Chris Goreham: Football needs a rebrand with a no-risk strategy
- Credit: PA
These are not normal times – a fact underlined by the number of football supporters campaigning passionately against the return of their favourite sport.
The Premier League has spent more than 25 years distracting fans with an array of shining stars.
Anti-social kick-off times, games being rescheduled at short notice and comprehensive live coverage only being available to those prepared to buy a series of increasingly expensive TV packages have been the cause of many grumbles since 1992.
Yet fans have gone along with it all for long enough for the Premier League to become a brand worth billions of pounds.
Would Norwich City’s Championship title, clinched exactly a year ago today, have been as exciting if a place in the Premier League wasn’t the reward? Perhaps the Covid-19 crisis is the line in the sand for supporters whose pure passion for the game and their team has allowed a few people to make an awful lot of money.
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To cut the Premier League some slack it’s perfectly right to be discussing how it must deal with this unprecedented challenge. There isn’t a business in the country that isn’t trying to come up with an alternative plan. What is most concerning is the apparent rush to make a decision about the way forward when it’s perfectly clear that football as we all know and love it just isn’t going to be possible for many months to come.
It’s already obvious that the 2020/21 season won’t be able to start on time and in front of supporters. So why the tearing hurry to get the campaign that was rightly halted in the middle of March finished?
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To end it at neutral grounds with no fans in the stands, to quote the idea that seems to be gaining the most traction at the moment, would not seriously appeal to anyone and certainly doesn’t seem worth the risks that would have to be taken with the health of players, officials and anyone else required to make soulless soccer work.
It’s clear that the financial cost of voiding a season would put huge pressure on clubs and even the league itself given those lucrative broadcast deals and sponsorship packages that they have been busily piling up the cash for over the past two decades.
Football may be special to those of us who love it, but it’s not so special that it needs to be immune from the costs that come from putting health above wealth.
If I had my way, the Premier League and football at all levels would simply pick up from where it left off whenever that may be possible with fans in the ground. Players will need a ramp up to that in terms of fitness after such a long and necessary break which allows an opportunity for behind closed doors tournaments or matches for TV only that could be used as fundraisers for clubs further down football’s food chain who face the very real prospect of going to the wall over this or to help prop up the charity sector which is taking a brutal hit as a result of the lack of fundraising opportunities in a socially distant landscape.
The issues with players’ contracts expiring in the summer are the same for all clubs so a common way forward ought to be possible and if the broadcast and sponsorship deals matter so much why not put those on hold too and allow companies to use up however long they had left on those agreements when it does return?
Football will only feel special again when its entire community can reunite, sit together and enjoy cheering on their team without the feeling that going to a game is a gamble.
That day will eventually come and I am quite happy to wait for it, even if it does mean clubs having to spend some time rebuilding financially.
The Premier League hasn’t got to where it is today without being brand conscious so perhaps the very factor that’s driving the apparent desperation to get it back on might be what saves it if supporters continue to make their feelings known.
Get with the programme!
One of the trends of the past few weeks has been sorting through old possessions.
With so much time at home, many of us have run out of excuses and have finally grappled with the garage, got lost in the loft or battled through an array of cardboard boxes.
There has been some yellow and green wheat amongst the chaff and Norwich City supporters have enjoyed memorabilia mining and sharing their discoveries on social media. The amount of Canary treasure that had been lurking in Norfolk’s homes has been a joy to behold.
In my case, the entertainment came in the shape of a box of old programmes.
I have amassed hundreds over the years, but have rarely gone back and re-read any of them. They are such wonderful snapshots in time. If only the 19-year old Robert Ullathorne who was interviewed in a programme I found from 1990 had known what would happen a few years later at Portman Road when he answered a question about his most embarrassing moment as being an own goal against Spurs in something called The Floodlit Cup.
The person he most wanted to meet, given the choice of anyone in the world, was the golfer Nick Faldo, which dated the programme nicely.
In a time before websites and social media, the manager’s programme notes served as a rare chance for Dave Stringer to give fans his side of the story. In this edition he goes into detail about how a move to sign Nottingham Forest midfielder Terry Wilson broke down.
The same publication also included a request from a Bolton Wanderers supporter who had written to the club to ask if anyone wanted to be his pen friend. The fact he was specifically seeking ‘Female Norwich City supporters’ was reprinted without question.
It also features an interesting profile of an up-and-coming youth team player by the name of Christopher Sutton.