The alternatives to how Premier League football runs the game

How could it be any other way?

The Thierry Henry campaign to launch the return of the Premier League on Sky Television was predictably a hit. A video showing the Frenchman wandering through moments in the last 23 years of football history like some kind of Gallic Forrest Gump has been watched millions of times.

And right now there are sponsorship deals being made which will see logos for betting companies or pay-day lenders – or airlines and insurers – emblazoned on shirts.

Soon football will be returning from a Summer break that hardly seems to have happened. Which is wonderful.

Because we all love football. I know I do, but I know I do not love all football, and increasingly I recognise that there is a lot about football that I do not like at all.

It’s all about the money, Dick

This is not the prelude to a moan about money in football. I have no problem with a player earning the salaries they do.

In the most general terms the money in football comes from footballer supporters subscribing to the game through season tickets and television rights, from a pie at the game to a pint in a beach bar under the omnipresent sight of Premier League football on a screen suspended from a rattan roof.

Most of the money which comes into football goes out to players. This is often the source of consternation but it is probably not the case that if as money did not go to players it would result in cheaper shirts and lower admission. It would go to Directors and Owners.

I enjoy watching players play, I don’t enjoy watching Directors direct nor spend their dividend payments. If I had the choice of how money flows through a club, if I have a choice between Players and Directors, it would flow with the players.

Encapsulated in that choice is the perception problem we have with our football. We set the game in the tone of excess. What to do with the massive amounts of money that the game generates?

What are the ethics of a £100m transfer fee? Or a player who earns £1m a week? Should clubs use money to reduce admission prices? Who should be allowed to own a club? Should the owners of a club be allowed to relocate the club to another City? Should they be allowed to rename or recolour a club? Or to fund club to success at the expense of other clubs who have not been given huge financial injections? Or to strip out assets as someone might do with any other business?

These are the debates in football over the last few years, and they will be the debates we have for the few years to come. These debates are all framed around one central theme: the massive amounts of money generated by football, and what should be done with it.

Dead Irish Writers

Standing on the roof of Croke Park and looking out to Dublin Bay you can see Howth Head. It is the spot where Leopold Bloom asks wife Molly to marry him as recalled in her soliloquy which closes Joyce’s Ulysses.

The roof of Croke Park is a horse-shoe shape leaving one end uncovered. It seats 73,500 people which along with the 8,800 on the terrace create the third largest stadium in Europe.

It is a towering structure and one which is used almost exclusively for Gaelic Games and specifically Gaelic Football and Hurling.

The Gaelic Games are amateur sports. When more than 82,000 people go to Croke Park – and they do – they go to watch players who do not get paid anything more than expenses to play for the county of their birth. The teams in the Gaelic Games are regional and there is no transferring between them. Of course you can find example of players who get paid in some way, and who have managed to find a way to switch clubs, because abuses exist in every system, but standing looking over the expanse of Croke Park the contrast to the oncoming rush of Premier League football is stark.

And it is stark in this way. We have been told – as football supporters – that there is only one way that a sport can operate and it is the way of the Premier League.

Since the launch of the Premier League in the early 1990s all football has been mutated around it, becoming focused on what is more or less the same approach to a game at every club.

There is a circular model which operates at every club which is about trying to achieve as a high placed league finish in order to generate money through sponsorship and advertising which is put into trying to achieve a high league finish.

Its is important to make a distinction between this model and trying to win a league. Newcastle United are our model in this analysis. They aim to finish as high as they can but know that that will not be able to win the Premier League. The aim is to maintain position.

The method is to recruit a team from all over the world without any specific connection to the team or the area it plays in, or the people who support it. That team is paid for by advertising almost anything that can be advertised. There is no ethical, or interest, test employed other than the commercial one.

Barcelona – a team who said that no sponsor would dirty the shirt – accepted one in order to compete in UEFA’s world as defined by Financial Fair Play. The rules that football is played under demand that income is maximised by any means. That is the way that football is.

