Chris Goreham: Project Big Picture shows how out of touch top clubs are

Jordan Hugill's late winner will have hurt Paul Warne... but only in his capacity as Rotherham's man

Jordan Hugill's late winner will have hurt Paul Warne... but only in his capacity as Rotherham's manager. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Anyone who has ever lost several hours if not days of their lives to games like Football Manager must have sympathised with Paul Warne.

The Rotherham boss is self-isolating and so had to watch their match against Norwich City from home on his laptop. Losing a game to a 95th minute penalty is the sort of thing that has had many gamers pressing ctrl, alt, delete and having another go. In real life there is no way of stopping the league table from saving after every match. If Paul Warne’s computer has become another victim of the Covid-19 pandemic we can all understand why.

It’s not often one spares a thought for the other team’s manager when Norwich City have wrapped up a precious three points. Warne is different. He’s a proud Norfolk boy and wears his heart on his yellow and green sleeve. Having watched him play for Wroxham in the mid-90s his rise from Trafford Park to sharing a touchline with Pep Guardiola in the FA Cup a couple of seasons ago has been inspiring.

His journey from promising non-league player to pitting his wits against the Canaries has been a dream come true. It’s a good job that Paul Warne has already achieved it because it seems that any future football dreams must be approved by Liverpool and Manchester United first.

Project Big Picture may be officially on the back burner but the genie is now out of the solid gold bottle that belongs to the Premier League’s top six. It may well be that football as we knew it before Covid-19 will never properly return.

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It’s not wrong to suggest that the way clubs operate in this country needs an overhaul. Most supporters rely on football for escapism at the weekends. That unquestioning loyalty, passion and desire for success has allowed many elements of the game to spiral out of control.

When lockdown was first imposed in March the message was about us all being in this together. It was a chance to pause, press reset and work out what was important in life. For a while I wondered whether football might realise how much it relies on supporters.

MORE: City striker has fallen in love with CitySadly the opposite seems to be happening. Bringing the Premier League and Championship back behind closed doors was necessary to satisfy the huge broadcasting deals. The knock-on effect has been that, to the casual observer, football is carrying on very nicely without supporters. You still have your live games on TV and Match of the Day every Saturday, so what’s the problem?

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With clubs further down the leagues on the verge of financial ruin the big six offered a rescue package. It came with all sorts of caveats that would mean more power for the teams at the top of the tree. There would be no chance of a League Cup run and promotion to the Premier League would become even more difficult to achieve. If your team was lucky enough to get there, it would be to provide points and be glorified training ground dummies for the bigger clubs rather than to actually compete.

It all misses the point as to what football really is all about for most supporters. The sense of community is built not by seeing your team win every single week but by the dream that this could be their season. It’s sharing the ups and downs and enjoying the promotion pushes and unlikely cup runs. It’s knowing that teams can go down as well as up as they say on all good adverts for bank accounts. Think of your best football memories and they are bound to revolve around sharing an unexpected triumph with your dad, your mum or your grandparents. If that dream is extinguished I wonder how many of the fans who are now used to not going to games will even want to return?

When Paul Warne finally made it as a professional it was with Wigan Athletic. He left to join Rotherham in 1999. A few months later Wigan made the play-offs in the third tier where they were narrowly beaten in the semi-finals by Manchester City. Yes, that Manchester City. It’s lucky for them that Project Big Picture wasn’t on the table back then.

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