The Football Shake-Up Q&A, Part Four
Should the top clubs help the smaller ones in anyway, and if so, how?
Gary Andrews: There’s certainly a big disparity between the haves and have-nots and the amount of money, especially TV money, that gets pumped into the top league rarely makes its way down towards the lower leagues. Now there’s an argument, and a very good one at that, that the majority of fans who watch games on TV do so because they want to watch the Premier League, so why should money earmarked for them go anywhere but the Premier League. This is fair, and the main argument for handing out money to the lower leagues is mainly based on a moral argument against the largesse of England’s bigger clubs in the face of tradition.
However, a better argument would be that it is advantageous to both the Premier League and the English national side as a whole for more money to be invested in lower league and grassroots football, particularly the latter. There’s a huge gap in funding and coaching at youth level, especially in the lower leagues. Better coaching means better development of youngsters, which in turn means greater competition, more players comfortable of developing into top flight players, transfer fees for the smaller clubs and better players for Premier League teams. The Premier League likes to trumpt its free market credentials. The trouble is, as any good economist will tell you, there’s a clear market imbalance and, in my mind, contributing more to youth development would seriously help this.
As for helping the smaller clubs, I think it’s rather simplistic to say the bigger clubs should provide finances towards them. That’s not their place and it should be up to them as to how they should spend their money. What would be useful would be for the larger teams to have agreements, either formal or informal, on players. The bigger clubs discard a lot of youngsters from their youth academies, and there’s many who are released with no support, but have the ability to develop at a smaller club. If smaller clubs had links with these academies, they could take on some of these players on first refusal and give them an option of a way back into the game (while offering the bigger clubs first refusal on their talent). That said, you’d need to ensure that this didn’t result in the smaller clubs just becoming ‘B’ teams of the biggers ones.
Matt Tickner: I don’t think that could ever work to be honest. I think that if anything, there should be a broader investment from the Premier League as a financial body distributing money in to the Football League. The onus shouldn’t be on the clubs. I don’t see how the larger clubs could help the smaller clubs without getting in to all sorts of murky water – imagine Manchester United financially helped Rochdale as part of a local distribution of money down the leagues. Imagine they then got drawn against them in the cup. There would be too many other factors to take in to account then – a whole can of worms. I think the real issue is that the ‘smaller’ clubs should perhaps help themselves. The Supporters Direct initiative, hoping to see football clubs branch out in to a community should help the club cyclically – make them a stronger force in the community and hopefully provide a stable financial platform, through increased attendances, sponsorship and revenue.
Ian Stirling: There should be enhanced revenue sharing and redistribution to support the development of footballs playing and coaching infrastructure, improved grounds and other spectator facilities and to promote competition on the field at all levels.
Rocco Cammisola: England is fortunate to have a wonderful history of football supporting culture, but there are too many professional clubs and the league ladder has been creaking. The cost of a League Two game (£16ish) compared to the quality of football witnessed is prohibitive. I’m not convinced premier league clubs should be expected to prop the league up – that’s a view I’m not comfortable with myself though.
Mark Pitman: I think there is a degree of responsibility for big clubs to help smaller clubs in their locality. The football business revolves around players, without them there would be no game, and they all start their careers somewhere. Without small local clubs young players will have limited opportunities to develop their potential and the scouts of their neighbouring professional sides would have a lot less junior football to watch in order to uncover the next big thing. No club deserves anything for nothing however, but there are many commercial ways that small non-league clubs can work with the more illustrious teams in their community and vice-versa, whether it be through the junior sections and Academy’s or fans. There needs to be more communication and partnerships between big clubs and small clubs, and both can benefit in different ways regardless of their contrasting size.
Gavin Brightman: No. It’s not the direct responsibility of the larger clubs to help the smaller ones out off of their own backs. For me, that lies with the football authorities. They should be protecting the smaller clubs. They bend over backwards for the teams at the top because they’re too scared of what might happen if they breakaway. Morally, you’d hope that the bigger clubs would do more to help the lesser clubs out, especially ones in their own community, but since they are run as a big business and as more of a brand than a football club, this doesn’t happen. Small clubs are an important part of their community, but the larger clubs have no sense of the community that they are in as they are a global brand.
The phrase “give an inch and they’ll take a mile” springs to mind, as for too long, The FA have bowed to The Premier League because they’re scared of what might happen if they don’t. There comes a point where they will have to ignore the threats and fight back for the sake of all the clubs being trampled on. This may well result in the much feared breakaway, but if this ensures the survival of the many clubs under-threat, a fair competition, that is in line with the history of our beloved game, then so be it.
Jimmy Daniel: I don’t think it is the top clubs responsibility to help smaller clubs to be honest. Each club is a business and as such it should be run accordingly and within it’s means. If this isn’t done then it is not the fault of anyone but the club in question. I do feel however, that TV money should be split more evenly. Leagues 1 and 2 are almost totally forgotten about when it comes to broadcasting live football and as a consequence the money received for TV rights is nothing compared to the cash the Premier League or even the Championship teams receive.
Rich Pye: I think there is an element of support from the top clubs that is needed to ensure the survival of the smaller ones. That’s not to say that the big clubs should be propping those beneath them in the league ladder with hand-outs – Premier League clubs after all generate larger revenues purely because they are a more marketable and attractive proposition for sponsors and broadcasters. Where the support should come in, is in the form of a fairer distribution of wealth. Again, that isn’t to say that the Premier League clubs shouldn’t take the lion’s share for the exact reasons I’ve detailed above. What should happen is that the Premier League should sanction a small percentage increase to the solidarity payments they currently make to the Football League. Such a minor increase would not adversely affect the balance sheets of the big teams, but it would provide much needed investment in the teams below them, increasing their ability to stay afloat, whilst improving the level of competition and thus ensuring the calibre of players that the Premier League can source from these leagues, improves. This obviously has a beneficial knock-on effect in that if the quality of English lower league players is better as a whole, there will be more viable talent available for purchase, thus meaning any transfer fees are less inflated than they currently are.
In the next part of the Football Shake-Up Q&A we’ll be asking the panel what steps should be taken against the negligent and incompetent club directors and owners who take clubs into the depths of administration and the brink of bankruptcy.