There is little which is not sacrificed in pursuit of the circular model. Cardiff City change the colour of the team’s shirt, Hull City try to change the name. Manchester City seem to have been prepared to change everything about the club other than those two things. Newcastle United will change the name of the stadium, West Ham United will change the stadium, Coventry City will sell the stadium. All in order to turn the wheel faster on the circular model.

Which makes sense if the circular model is the only model – the only way to run a football club – but is it?

FC Romania v Sporting Bengal United

FC Romania play in the Essex Senior League and have a place in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round this month. They are a team set up to give a place where Romanian community can play football together. Sporting Bengal United who were formed to encourage more London Asians to play the game and play in the same league.

FC United of Manchester have opened a community stadium. AFC Wimbledon seemingly exist to show that community football is viable.

To greater and lesser extents these clubs operate away from the circular model in that they have priorities other than success be that financial success or success on the field. AFC Wimbledon, for example, could make more money to spend on the team should be agree to the many attempts to create a kind of WWE style Smackdown rivalry with MK Dons but they prefer to stay quiet and dignified.

These have things which they consider more important than being successful, and which they would maintain at the cost of success. They would rather be “a thing” than be successful in the way that football measures success.

They create their own terms for success which are tightly weaved into their clubs.

Hill 16

Hill 16 is the standing area not covered by the Croke Park roof. “Why isn’t the stadium finished?” asked a tourist, “That’s sacred ground.” replied the tour guide.

On 21st November 1920 the stadium was the scene of a massacre by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Thirteen supporters and one of the players were killed by gunfire described as indiscriminate. It was a reprisal attack on a day which is known as Bloody Sunday.

Hill 16 is set as the location of the attack and as such is the focal point for the mood of defiance that surrounds the Gaelic Games. That defiance is not just nationalistic (if it is nationalistic at all) it is also anti-establishment, or at least anti-corporate.

Recently Dublin has had to contend with the news that the Irish FA, smarting from being knocked out of the World Cup by a Thierry Henry handball, were paid and accepted hush money. The Henry advert for Sky is probably not as popular in Dublin. Football and Rugby Union are popular and are part of Global sporting movements.

It is not hard to see how the Gaelic Games stands apart from that. In the bowels of the massive stadium is a small museum dedicated to the history of the games, and of what the games represent in Irish independence, which talks of a community pride and tradition.

Again the contrast to the “whole new ball game” of the Premier League is marked.

Hill 16 stands as a part of that tradition. To continue the roof of Croke Park around would be to intrude on what is sacred ground to some. It would also be to miss the point of what Croke Park is and how it is a focus of a feeling that is at the heart of the Games played there.

Hill 16 is not sold as a part of the brand of Gaelic Football. It is intrinsic to that game itself.

Reading, writing and arithmetic

I go back in my mind to that week when Bradford City played three distant away games in six days culminating in one of the biggest games in the club’s history, an FA Cup Quarter Final.

The heavy legs, the weary players, and the sense of unfairness that had come from what was the luck of the draw of fixtures on one hand, and the fixed nature of the replay date because of the demands of Television and European Champions League football.

Had I been watching that game as a neutral I would have wondered how it could be that such a handicap would be applied to one of the teams. Alan Greene said as much during his Five Live coverage of the game.

The answer is as depressing as it is predictable. The money which fuels the circular model comes from the same sources that have created the environment where that game was considered to be an acceptable part of a top level football competition in this country.

And that poises obvious questions as to who decisions are being made for in football, and made by.

The Duke

At Bradford City we have enjoyed and endured a narrative over decades which (in some contexts) sets the club apart. In the Fire of 1985 we have out Hill 16, conceptually at least, and there is a sense of priorities which does differ from other clubs.

On most occasions those priorities are folded into the fabric of the wider game seamlessly enough. When it clashes such as in the Diadora advert for example a kind of reparation is made quickly and everyone moves on.

There are serious people who have reservations about how clubs like Bradford City, or Liverpool with Hillsborough, Spartak Moscow at Luzhniki, or Torino with The Superga Air Disaster have the tragedy build onto their sporting brand often without the permission of the club or its community, and sometimes against the will of supporters involved.

