It might be football…but not as we know it

English football’s so-called ‘leaders’ are desperate to complete the 2019/20 season behind closed doors – irrespective of the Coronavirus – but at what cost?

Project Restart and playing games without fans, is a desperate attempt to ensure the Premier League keeps hundreds of millions of pounds from the likes of Sky, BT and beIN.

As far as the likes of Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and Football Association chairman, Greg Clarke are concerned, that cost is measurable by one overriding factor – avoiding the risk of repaying hundreds of millions of pounds to broadcasters, including Sky, BT and Qatar-based, beIN.

The clamour to see football return – based solely on financial grounds – is distasteful to say the least. If it wasn’t for the Premier League’s apparent desperation to hang on to their TV money, would there be such an appetite to rush to play games in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic? The answer is surely an emphatic ‘no’.

Alas, ‘money talks’, especially for the top flight of English football, where match day attendances and gate receipts are dwarfed by the spondoolies from Sky and BT Sport.

The economic reality of the Premier League is that supporters play second fiddle to the broadcasters. It’s been true for many a year. If  there’s any truth to rumours that Sky and BT want to pipe in ‘atmospherics’ and superimpose crowd graphics in the stands, it will further lay waste to the adage, ‘football without fans is nothing.’

It’ll be football, but not as we know it, not as we want it and certainly not how it should be.

Germany’s Bundesliga will be the first European elite division to resume this weekend, but many fans are indifferent to the resumption. The games behind closed doors, are already being labelled as ‘ghost matches’. Disenchanted supporters claim it will break the emotional connection between them and their clubs.

Borussia Moenchengladbach have even encouraged fans to buy personalised cardboard cut-outs to ‘fill’ their stadium. I suppose it’s one way of trying to prevent supporters being labelled as ‘plastics’!

Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, in his infinite wisdom, has suggested resuming the Premier League – complete with all its artificialities – will, ‘…lift the spirits of the nation.’

The results from a subsequent YouGov poll of 2,098 adults delivered a different opinion. Only 19% agreed, with a hefty 73% stating the polar opposite. One can only assume the poll was not taken in Liverpool!

As one of the richest and best run clubs in world football, Manchester City are in a strong position to withstand the worst of the economic and commercial ravages of the pandemic.

The same cannot be said of lower league clubs in England, for whom a scenario of having to fulfil this season’s fixtures without fans, adds up to financial suicide – no, make that homicide – if it is imposed on Leagues One and Two.

Compare and contrast the disparities between the likes of City and one of the EFL’s smallest clubs, Accrington Stanley. Both are blessed with excellent owners and chairmen – City have Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak – Stanley have Andy Holt.

The respective budgets are light years apart, the philosophies and objectives very different, but both entities are based on sound business acumen, with an emphasis on benefitting their respective communities.

City will be one of the beneficiaries from the TV mega bucks if the unimaginatively named, ‘Project Restart’ goes ahead. They’d also accrue millions more, via TV coverage of the FA Cup and Champions League – competitions in which they are presently classed as favourites.

Accrington will be out and out losers if the EFL compel them to play their remaining 11 games. There’s no TV money on offer at The Wham Stadium, no gate receipts – the lifeblood of the club – only costs and more costs. Players and staff would have to be taken off the Government furlough scheme and wages paid. Away games will entail travel and hotel bills.

How could Stanley be expected to fund the expensive corononavirus testing required to, theoretically, ensure the health and safety of players and staff?

All told, Stanley would be something like £500,000 down and for what?

When football went on indefinite hold, they were 17th in League One, eight points and four places above the relegation zone – pretty steady and well set for a mid-table finish.

I’ve had first hand dealings with Andy Holt, he’s the personification of integrity, a man of honour, an individual who’s been calling for fundamental change to English football’s financial pyramid, long before Covid19. He seems to have won backing from EFL Chairman, Rick Parry who, in warning of a £200m hole in the EFL’s budget by September, is lobbying for a radical overhaul of the game’s fiscal structure. It will be interesting to see how the ex-Chief Executive of the Premier League and later, Liverpool, stands up for the rights of the 47 EFL members in Leagues One and Two.

It’s a measure of Holt, that he was offering to refund Stanley season ticket holders for any remaining games, a fortnight before lockdown and any postponing or abandonment of games – the first club owner to do so. He showed the sort of leadership then, which is so woefully lacking now in the Premier League, the FA and the Professional Footballers Association. The jury’s presently out on Parry.

Holt and Stanley don’t lack ambition – of course they want to win games and trophies – but the primary goal is, and always will be, survival and long term sustainability, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

It’s an entirely different ball game to that lived and played by modern day Manchester City.

