Crisis what crisis? The rotten structure of English football.

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Crisis, What Crisis?

By Simon Bailey.

Is the English game in crisis? Well if we compare it to FIFA or Trinidad and Tobagos FA our own situation doesn’t look too bad. But judged on it’s own merits, I would have to say that the institutions that run our game are in seriously poor shape. If we peer through the thin external veneer, things are looking quite murky.

There are two main bodies that control how the game is (mis)managed in England, and the Football Association and the English Premier League seem to have a very dysfunctional relationship. The FA has a veto over any major changes that the EPL propose and the EPL representatives on the FA board seem to stifle any changes proposed by any of the other board members.

The FA, along with the banks, own Wembley stadium and the yet to be completed National Football Centre. Around £300 Million is owed on the stadium, and is due to be paid off by 2018. £100 Million is the cost of finishing the NFC in Burton on Trent. The FA own the TV rights for the FA Cup and all the international matches that England play. They sold the UK rights for the 2008-12 seasons for £425 Million to ITV and Setanta and the international rights for the same period for £145 Million. They also have the revenue generated by Wembley.

Up till now, Wembley hasn’t generated any profit at all and half way through last season Setanta went to the wall. Both of these issues have left holes in the FA’s finances. Major steps have been taken though in the re-organisation of Wembleys’ operation and these steps coupled with the refinancing of the overall loan on the stadium should see the stadium creep into the black fairly soon.

The FA board is made up of 10 members, an independent Chairman, and a Chief Executive officer. The current Chief Executive is Alex Horne who replaced Ian Watmore earlier this month. Watmore had only been in the job for nine months before he resigned. A job in which he was tasked with bringing the FA kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

The Premier League is a corporation in which each of the teams in the league has an equal share. Unlike the FA, the Premier league owns no major facilities and has no major debts. It also has a huge amount of money coming in each year from national and international TV rights. 85% of this TV revenue is spread across the 20 clubs and the rest is made up in payments to the lower leagues, parachute payments to relegated clubs and several charities.

The FA is responsible for the national game as a whole from grass roots level through to the EPL. Of the 10 members of the board, five represent the grass roots level, two represent the football leagues and three represent the EPL. The  three EPL seats represent one league, the two League seats represent three leagues and the other five seats look after the interests of the 52 county boards and the Conference and Isthmian leagues etc.

Despite only having three seats, the balance of power at the FA is most certainly in the hands of the EPL. The same EPL who wish to retain the current status-quo in all matters and who have previously said that any interference or structure change would see the end of the EPL’s dominance on the world stage.

Hence the resignation of Ian Watmore, who was seemingly willing but unable to push through any kind of reform to the rotten structure that is English Football. The specifics of the reforms are unknown, and it has been reported that Watmore couldn’t handle the ‘rough and tumble’ of the job, but it is probable that the PL representatives unwillingness to take on board any of Watmores ideas are the primary reason for his departure.

So we have a stalemate. The FA veto any of the EPL’s proposals and vice-versa. This is an ideal solution for those requiring the continuation of the status-quo. It seems to me that there is a massive conflict of interest going on here.

Indeed the divisiveness of the EPL has been shown recently when they proposed changing how the parachute payments were to be paid. Even though the proposal included modest increases across the board, the championship would have received more than the lion’s share. The probable outcome being the Championship splitting from the rest of the football league and becoming EPL#2. The FA now has until next week to accept this proposal. Interestingly, when a preliminary vote was taken, the Championship voted wholeheartedly in favour and the rest of the leagues voted overwhelmingly against.

In light of the government’s unsuccessful representations over the last few years that football clean itself up, the Labour government recently proposed a plan to do it for them. Unfortunately, however good this plan was on paper, it was ultimately seen as electioneering, and even if this or a similar bill were ever to see the light of day, the chances of it coming to fruition without a bucket load of amendments watering it down are slim to none.

It has been suggested recently that the FA turn the national team over to the EPL . The FA obviously disagree with this suggestion. Why would they give up one of their cash cows to an organisation that has already wrested so much control of the game from them? Admittedly the 1992 split of the football league into the EPL and lower leagues coupled with massive TV earnings is the main reason why the PL is so dominant in Europe and the rest of the world, but it left the FA fairly bereft.

