Thursday, October 20, 2011
The Premier League may well be the land of milk and honey – but there is one thing that turns my stomach.
The beautiful game is increasingly packaged as a precious commodity. A trend accelerated by the vast sums lavished in television revenue and the influx of billionaire owners from far beyond these shores. But nothing in life comes for free. And it’s the supporters who have to pay.
Whether they part with hard-earned cash at the turnstiles or for television subscription packages. It’s why thousands of Norwich fans have to trek to Liverpool this weekend for a 5:30pm kick-off time and return home well past midnight. It’s also why their Boxing Day fix this Christmas will have to wait 24 hours.
You can’t blame the clubs. The millions deposited in return help fund better players, inject financial stability – allied to the right housekeeping – for years to come.
There is no point dwelling on the nostalgic days of yesteryear. The Premier League product is a voracious global entity. Devouring new swathes of fans through saturation television coverage. A recent report from a German-based sports business consultancy estimated 4.7 billion people watched the Premier League last season – unsurprisingly it’s the most popular sporting competition on the planet.
Paul Lambert and his evolving squad won the golden ticket when they followed up League One success with promotion from the Championship. But according to the League Managers’ Association chief Richard Bevan earlier this week, such soaring triumphs are in danger of becoming a thing of the past.
Bevan publicly claimed the growing presence of foreign ownership has the potential to raise the spectre of a closed shop. An NFL-style franchise system with no promotion or relegation.
The idea sounds preposterous. Then again, is it any less off-the-wall than the previously mooted ‘39th’ game – taking the Premier League directly to those corners of the globe who just can’t get enough?
For all those with a drop of green and yellow blood running through their veins just imagine that scenario last season.
Simeon Jackson’s stoppage time winner against Derby which shook Carrow Road to its foundations. Tilting the race for automatic promotion to the big time firmly in Norwich’s favour.
No, hang on. Ensuring City backed up League One title success with a laudable runners-up spot in the Championship. Ready to go again this season. In the Championship.
Football was forged in the working class hotbeds of this country. Conceived as a game to be enjoyed by the masses.
Football is for the many, not the privileged few. How ever much money they have.
The fallout from Bevan’s comments has been predictably fierce. Sir Alex Ferguson labelled the idea ‘absolute suicide for the clubs in the rest of the country, particularly those in the Championship.’
West Ham co-owner David Sullivan said it would ‘kill football’. He’s right. As long as the Hammers remain on the outside pressed against the glass, they can forget about filling Upton Park, the Olympic Stadium or any other ground.
Even Aston Villa’s American owner Randy Lerner issued a statement stating his club were ‘confused and surprised by Mr Bevan’s remarks’.
The likelihood of any such nightmare scenario is frankly a non starter. The FA or the international footballing authorities would never sanction such a fundamental change.
Norwich performed a footballing miracle to gatecrash the Premier League party. But the mere fact the issue stirred such debate this week is further evidence football is no longer the people’s game.