There are times when it is apt to talk about 1985 at Bradford City and times when it is not.

Bradford City the football club and Bradford City the community of supporters do not always overlap. Asking a player under twenty eight years old at the 2013 League Cup final if they are (para) “doing it for the victims of the fire” is one of those times.

Matt Duke, who played in that 2013 final, having survived cancer earlier in his life and saw his achievement on the field set entire in the context of his illness. The tone was not quite that had Duke not made a major final his recovery would have been lesser but the nature of the coverages showed the inability of the football media to consider matters out of a sporting context.

When, in the build up to the 2013 League Cup Final, Liverpool born pair Gary Jones and Steven Darby were asked what their thoughts on City accepting coverage sponsorship from The Sun and replied that they would rather it did not happen and the club (to the credit of all) respected those wishes.

The media ignored that story and still do perhaps because there was no way to set that in the context of “the boys doing good”.

The Chelsea Museum

If you arrive at Stamford Bridge early on that glorious day you could have walked around The Chelsea Museum. It is as far from Croke Park which has a delight in history and the amateur codes as you would ever see.

A celebration of Chelsea, and Chelsea winning things, and the fact that Chelsea had won things largely (but not only) because of massive amounts of money which were questioningly amassed by Roman Abramovich and lavished on the club.

Perhaps there should be a corner of the Chelsea Museum donated to Dubliner Mark Yeates wheeling away after he scores the fourth goal in City’s 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge?

The Shed End full and bouncing celebrating a team of hard working players scoring a massive upset. It contrasts sharply with what Chelsea have become since Abramovich’s arrival but it seems to speak to something at the heart of the football experience for supporters.

This might seem a comic idea – and it is presented tongue in cheek – but to a person who pre-dates the Premier League standing in the Chelsea Museum celebrating someone’s success because it happened at Stamford Bridge is very much what the club is about.

The phrase “easy to rig and was in fact rigged” is the heart of the Chelsea story. It does not feature in the Chelsea Museum, nor does it feature in the advertising for “23rd Year of The Best League In The World” which is bombarding out media this week.

Who does English football serve?

Who does English football serve? We have a simple question which quickly diverges into complexities.

Is English football here to serve the season ticketed rank and file supporter? Is it to serve the wider nation that flags up every two years and consumes the game passively? Is it to serve the overseas audiences who we are told are “increasingly important markets”? Is it to serve Oligarchs and Billionaires who own clubs? Or the Millionaires who play for them?

And when we get to an answer to those questions do we think that English football serves its aims well and for the good of the people it claims to serve.

It is nothing new for a season ticket holder at a club like Bradford City to suggest that the game is expensive to follow and does not seem to have his interests at heart and this sense is not lessened the higher up football one goes. Newcastle United supporters have been given a 12:45 kick off in Bournemouth in a move “by TV” which used to cause more outrage but now is just part of the fabric of the game.

We just assume – as supporters look on – that someone else’s interests will always trump our own. If we were at Croke Park we would just assume that Hill 16 would be demolished because someone else wanted it to be, or could make money from it.

And in that we assume that the someone else benefits appropriately but are we that convinced that the overseas audience the Premier League loves so much is best served by watch it? Would football energy not be best spent making better local leagues? The one hundred year plan in Japan, and the progress of the MLS, have shown what a country that is able to get the space to create its own league can progress.

Think about the ramifications of this football Imperialism the next time you see a Real Madrid shirt in Bradford City Centre. The people at FC Romania v Sporting Bengal United are building real communities around football. How does having to compete with Real Madrid help with that?

And how is it less obvious how the expansion of the Premier League to overseas markets is not equally counter-productive for other communities?

How is it not obvious the damage being done to us all?

Steven Gerrard, no EPLs and having the football we want

As I write this article Steven Gerrard, Liverpool footballer, is preparing to play his last match at Anfield after seventeen years as a professional at the club.

