fairness here. It’s time for the players, the clubs and everybody to think a bit more about those supporters.”

Let’s just pause for a mo before we get to the heart of the matter.  £60 is the price for a better seat at Arsenal.  It is cheaper than going into one of the best seats in a West End Theatre to see Phantom, Wickd, or a play like that.

I go to the theatre in the West End a lot.  Do I enjoy the theatre more or less than Arsenal?   It depends on the play, it depends on the theatre, it depends on the performance.  Much like Arsenal.  The Ems is, for me, a wonderful stadium.  Watch us beat Tottenham 5-2 is worth every penny and more.

OK, so the idea is we don’t pay the players so much, and then we reduce the price.  Then what?   It becomes harder for English teams to recruit the best players on the planet.  Why should they come to England when they can earn twice as much in Italy, Spain, France?  (Actually it is already hard to recruit them given the tax regieme in Monaco and Spain).  We wouldn’t even have the residual English players because if they were any good they would go to other countries too.

The old trick Mr Wenger had of finding hidden French talent would not help much either.  We’d have the player for a while, but if he was any good he’d go off to one of the top countries where they pay mega-bucks.  We might earn something in transfer fees.

Burnham didn’t seem to tell anyone how to get over the problem.  Instead he appears to have described the formation of the Premier League in 1992 as “the moment when power was given way.”   Yep, probably true.  The Feudal Association (FA) thought they could score a goal against the Football League by helping the Premier League to be set up.  They scored a goal all right – a total own goal.

Burnham earned another round of applause when he called on the Feudal Football Association to assert their authority.    Which is a bit like asking the landed gentry to solve Britain’s debt crisis.  “I don’t want a government regulator, it’s not the right answer, I want the FA to be the body that runs the game,” he said. “If we carry on as we are, the FA will drift into irrelevance.”

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Agree with the second, but not the first.  The FA running football?  Oh come on.  The next thing you know they’ll be suggesting that PGMO run referees.  Ah, yes, well, …. I rest my case.

Before we let any body run football in England we need to see that organisation running itself properly.  It doesn’t do that.  It gets loads of players who one way or another claim the right to play for England, it plays them, and they play badly, get injured and lose games.  They put in a bid to run the World Cup and tell us that they have every chance of winning the rights, and then get knocked out in the first round getting just two votes.

That’s the FA.

Here’s another one of his great claims.  That young supporters of former champions like Everton, Aston Villa and Leeds could not expect ever to see their team win the League again.

Leeds, yes, I can agree on.  They sank because they allowed a raving maniac to take over the club and mortgage the future.  And I haven’t even thought about Mr Bates yet.   But Everton and Villa could do it.  Consider Arsenal in the late 1920s.   They had been in the Football League.  35 years in the League, a big support, a big stadium, and they had won nothing of significance.  They got promotion by coming second in the Second Division and had missed relegation twice at the end of the Knighton era.    And yet they put together an Arsenal which in the 1930s could beat anyone.

So what we need are, apparently, more supporters’ ownership of clubs and an independent regulator backed by a royal charter. “If you let the big and powerful run the sport, it will benefit the big and powerful,” he said.

Well, yes again, that’s a fair enough point.  And the same is true in government.  The UK has a democratically elected government of the rich and powerful – just run down the profile of the cabinet, and see where they were educated, and which “jobs” they had before politics.   So surely the FA fits perfectly with our democratically elected government.

Departing FA chairman David Bernstein warned next FA chairman Greg Dyke, that he will need to control the Premier League.  Really?   And how?   This a country which has just run the Olympics and went Two Billion Pounds over budget.  And has the country arisen in revolt?  Hardly.  £2bn?   Chicken feed compared to what our banks steal from us week by week.

That’s what we do in Britain today.  We put on big projects like the Premier League or the Olympics, and we cock them up.

“The big issue is the strength of the Premier League,” said Bernstein. “It’s a great product but its success has got out of balance. We need a strong independent FA to balance that. I hope Greg Dyke and others take that and move the issue on. Whether we can get that voluntarily or not is an open issue.”

Power, as far as I remember from the days of studying such issues as the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the English Civil War and other jolly confrontations, come from those who seize it.  No organisation, other than the FA, and their friends up north, the Scottish Football League ever give power away.  It just doesn’t happen.

Why would the Premier League willingly give up its power to a feudal authority known for taking fit young men and giving them back injured?  Known for kow-towing to the most awful, corrupt international organisation in the world – Fifa.  If the FA wants to show a bit of backbone, it would resign from Fifa at once.  Then I’d start looking at them more favourably.

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6 comments to Let’s give lots of power in football to that jolly bunch of ne’er-do-well feudalists

  • Andy Mack

    I guess Andy Burnham doesn’t understand how the price of a ticket relies entirely upon the demand. Quite unusual for a Tory MP (or is he just being a slimey politician trying to gain support?).

  • Andy Mack

    Leeds have a very big fan base. they could get into the PL within 2/5 years and be competing at the top within 10/15 years.
    The thing that FFP will stop is these things happening in a very short space of time (3-4 years), but any team with a big following can do it over a longer period.

  • ClockEndRider

    Andy Mack,
    At the risk of bringing party politics into this, Andy Burnham was Minister for Sport under the Blair/Brown administration. As such he seems to be applying all the classic New Labour toolkit here – telling an audience what they want to hear? Check. Denying existence of facts to the contrary which completely undermine his already half baked and feeble argument? check. Outright demagoguery with an election in view? check.
    As usual, none of these problems are new and all existed during his time in power. As usual none were addressed as he was as happy as most politicians, of whichever hue, to fiddle while Rome burned. Why should we believe he will behave any differently if given the opportunity again!

  • gouresh

    I don’t know why we bother quoting these numbskulls. These are politicians for heaven sake, they will sell their mothers for a few votes.

  • Pat

    Andy Burnham is just trying to curry favour with a section of the electorate like most other MPs, regardless of party membership.

    I wouldn’t believe a word he says.

  • blacksheep63

    It doesn’t necessarily follow that reducing the price of seats will lower player wages and lead to a fall in quality of recruits to the Arsenal dressing room. After all the Bundesliga has much lower prices because clubs there are financed using a different model. Nor am sold on the idea that the market should determine the price – neither are the Arsenal, they have reduced prices for Young Guns this season. Allowing the market to rule means only the wealthy affording to enjoy a range of benefits and personally, I’m very uncomfortable with that. I earn a decent salary so can (just about) afford my NB lower ST; I was priced out of Arsenal for many years when I earned much less. When I could stand at Highbury it was much more affordable, to many more people. So I think clubs need to look at this, as do the FA (who I agree are as much use as a chocolate teapot) and others. Thoughtful article Tony, as ever