Despite all the hype surrounding the FA cup, it’s not the competition it was, and taking control of the national team from the FA would surely be the final nail in its coffin. The FA would only have the cup competition to generate the income needed for Wembley and the NFC.

So, what’s to be done? I think we have passed the point of no return. No sticking plaster remedy will help paper over the cracks that are appearing everywhere. I believe that what is needed is a clean sweep. Out with the old and in with the new.

I think that Labour’s recent proposals are a good starting point. I also firmly believe that Football clubs should be given a special business status, as the charities are. After all, clubs aren’t businesses in the true sense. Clubs don’t compete against each other for fans (customers!), but for trophies. One week I might visit Tescos, and the next I might shop at Lidl, I will always support Arsenal. Football clubs don’t need loyalty cards, it’s presumed. The special business status would ensure that LBO’s and other types of dodgy financing would become a thing of the past.

I think a new FA, maybe FA 2.0 should come into being. They should have no control over the EPL or maybe EPL 2.0, and the EPL should not hold them to financial ransom over every proposal they might make. The EPL should continue to contribute financially to the lower leagues and grass roots level football but at a higher level than they do already. The FA should retain control over the national team and stadium. The EPL should be able to make its own business decisions and have its own relationship with UEFA and FIFA regarding discipline and rule changes etc.

All professional clubs should run their business affairs transparently and openly and in the black. All owners and potential owners should submit to a rigorous fit and proper persons test. If a club cannot fulfil these obligations they should not be granted a license to play professional football. If clubs are threatened with not being able to play, they will soon sort their affairs out. After all, who would be mad enough to kill the Golden Goose? It would also make our clubs less attractive for those opportunists out to make a quick buck.

Would a new direction tarnish the global brand that is English football as the EPL would have you believe? I don’t think so. After all there will still be pot loads of money pouring in from TV, gate money and various sponsorship deals. Not to mention the digital rights that haven’t been capitalised on yet. We will still have the best league in the world, but we would also have the fairest football structure from grass roots upwards. We would still be able to compete in all of the non domestic competitions and the transfer markets and we could do it without the self serving ego-maniacs that currently control the game.


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8 Replies to “Crisis what crisis? The rotten structure of English football.”

  1. Good article.

    I think you might need to slightly expand the number of clubs under EPL jurisdiction – to me there’s 55 – 60 clubs with a genuine capacity to attract 15,000+ spectators which is probably a cut-off for a serious professional club. Few of those are currently outside EPL, Championship or the top half of League 1 (Bradford City, Oxford Utd, Luton are probably in that list).

    Agree about open and transparent accounts and fit and proper person test. I also think if someone doesn’t want to be named as the owner, then the finances need greater transparency.

    Dunno what will happen, but I’d like someone fair minded to decide, as the EPL reminds me of a 1980s Trade Union run by Red Robbo right now………..

  2. Nice article Simeon.
    One of the biggest problems is those representatives sometimes (or mostly) only look at the (short) benefits for their group and not at the (long) time interests of football in general.
    Bringing in more money to the EPL is fine but if that means that in the lower leagues the teams have lesser money than it could have as a result that you undermine the foundations from the building where the EPL is at the top floor.
    And when the foundations beging to crumble you risk ending up with no building at all.

  3. Here’s another suggestion. Make all premier league sides play their reserve side in the Carling Cup or at least make it an under 21 competition. That way if they are serious about wining it they will have to be serious about investing in young players to play in it.

  4. Thanks for such a great post Simon.

    I thought the FA was trapped in a coma, induced by Wembley, never to re-awaken. Maybe not.

    Great suggestions, unfortunately, I can’t imagine the bumbelers & swindlers down in Soho will get their act together for some time, if ever.

  5. I love the mentions for Trinidad and Tobago!!! Even though its in a negative light, because its unfortunately very true. Our TTFA is firmly in the grips of a certain FIFA Vice President who is now also up for office in our imminent parlimentary elections. As if he needed more power! Anyways i love the Arsenal, and this blog is must read for me. I know this response is very late but such is life. Keep up the good work guys!! peace out from Trinidad!

  6. kairon, when i mentioned T&T FA, it was in the context of them not paying their players the money they promised them, and saying that they didnt recieve the money from fifa only for fifa to contradict them.

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