An unfulfilled fixture list would doubtless lead to arguments and most likely legal challenges, in relation to relegations and promotions, regardless of at what level.

TV money is the primary motivation for Project Restart. Any blather from the FA and Premier League about ‘preserving the integrity of the game’ is a very distant second. The resumption of English football – if it happens – cannot be a one-size fits all edict. It patently does not.

By David Walker

www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu

12 Comments

  1. May 14, 2020  8:35 pm by Malcolm Reply

    Spot on as always, David. Unfortunately the decision makers of the game we so love(d) are so out of touch with reality and the mindset of football fans, they believe the marketing bullshit they blindly spew out. "Integrity" went out of the game when Don Revie resigned as England manager to go to Saudi Arabia.

    • May 14, 2020  9:58 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thanks MG. I deliberately avoided the topic of wealth before health in respect of players and staff etc as that's an entire blog in its own right. One wonders if the likes of Clarke and Masters would be just as keen if they had to waive social distancing measures etc. Integrity is a word thrown around like confetti in these turbulent times. It's even more absurd coming from the PL and the FA.

  2. May 14, 2020  8:42 pm by Doug Henshaw Reply

    It's an absolute disgrace that football is even thinking of coming back. The powers that be should hang there heads in shame, people are dying and going to die . I never thought I would ever see the day when I would be do sick of what football is trying too do.

    • May 14, 2020  10:01 pm by David Walker Reply

      Football, or at least those who supposedly govern the game, are pretty repugnant aren't they? The sport has been tarnished and I would imagine a sizeable minority, maybe even the majority, of fans might walk away, or at the very least 'downsize,' their interest or love of football.

  3. May 14, 2020  9:22 pm by Rob Leek Reply

    God forbid they end up playing these games and someone ends up seriously ill or worse from contracting the virus. Just one life lost / saved is worth more than any amount of cash. The sad fact is, they actually think that testing will stop someone contracting it on the football / training pitch in a contact sport. Seriously? People are having to go back to work now out of choice or necessity. But at least most have the opportunity to social distance / protect themselves and others. Will the powers that be be accountable if a life is lost as a result of football money? I can’t get over why anyone would consider the risk to be acceptable. As a Villa fan, I know that if the games aren’t played, it is highly likely that we will be relegated, despite having a game in hand that, if played and won, would lift us out of the relegation zone. I still don’t want the games played.

    • May 14, 2020  10:10 pm by David Walker Reply

      Well said that man. Those in power deem the risk to be 'acceptable', as do self invested, sanctimonious journalists who don't have anything to write about. I didn't focus on that aspect in this blog, but the health of participants must be the priority - but try telling that to the grubby money men.

  4. May 14, 2020  9:30 pm by Kammy A Reply

    Good shout DW, I do miss City and the daily shenanigans but I don't miss football as a whole at the moment or any sport for that matter. We are in pressing times and I think we are months away before we should even consider getting sport off the ground again in this country. There are those with bigger fish to fry will see it differently and no doubt those at the bottom end of the chain will pay the price.

    • May 14, 2020  10:04 pm by David Walker Reply

      It just goes to show how greed and self importance can blind people to the realities of the world. It's telling that it's predominantly those at the lower end of the pay spectrum in society, who are the most valued nowadays, by most right minded citizens. When the chips are down, it isn't football or its greedy rulers who are coming to the rescue. Thanks Kammy lad.

  5. May 14, 2020  11:39 pm by Alan Davies Reply

    Well said David but its all about money in the premier league nowadays nothing else matters players safety and coaches and all the people connect with getting the game played they don't care and playing behind closed doors should not be an option football without fans no brainer for me our football leaders need to give there heads a wobble

    • May 15, 2020  7:22 am by David Walker Reply

      These so-called leaders - I doubt they could lead a dog, let alone our national game. In the fullness of time football will regain a measure of normality, with or without a vaccine for Covid 19, but as Brighton's Glenn Murray has asked, 'Why the rush?' We know the answer, it's money driven and almost to hell with the consequences if the PL and FA get their way.

  6. May 16, 2020  7:51 am by Trevor Makings Reply

    Article , spot on. Personally I can see thousands of supporters turning away from the game, totally disallusioned by the way this has been handled

Leave a Reply to David Walker Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

Villa in crosshairs of Sky Blue Spanish Eyes

Fresh from creating a vision of Champions League wonderment in Seville’s architectural paradise, Manchester City’s focus now switches to demolishing a domestic Villa in not-so beau[...]

City are all out of GAS - Man Utd 4 Man City 2

There once lived a very clever man who was nicknamed the Engineer. His real name was Manuel and he made ‘machines’ – but not just any old machines – Manuel’s machines won cups and [...]