English football: setting the standard for protected interests and sustained inequality

October 16th, 2014

A warning: below is a rant. It follows years of getting irrationally cross about football. Please bear with me, there is a serious point about how destructive unchecked inequality is somewhere below…

football inequality 3

When I was a lad (admittedly, a fair few years ago), there were around thirty clubs in the UK who could realistically win the League Championship. Even more could dream that streaky luck, poor pitches and a brutal approach to dealing with more skilful opposition would result in them lifting the FA Cup.

Even my team, the eternally-hopeless Coventry City managed to win the Cup in 1987, beating the mighty Manchester United, Tottenham and Leeds on the way. Having done so, we picked up a cheque for the gate receipts and prize money, which paid for a couple of new signings for the next season at a total cost of around £1.5m, a colossal amount for the club then (and now, come to think of it), which propelled them into the top ten clubs in the country for a short while.

Fast forward 25 years. Now, there are just six clubs who could potentially win the league. In fact, realistically this year, there are two. The other four are fighting desperately to get into the Champions League in order to earn the 40 million Euros (or so) available to quarter finalists.

Backed by billionaire owners, they pour millions of pounds into the pockets of agents, players and top European and South American clubs to secure huge squads of international players. This top six are all global brands, with millions of ‘supporters’ dotted around the globe.

Below them, the other 14 clubs in the top division are all terrified of getting relegated out of the Premier League and losing the £60m-plus they are guaranteed each year. Their fear of dropping out is now manifested to such an extent that few bother to try and win Cup competitions and instead focus on staying in the Premier League. With a couple of exceptions, the vast majority cream off the best players from lower league clubs in England, Scotland and Europe. Yet, even they are well-protected. If a club is relegated, there are £60m of ‘parachute payments’ for the clubs that go down over the following four years, immediately placing them on a far superior financial footing to other teams and giving them a colossal advantage over their rivals. This effectively ensures the same rich 25 or so clubs retain their place at football’s biggest richest financial trough season after season.

This financial disparity means that down in the lower reaches of the football league all other 65 or so clubs in England are left to stagnate. Promising youngsters are snaffled by Premier Clubs who offer them massive wage increases and the promise of financial security for the rest of their lives. Leagues One and Two (the third and fourth tier of English football) are made up of teams of teenagers, has-beens, disaffected youth players borrowed from top tier teams and those who never have been good enough to play at the highest level. Despite attracting tens of thousands of fans every week, they have no prospect of ever getting to the top level anymore and next to no chance of beating even the reserves of one of the ‘big six’ in a head-to-head contest.

Why does this matter? Because kids no longer want to follow their local team, opting instead to follow a soulless ‘big team’ they have no prospect of actually watching live, which leaves their local team to flounder in front of ever-decreasing crowds.

Traditionally, these smaller clubs recruit young English players and give them valuable playing time and experience before moving them on for a profit when they are ready to play at a higher level but now the youth teams and academies of the bigger clubs continue to grow and hoover up any available talent in an area. Yet because of the pressure on managers to stay in the top league, few ever get the opportunity to play. Furthermore, any young player at a small club with an ounce of promise is lured away before playing more than 50 games, with the majority failing to make the grade required when they step up a level.

What does this mean?

1) The England team is falling behind its rivals as promising young players simply don’t get the opportunity to play first team football.

2) An absence of real competition in the Premier League.

3) Dozens of lower league clubs who have no prospect of ever breaking into the top division, or of tasting success, no matter how good the manager is.

4) Supporters like me unwilling to pay a minimum of £20 every week to see my club in a depressing circle of decline.

Now here is the bit that relates to inequality on a world stage…

It strikes me that English football’s narrow-minded obsession with protecting those who are rich and powerful is similar to that of the developed nations in the world today.

The Premier League refuses to share more than a measly percentage of its wealth despite the evident damage it is doing to the game. At the same time, the richest nations refuse to support developing nations, be it through fairer trade agreements, access to markets, technology, aid, information, natural resources, or investment in infrastructure.

Both fail to do so despite the obvious benefits – a more successful national team on one hand; less poverty, better educated populations, reduced population growth and better prospects for democracy on the other.

Everyone can see this is the case, millions of people feel passionately about both issues yet no-one does anything about it because the powerful minority refuse to do what would be good for all.

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