Gerrard’s exit is the final story in a Premier League which seems to have long since been decided. Chelsea have won the league – Oh Chelsea – and Burnley & QPR have been relegated with Hull City to follow probably.

I say probably because it would seem that given the choice between devoting its 24 hour news coverage to the fate of Hull City, or the play offs, or Gerrard’s closing career in English football the media seems to have decided that the England midfielder is the story to cover.

And of course this gave rise to criticism on Twitter because – well – there is nothing in modern life which does not beget the fury of people on Twitter. This criticism is summed up in the idea that the coverage is excessive considering that Gerrard had not won the Premier League championship.

EPL

When I first heard the phrase “EPL” I knew that something truly ghastly had entered the conversation on English football. As an abbreviation for English Premier League it makes perfect sense alongside the Scottish Premier League, The National Football League, Major League Baseball and so on but its creation as a term in common usage denoted the internationalisation of the top flight of the English game.

“How many EPLs has Gerrard won?”, “He won UCL!” and so on. This is the lingua fraca of discussing the top of English football on some places. I do not suggest you discuss football on the Quora website but if you do prepared to be amazed by just how remote the discussions are from the mechanics of week-to-week supporting of Bradford City.

But let me be clear this situation of internationalisation of the English Premier League support is not an issue because Americans want to watch Manchester United or that people in Indonesia want to follow Liverpool. It is an issue because those Americans and Indonesians are in American and Indonesia.

They are far away

Far away and not likely to ever go to Old Trafford or Anfield but able to follow their clubs remotely through websites and live TV streams. They can commit a good deal of time to their support and by virtue of their financial contributions in shirt sales and so on I’d support an argument that they had paid their dues.

(I use the term “their” advisedly, I’m not arguing that they are less fans, or that their support is less genuine.)

However the mechanics of supporting a club you will never see – or may only see once or twice – are different from those of watching a team week-in-week-out. I know this from my experience following Japanese side JEF United in addition to Bradford City.

For City I appreciate attributes from players such as the effort they give when trailing by two at Peterborough United, or how they try motivate their team mates to sneak a victory at Rochdale when a draw would be a perfectly acceptable result. The moments which tell you the most about a player or a team are those which are not lingered on by TV cameras. The walk back after a concession, the speed of which a player gets back to his feet, the look on his face when a team mate makes a mistake.

I have none of this information when following JEF United. I have stats. Goals scored, assists, number of EPLs won.

Framing the debate

Drop into a global “EPL Talk forum” and the discussion is almost entirely about stats and not about character which, in my opinion, frames the debate of football entirely in the wrong way. In my opinion the number of EPLs that Chelsea had one was not as important as the character which Bradford City showed.

(As an aside it was interesting how easily Chelsea recovered from that defeat in the FA Cup fourth round and how little impact it made on their profile, globally or nationally. I believe that was because there was no context to the statistics that the game offered. It was impossible to make sense of stats like how much money Chelsea cost compared to City when the disparity was so large, it was impossible to make sense of it so it was ignored.)

This debate framed poorly values different things at the top of the Premier League which attracts a great many supporters who are not regular attenders of games than it does at lower levels, and for supporters of teams at the top of the Premier League who do attend regularly.

It is hard to argue that the regular attenders pay for football – TV money, advertising and so on pay a good chunk of the bills – but when chunking up and down the Motorways its easy to imagine that regulars are showing a level of commitment that demands that the coverage of the game be set up for them.

This may be an illusion – a factor of the white lines late on a Saturday evening returning home – but the idea that football coverage is for the benefit of people other than those who go to games is not something which is oft considered. We assumed that the explosion in football coverage that came in the last twenty years would be for the benefit of the same people who have season tickets. We were wrong.

We do not have the football coverage we want.

Gerrard

Steven Gerrard has some remarkable achievements as a Liverpool player – UCLs and so on – but talking to people who go to Anfield his contributions are more marked in the way that City fans have considered Stuart McCall and Gary Jones in the past, and consider the likes of Andrew Davies and James Hanson now.

