Why football will eat itself…
Amongst the various news stories that interested me last week was the one in which Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham MP, called upon the English Premier League and, in particular, the ‘big four’ of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal to spread their wealth a little more evenly in order to create a more competitive environment.
As always when things like this get raised in this country, most football fans complained and cried foul (as did the Premier league teams and particularly the big four). Many commentators drew attention to the fact that Andy Burnham is an Everton fan. Everton have had a good year and currently lie in sixth place (with two games to go). They will be in Europe next year but not in the top four spots and not in the Champions League. So, of course, say the naysayers, Burnham is only saying all this because he’s jealous and his team isn’t good enough.
Burnham has put his finger on an important issue that is rumbling like a troublesome appendix under the skin of all the gloss and the glitter of the Premiership. I wonder whether it will just grumble on… or whether one day, it actually might burst and kill the whole thing stone dead.
I’ve blogged about this before. I don’t often touch on football issues but I’m a football fan and it comes up from time to time in my thinking! Usually between 3 pm and 4.45 pm on a Saturday afternoon.
I also happen to be an American football fan and to see how the two sports handle themselves at the top level are just worlds apart. The NFL deliberately tries to create a competitive environment through a host of measures. They are, if you like, the Labour-based approach of intervention compared to the Conservative-based approach of the Premiership which says let the free market rule supreme.
The thing is, Premiership, I’m A1, top of the line, absolutely, totally and utterly BORED. Yet again this season, it looks like Manchester United will win the league. Followed (this year) by Liverpool with Chelsea and Arsenal in 3rd and 4th. Last year, it was Manchester United winning the league with Chelsea in second followed by Arsenal and then Liverpool. Whoopedoo.
I’m a mad-keen Tottenham fan, as it happens, but I’m not a blind Tottenham fan. I enjoy watching good competitive football. I enjoy seeing how Spurs get on but I’m just plain bored with English football. Before the season begins, I know that Tottenham won’t win anything. Best we can hope for is maybe a place in Europe. The worst is relegation. I know for a fact that one of those four aforementioned teams will win the league… and probably share the cups between them as well. It’s boring. Boring, boring, boring.
As I have said before in that previous blog post, between 1992 and the present day (17 years), Manchester United have won the league ten times (and will be eleven times in about a fortnight) with Arsenal (three times), Chelsea (twice), and Blackburn Rovers (once) also winning the league. Four teams. In the same period of 1992-2009, eleven different teams have won the Superbowl.
The only potential candidate beyond ‘the big four’ who might challenge them in the future are Manchester City who happen to have got themselves a new Arab oil-rich owner with absolutely squillions of pounds to spend. Great… so future success now depends on Sugar Daddies rather than building a successful on-the-field and off-the-field operation.
If the English Premiership doesn’t do something about it’s lack of competitiveness, the day will surely come when everyone just switches off.
I am so bored with the Premiership that I’ve actually bought a stake in Ebbsfleet United, the famous and world’s only web-owned community football club. They just happen to play up the road from me in front of about a thousand people. While much still revolves around money, it’s been a great chance to get involved in something and feel like each week, each season, we have a chance to make something of ourselves. How many other people are starting to turn their back on the Premiership to do other things? Whether football-related or not?
We don’t have a system similar enough to do a ‘draft’ like the NFL, although I wouldn’t be averse to such a wholesale overhaul of the English game that we introduced a system that developed young players in a separate league so that we that could include a subsequent draft. However, we do have two things we could do.
Firstly, we could introduce a salary cap that is the same for all teams (not a percentage of income since that still gives the richer teams an advantage). Secondly, we could (in a draft-like kind-of-way) reverse the prize money. So, if you finish first, you get the least amount of financial reward. If you finish last, you get the most. Sounds weird and counter-intuitive I know, but I’m not worried that teams will play for last place or anything of that sort because ultimately the long-term financial rewards of success (greater audience, more merchandise sales etc) are greater than short-term prize money. Besides that, this is football – they will want to win. However, making such a move would mean that teams who weren’t as good last year get the best chance to improve and give the successful teams a run for their money.
Give ’em hell, Andy Burnham. I’m with you all the way.