By Tony Attwood
If you have an exceptionally long memory you might recall that during the summer the England team in the Bent World Cup didn’t do very well. And the question arose as to why.
Untold Arsenal did a bit of research and came up with a reason: we didn’t have the same number of coaches per player as other countries. Then one of our loyal readers came up with a second reason: unlike most other countries we refused to allow reserve teams of our bigger clubs to play in the lower leagues, thus preventing young England players from getting enough chances on the pitch.
Now it seems there is just a little chance that both of these issues, so bravely and radically raised by Untold and its commentators, could be reformed. Nothing is certain as yet but there is just a hint that something might happen.
First, coaching. The FA has teamed up with those health fanatics McDonald’s and Carlsberg to encourage people to become a coach or referee.
The FA hopes their expensive advertising campaign “Football needs you” will attract 50,000 new level one coaches by 2011 and 8,000 new referees by 2012.
The coaching initiative is backed by McDonald’s (expect some overweight shouting from the touchline) and the referee drive is in association with Carlsberg (and well, we knew most of them were drunk anyway). (Sorry Walter).
As for the idea about allowing the reserves of the top teams to play in lower leagues, this is established practice in a lot of Europe, but not in England because of an altercation between Arsenal and the Southern League in the dim and distant (circa 1894)
Now it is a fixed rule in England: no reserve teams in the lower leagues. Our leagues are much stronger than in Europe, they say. The Championship is the third biggest league in Europe etc etc.
Well, yes, but it is not quite so rosy if you are Accrington or Barnet, struggling along on crowds of under 2000. The occasional appearance of the young stars of tomorrow when you play Arsenal reserves might work wonders. The chance of a smaller team to beat Arsenal (even Arsenal reserves) might well bring a crowd in.
The boost is, I admit, still a long way off, but there is a sniff of change happening in Scotland – and at least that brings it within the UK for the first time.
The Scottish League is a bit like the Spanish League in that there are only two teams who can win the league each year. The rest scramble to avoid liquidation. (They used to try to avoid relegation, but these days that can seem a blessed relief).
Scotland has tried to keep going by introducing four very little leagues where every team plays the others a lot. There’s not too much promotion from outside the leagues unless there is an expansion or someone goes bust.
Now the idea is that bigger leagues could be formed by having some of the SPL clubs playing their reserve teams in the third and fourth tier of Scottish football. Nothing is set in stone yet, but there seems to be some interest in this proposal.
I am a firm believer in the view that if this approach came to England it could benefit Arsenal enormously, for instead of having to find ways of loaning out our kids across Europe, we could give them solid league experience for a year or so with Little Arsenal playing in the third division in England. There would be a rule, as there is in Europe, that they could not be promoted beyond a certain point (so, for example, the club has to exist in League One or Two). If they won promotion that promotion would go to the club who finished below them.
Of course, as always with football administration, things can move at the pace of a Patagonian hedgehog in reverse (although if you live in Argentina you might want to update me on that), but there is just the faint whiff of change. After all we have the Financial Doping regulations, and we also have the “25” so there is the smell of change in the air. You never know – this could just be possible.
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