The tributes to him as he prepares for his final game at Anfield are the odd mix of a football event which has some resonance with supporters of clubs up and down the country and something which appeals to the debates of the EPL Forum.

These moments are rare, and when they come they highlight the distance between these two sets of value, and how wide that distance often is.

It takes twenty to tango

There is nothing new about the idea that Liverpool’s Ian Ayre floated this morning would allow clubs to negotiated certain television rights as individual entities rather than a part of the Premier League collective bargaining group but the idea remains a poor one.

Ayre’s logic seems sound when he talked about international rights being sold on the basis of watching the higher profile teams like his club, Manchester United and Arsenal but he is wrong to consider the reason for that that the teams themselves are available to watch.

When Manchester United play a friendly tour the rights are sold for less than the Premier League games because the competition is less. Even though Ayre’s team might be the star of the show, the show is all twenty teams and the league, and what is good for the show is good for all involved.

All of which seems like a simple concept. The concern of Ayre is that the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid who are able to individually bargain for rights will leave the Premier League clubs behind in revenue for those rights but an unbalance in a league which has to automatic righting system (the Premier League – because it has no promotion to take away the cream – is prone to unbalance) is never an attractive one and ultimately that will cause revenue to suffer both domestically and internationally.

What Ayre gathers with one hand, he loses with the other. He is not a stupid man, he knows this, but his primary aim is not the long term health of English football it is the medium term finances of Liverpool football club.

Which is the problem with Ayre and people in his position at the clubs who are at the top of the European pile. The aims that their positions dictates they have are not those which would guarantee long term health for the top flight, and thus the rest of the game.

Ayre raises the ire of the smaller clubs and some of them smaller clubs are pretty big. It was clubs in the position of Bolton Wanderers – a team listed as unattractive by Ayre – who voted for the establishment of the Premier League. The appeal then was that a line would be drawn below clubs in that position, now that line creeps higher.

There is a need for football in all its spheres to look at what the aims of the Premier League are and address them towards the long term protection of that league and alls its members now and in the future.

Alas though while such changes are so far away from taking place the game instructs the likes of Ayre to find whatever ways of making money he can regardless of the impact it might have in the longer term.

The solution – perhaps – lays with the 75% of the Premier League who enjoy the excess at the top but would lose out in this and perhaps that solution is to start mandating a more level playing field all the way from top to bottom rather than standing at the top of one ladder trying to make sure they can grasp the next one as the kick the previous away.

The ghosts of the Wimbledon past

Relegation is bad enough, but allowing those ageing, clog wearing, whippet racing, Rugby League watching simpletons Bradford to stay up is truly disgusting.” The now-defunct Wimbledon website BigTissue.com, May 14 2000

These words, relayed via David Pendleton in the City Gent back in August 2000 as part of a look back at the emotions Bradford City and Wimbledon supporters went through in the 1999-2000 battle to stay in the Premier League, have always stuck in my mind as an insight into the hatred Dons fans felt towards us when we stayed up at their expense.

Meanwhile as Valley Parade literally rocked up and down during the closing minutes of the Bantams’ 1-0 victory over Liverpool that confirmed our survival, the Sky TV cameras cut to a banner in the Kop that displayed the message “Bye Bye Wombles”.

For a short time at least, Bradford City and Wimbledon were bitter rivals.

Such is the competitive nature of football that, from time-to-time, an opposition club previously off the radar suddenly becomes an enemy in a promotion or relegation battle; with their results mattering greatly. That Wimbledon team had two weeks earlier self-destructed in front of our eyes, going down to a 3-0 defeat with John Hartson stupidly sent off. Away fans had reason to be aggrieved by questionable refereeing that day, and that ill feeling showcased by BigTissue.com was carried on for a few years later when City were relegated to a Division One that Wimbledon were unable to earn promotion from.

Indeed fast forward to February 2003, where BfB writer Roland Harris managed to upset numerous supporters for airing views on the protest movement in operation against moving the club to Milton Keynes. With Dons fans boycotting matches and ultimately forming AFC Wimbledon, opposition supporters were urged not to travel to Selhurst Park when their team were away to Wimbledon. Roland argued why he would be going to watch the Bantams draw 2-2, because he went to away games to watch City not the opposition.

