By Tony Attwood
You may have noticed that this season we have celebrated 100 years of Arsenal in the top division.
This has been achieved by the club on merit. Although many media outlets have alleged that Arsenal somehow were engaged in dubious activities in the past, the exhaustive research published both here and by the Arsenal History Society has shown that this is a long way from the truth. (100 Years in the First Division if you want to read it through).
The triumph of the 100 years was achieved by having a series of club strategies that started out in 1910 with the rescuing of the club from bankruptcy, taking radical and unpopular decisions (like moving from Plumstead to Islington), by growing slowly as the club paid off the debts incurred in its move (1913 to 1925) and understanding the finances of football (the move to Highbury being based on a study of the local population and the available transport and the aim of bringing in the crowds, rather than instantly winning the League).
Everything was done legitimately, although of course others have tried to slur the name of the man who engineered the rescue from bankruptcy in 1910. (For the truth of that story the most extensive research is available at Henry Norris at the Arsenal).
Throughout that recovery from the club being on the edge of collapse in 1910 through to building the Highbury ground and filling it week after week, and onto the Chapman / Allison era of the 1930s, Arsenal played it by the book. The club didn’t try to change or bend the rules – although as I say many have alleged that since. (The History Society even offered a reward for anyone who could come up with any evidence of any underhand doings, but nobody has managed to claim it).
But such an approach now seems to be a thing of the past. For some clubs now want to change football so that they can ensure that they are always in the top division. Quite possibly they look at Arsenal’s 100 years with envy and want that too – but without all the hard work and by personally investing in the club and its ground as Henry Norris did when he rescued Arsenal. They want to manipulate the rules to make sure they are at the top, no matter what.
Thus there is a headline in the Daily Mail today that says, “Liverpool and Manchester United remain determined to bring about a radical restructure that would reduce the size of the Premier League despite fierce opposition from the top flight’s executive, many of its clubs and the Government.”
Elsewhere the same paper has another headline, “The Premier League are attempting to stop top-flight managers speaking about the controversial new pay-per-view TV offering that begins this weekend.”
And here’s a third, “Manchester United and Liverpool’s every waking thought is how they can shut aspiring teams out… now we have the proof.”
I am totally opposed to the Mail’s political stance most of the time, but I am glad they are making these points, because for years there seems to have a been a desire to talk up everything those two clubs do, while putting down other clubs. Indeed that’s why, as a very little joke, we started referring to the red half of Merseyside as Liverpool! with that exclamation mark. That’s how the media saw them – despite 30 years without a title. (!)
Thankfully at the moment with “Project Big Picture!” (which also needs an exclamation mark and was cooked up by Manchester United and Liverpool and aims to give virtually all the power in football to the biggest clubs who stay big forever), only the two originators of the scheme are overtly in favour.
So maybe it will be stopped. Although of course football needs reforming. Financial Fair Play rules have been shown not to work – and although they didn’t work because Uefa was simply too slow in bringing the Man C case to court, the fact is they are needed. That wonderful topsy-turvey time when Manchester City could win the 1st division one season and get relegated the next is long since gone.
Every club in the Premier League has a turnover of at the very least £100m a season in TV revenue. But the entire income of the Championship is £120m per season. The top earner from TV in the Championship (Leeds in recent years) might get £10m from broadcasting. The lowest earner from TV in the Premier League gets over £100m.
The beauty of football in England has been that clubs can rise and fall, but with disparities like that, this is no longer possible. What we need to do is to stop there being this insane division of money between one division at the top, and the rest of the leagues, and between the few at the top of the PL and the rest of the PL.
And the way to do that is to have a salary cap.
Henry Norris, when he ran Arsenal, always had the vision that the club would be owned by the fans, and having bought the club to rescue it from collapse, he spent his time at the club selling shares in Arsenal to the fans. When he was overthrown in a coup led by the Hill-Wood dynasty and its pals, that policy was put into reverse, as the directors started to collect shares for themselves. That ended as we have seen, with one man owning the club.
That’s the way of all the clubs. But the problem with the very rich is they always want to keep everything for themselves. Which might look attractive if you’ve just won the league, but doesn’t bode well for the future of the game.
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