A strong backlash towards this site from both Wimbledon and City fans followed, a moment editor Michael Wood still refers to as “one of our biggest fall outs.”

By the time City were next due to play Wimbledon away, they had moved to Milton Keynes and a season later they became the MK Dons. Meanwhile the real Wimbledon were embarking on a fast-paced journey back into the Football League. The ‘rivalry’ consigned to the past as fans around the world including City deeply admired what Wimbledon fans were doing; but when a year ago I wrote an article for TwoHundredPercent about City’s 10-year decline, a couple of Wimbledon fans posted reader comments expressing no sympathy for our suffering. Understandable, because what they had gone through was far worse; but also a sign that past clashes were not forgotten.

The point of recalling these incidents is not to stoke up ill-feeling between two sets of supporters properly meeting this Saturday for the first time at Valley Parade since a 3-3 draw in October 2001. But the fact there is a ‘history’ between the two clubs is worth recalling in order to provide Wimbledon supporters with the respect they deserve.

Respect for what they have achieved since reforming at the bottom is widespread and well documented of course. There is huge inspiration to be taken from the way they sought to preserve the heart and soul of their football club, when disgraceful actions were undertaken by people who were supposed to share their best interests. The meteoric rise is arguably the football success story of the past decade, and like everyone else one hopes the day is coming when they overtake the Buckinghamshire club who stole their identity.

Yet there’s only so much patting on the back before we cross over into patronising. And though we can buy their fans a drink before kick off, and smile warmly for them as their players walk out into a stadium which had so much significance in their demise 11 years ago, the fact is they are now a rival in our division and deserve to be treated as such.

For if there is a lesson to be learned from reading opposition fans write your achievements off as “whippet racing, Rugby League watching simpletons” it is the dangers of underestimating the club you are facing.

When Wimbledon came to Valley Parade towards the end of that Premier League relegation battle, Hartson was infamously said to have sought advice from Dons hero Vinnie Jones that intimidating City’s “hard man” (Stuart McCall) in the tunnel before kick off would cause the Bantams to crumble. He tried, he failed.

As events turned against them on the field the players reacted dismally, displaying a childish “it’s not fair” attitude reflected in the BigTissue.com. It was clear that the pain of relegation weighted heavily, but the fact little old City had stayed up at their expense was considered something of an injustice.

The modern day Wimbledon don’t deserve to be treated as beneath us, as much as they shouldn’t be treated as beneath Macclesfield, Plymouth or any other League Two side. Their merited position was always among the 92, and now they truly are here on merit. A club to be inspired by, but now also one to fear.

The heroics of Wimbledon fans will never be forgotten but are now a thing of the past, for they are back where they belong. “Who are ya? Who are ya?”

The gradient becomes steeper

On The 2010/2011 Season

Mark Lawn’s first-ever Football League meeting saw the Joint-Chairman loudly question why the Football League TV deal left his club so disadvantaged. He was told it was because of a rule which had been implemented by a then-Bradford City chairman.

The split of TV revenue is weighed heavily in favour of clubs in the Championship, and it’s a thinking which has been replicated in other important money matters. The Premier League’s solidarity payments subsequently introduced that summer – loose change from the billions England’s top flight generates and keeps for themselves, after voting to break away from the Football League in 1991 – saw each Championship club receive £830,000 per season. Meanwhile League One and Two clubs – arguably most in need of any hardship fund going – received £103,000 and £69,000 per season respectively.

A welcome gift, but one which will did little to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

And this heavily-biased split of the leagues was the work of Geoffrey Richmond, who two years after making a speech on the Valley Parade pitch that his Premiership-bound Bantams would “never forget their lower league friends” marked City’s return to the Football League in 2001 by ensuring clubs in England’s second tier received the greater benefits of any pots of money coming all three divisions’ way. Who cared about clubs in England’s bottom tier then?

Lawn, faced with this unexpected further revelation of Richmond’s legacy at the Football League meeting in 2007, didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Fast forward to the present day, and the landscape will begin to further shift from this season. A “take it or leave it” revised solidarity payments offer from the Premier League last April was initially rejected by clubs in League One and Two; but faced with no choice, they ultimately had to accept. The £20m a year donation by the elite has tripled to £60m from this season (cuts to community funding will pay for the Premier League’s generosity), but the disparities in who is entitled to how much have remained, further increasing the gaps.

So from this season, the majority of Championship clubs will each receive £2.2m per year from the Premier League. For League One clubs, the payment has increased to £335,000 and for League Two clubs £220,000. In addition, relegated Premier League clubs will now receive £48m worth of parachute payments over four seasons – £16m in each of the first two years.

A near quarter of a million guaranteed revenue for City is certainly not something to be sniffed at; but whereas the Bantams were previously receiving £761,000 less per year than their Championship counterparts, the gap will now be over £2m every season. And that’s before we consider the present three-year TV deal, collectively worth £264m.

Let’s remember where City want to ultimately aspire to return to – last July, the vision unfurled by Lawn was for City to reach the Championship in five years time. It could prove increasingly difficult to scale those heights – and much more challenging to stay there.

With so many Football League clubs struggling to stay in business, any help that the Premier League is willing to provide has to be grudgingly accepted. But there are genuine long-term concerns about what this new deal will do to the competitive nature of the Football League. In the Championship, clubs relegated from the Premier League will have such a huge advantage in terms of the money they have, compared to their rivals, that bouncing back within a couple of seasons should be much more of a regular occurrence than it currently is. And for clubs climbing into the Championship from Leagues One and Two, the inequality of solidarity payments will make it more difficult to catch up as time goes by.

The gulf between Premier League and Championship has been huge for years, and a similar type of chasm could be about to emerge between tiers two and three.

Which makes the need for City to start climbing the leagues all the more urgent. That £2.2m per year Championship clubs will start receiving is hardly going to be used to make ticket prices more affordable or to increase presence in the community; it will likely be extra money for the transfer budget and extra money for the wage bill. And with each passing season of getting £2.2m richer, the size of the wage bills will get larger and more difficult for newly-promoted clubs to compete with.

So while getting into the Championship can still be considered a realistic objective for all the 48 teams in England’s bottom two tiers, with the difference in solidarity payments between Leagues One and Two relatively low, competing against teams with increasingly larger resources will become increasingly difficult. It’s hard to imagine many more instances of a Wigan, Stoke or Fulham rising through the divisions like we’ve seen over the last decade. And the sport will be less magical for losing that.

But while we can curse Richmond yet again for instigating a situation that penalises our club, the reasoning of why he did it is one difficult to avoid talking hypocritically about. I bet not many of the 24 Championship clubs supported their lesser peers in initially rejecting the Premier League’s offer last April – despite the very real possibility that they one day could be relegated and suffer the consequences. And I bet that if they were on the Championship side of the fence, few League One and Two Chairman would have been principled enough to reject the offer either.

It’s all about looking after your own interests, and believing the changes you vote for will only aid your cause – rather than later tripping you up. Least we forget, then top-flight members Oldham and Sheffield United voted for the breakaway of the Premier League.

And if City can fulfill the vision of making it back to the Championship, would we care too much about the plight of present-day rivals? If there’s a big pot of money that we’re entitled to take a greater share of, would we vote to give more of it to others?

Which is perhaps the greatest irony. Over the last two decades, Premier League and Championship clubs have voted to make changes which boost their individual prospects and increase their own chances of enjoying success – at the expense of others. That natural competitive nature to maximise every advantage and be damned with morals and ethics may in fact be leading to our national game become less and less competitive.

The door is beginning to close. City need to get their foot in.

The boat sets sail with City on the shore

The Football League – being the 72 clubs outside the Premier League and above the Blue Square Conference structure – have agreed to a new way of paying so called Parachute payments to clubs falling out of the top flight which – some critics say – create a Premier League Second Division in all but name.

The short story is that clubs like Hull City and Burnley who are relegated from the top flight will be paid and increased slice of Premier League pie with the aim of ensuring that they do not hit the financial problems that have best the likes of Charlton Athletic, Norwich City, Southampton and other side who have fallen from grace including – although it is some time ago now – Bradford City.

The aim is noble – perhaps – but the feared outcome is that the clubs relegated from the top flight will be so financially doped that they will ruin competition in the division below reducing the chase for the top flight to clubs who have been relegated and those who have owners with massive funds to invest. Blackpool – taking a 2-1 lead into the second leg of the playoff semi-finals – would represent a model of the type of team who are expected to be penalised by this and – one assumes – QPR the sort who would benefit.

The separation between the haves of the game and have-nots will increase to a point where investing at a Doncaster Rovers or a Scunthorpe United will see you hit a glass ceiling at a much lower level than that said to be half way up the Premier League reducing competition. One wonders – if this is true – how the voting went for the chairmen of those clubs who have taken teams like that pair up from the lower reaches into the second tier of the game. They are offered riches in exchange for rowing the boat of prosperity away from the drowning men that make up much of the rest of the league. It seems that given the choice between self-interest and solidarity they elected for the former and League One and League Two fell into line for fear of a permanent break away of those clubs into an actual – rather than a de facto – Premiership Two.

In practice though – and even with huge chunks of money flying around as they always seem to – the game of football makes more a meritocracy of the business of the game than the critics of today’s news would like to admit and perhaps we need only look over to those celebrating a promotion to the Championship at the third attempt at Elland Road to be reminded how the size of the club matters little when eleven players choke in the play-offs. Chairman and managers of clubs like Burnley will be able to fritter away resource no matter how large they are and at Turf Moor they have an expert at doing just that. Before joining the Clarets Brian Laws had been frittering away the resources of Sheffield Wednesday for years and the size of that club matters little in the harshness of Championship relegation.

Nevertheless today’s decision in which The Football League practically admitted its inability to do anything other than acquiesce to the demands of the top flight is a rotten one. Whatever the gulf between clubs and wherever it occurs rather than trying to – almost literally – throw money at teams who fall into that chasm but being relegated from the top flight would it not have been a better situation to encourage – no – enforce good governance on the teams who may get into trouble rather than bail them out afterwards.

Portsmouth are playing in the FA Cup final next week and in a very serious and very real way it could be the final game in the club’s history the reason for this being the ludicrous contracts and players signed to take the club to another day out at Wembley two years ago. Portsmouth have not had a bail out of Greek proportions but they will be paid after they are relegated for the Premier League (the money, perhaps, being diverted to pay contracts they have defaulted on) and one cannot help but wonder if the best interests of all would not have been served by ensuring that the club could not be dragged into the state it is currently in in what in retrospect seems to be the service of one man’s Ahab style quest for personal glory.

Glory, glory, Tottenham Hotspur – as the song goes – beware. The quest of Harry Redknapp that has bankrupted Portsmouth has catapulted Spurs into the Champions League – such a misnomer – but one has to wonder about the cost as Spurs spend money like the water in the infamous Elland Road fish tank which provides a cautionary tale for the future at White Hart Lane, and for clubs who would borrow against success without a thought of good governance.

Indeed the Football League – agreeing this deal – agrees to take such tainted vessels in. One wonders what purpose the world’s oldest football league now has and if all 72 members or perhaps just those who were powerless to stop today’s decision would not be better resigning to join the Football Association as a giant Premier League non-league rather than this current system in which the clubs at the top of the second tier make decisions with the threat of breaking away as a stick.

Rather than making sure that Hull City do not end up spending hundreds of thousands a week on strikers who could hardly be said to have put Ryan Kendall to shame the Premier League will throw money at them to plug the holes they have after relegation. The clubs that exit the Premier League, the bounce back and forth from Premier League to Championship, will do so in luxury liners. The financial boat has set sail today with Bradford City on the shore watching and perhaps noticing that the boats themselves are letting in water.

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