I’ve been lucky enough to be allowed to write about the game I love for 10 years now but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as disillusioned with it as I currently do.
Before the pandemic the combination of live football to write about and a tight word limit meant that I never had the time nor the need to do too much research, but that all changed in March.
Faced with an indefinite suspension of the game but a need to continue to produce content that people might actually want to read meant I needed to broaden my horizons and start digging deeper into issues to which I had previously on had to only offer lip service, and the deeper I dug the more I started to develop a deep disgust at the way in which football in this country has been run over the last thirty years.
Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty that was wrong before Sky “invented” football in 1992 by encouraging the Premier League to break away from the Football League but as the years have gone by, more and more money has been poured into the top of the game while only a fraction trickled down the football pyramid as the game overall has suffered.
Those Premier League clubs not strong enough to compete for Europe produce attritional, unattractive football just to stay on the gravy train, while those in the Championship are encouraged to take huge financial risks to reach the Promised Land and it’s untold riches.
Lost in all this money lust are the fans who are of less importance to the broadcasters than those paying subscriptions and, all too often, paid little attention by their own clubs. But maybe, just maybe, that could be about to change.
Last week fan groups from across Europe, including the UK’s Football Supporter’s Association wrote to UEFA and national football authorities to demand that fans should be at the heart of a major consultation about the game’s future, saying that:
“The recent return of football behind closed doors has demonstrated that fans are the lifeblood of the game.
“Their presence in the stands has been sorely missed, and the spectacle we are accustomed to has been absent without them. It is therefore more important now than ever for supporters to be included in discussions that will determine the immediate and long-term future of the game.”
The document then goes on to suggest that there are three areas around which that consultation should take place.
First and foremost is the issue of a safe return of spectators and it suggests that this be accompanied by a meaningful consultation with fans’ representatives at every level of the game on health and safety protocols and other operational measures.
The second is the need for a recognition that the contribution made by fans is irreplaceable and that attempts by broadcasters to replace or imitate the unique atmosphere produced by fans is insulting. Augmented reality technology, pre-recorded chants, and other forms of artificial support represent a rebuke to match-going fans.
The final area is so important that I’ll quote the document in full:
“Third, multi-stakeholder dialogue on the future of football. The coronavirus crisis has yet again shown that the current model of football is flawed, unfair, and unsustainable. Football needs to change dramatically. And it needs to change for the better.
“Any reform process must include fan representatives, on a local, national, and European level. Fans must be engaged and involved in decisions that relate to the wider future of the game, including the necessary overhaul of governance structures and financial regulations.
“There can be no “return to normal.” Lasting change is needed to make the game sustainable from top to bottom, and fans stand ready to play a part in shaping that change.”
But it’s not just the fans saying that radical change is needed. Deloittes have just released their annual report into football finances and as ever it makes fascinating reading.
The report notes that a salary cap set at 70% of revenue at each club would have reduced 2018/19 operating losses by £308m whilst almost entirely wiping out the combined pre-tax loss recorded by Championship clubs and concludes by saying that:
“More rigorous and robustly enforced regulation than the EFL’s existing rules is required to force clubs to act more responsibly and save them from themselves. Change is needed desperately, both collectively, and in many cases individually.”
This chimes with MP Damien Collins proposed reform of the game that would allow clubs in a financial crisis to receive government support in return for a significant minority shareholding passing to a independent directors. This would ensure the government’s investment doesn’t simply disappear into the playing budget and would also encourage the involvement of the PFA, the FSA and supporters Trusts.
At City we are lucky that we support a club which believes strongly in fan engagement and has constantly moved forward (with one brief reversal) with the process.
David McNally, albeit unpredictable, was always happy to engage, but real progress came with Ed Balls’ temporary tenure before being developed further by the avuncular Steve Stone.
Jez Moxey, a man so self-obsessed that had he been a chocolate bar he would have certainly tried to eat himself undid some of their good work, but now Ben Kensell, Stuart Webber and Zoe Ward have made fan involvement key to everything that Norwich City is about.
However, in the wider football world the pandemic has offered a chance to rethink where we’re heading. It would be criminal if the chance wasn’t taken and the gravy train was simply popped back on the tracks to allow the soul of the game to continue be sold to the broadcasters who have no other interest in it than their own profits.
We are at a crossroads and the very future of the game we love is at stake.
martin penney says
There are some very sobering thoughts in there to be sure.
I totally concur with your observations on McNally, Steve Stone and particularly Moxey.
An excellent read that I found very educational in a personal sense.
Robin Sainty says
Cheers Martin, hope you’re well mate?
martin penney says
Yeah I’m kind of good.
Nine months and counting with no teeth, a seemingly untreatable calcified vein in the right peg means a walk of two miles max and the ole back ain’t too good either. But worse things happen at sea and compared to some folks just now I consider myself pretty lucky.
An interesting read.
How can anyone trust the so called PFA lead by such a greedy and self serving moron not only does he spent money £5m on a painting for his office everytime the broadcaster up the anti he gives himself a massive pay increase and is now the highest paid union official in the world and can you see who ever finally replaces him taking a massive pay cut.
On an idealistic world all that you say should come to pass but it is like asking Turkey’s to volunteer for Xmas when you have the owners of Juve trying to get all previous winners of the Championship League as automatically qualifiers ever season no matter their league finish then you know changes will be difficult to do.
If Juve get there way that competition will be a closed shop and all previous winners or the top clubs in each league will vote for it just for the money Arse nal who have missed out for 3 years will lead the voting from the UK just as their owners with the ex LIVARPOOL and Villa owners wanted the premiership to drop promotion and relegation.
City row again the stream in their method of doing things as you say due to being financially constrained by our owners and the media will undoubtedly blame city for any unwanted changes as we are an easy target.
EUFA and FIFA are just money grabbing enterprises that say players need to play less games then come up with more games to build their own profits, without the home leagues these two would have no income and bleed them dry with fines that goes into their coffers they need to be streamlined and come back under the control of all national leagues not be self controlled as both have proved they are unable to control themselves.
To make changes it has to come from the top and EUFA and FIFA are the top then things might have a chance, goverment interference with just muddy the waters more.
Alan Sugar when at Spurs tried to buy Aldershot as a B team like in Spain but was told it wouldn’t work, Enic held stakes in 5 major league clubs around the world on buying Spurs they were told to sell the other clubs all have had financial problems since yet Man City own 8 clubs in different countries now what has changed.
My rant over, a good read from you as usual.
Onwards and upwards
Keep safe and well
Tim Ball says
Interesting reading Robin.
I think the games played behind closed doors in the Premier League already show just how awful the atmosphere is without fans, and we have only been going 6 days. However I disagree with the second point the Fans Forum make and that is we shouldn’t have the fake chants and crowd noise.
Have they heard it without. It is b****y awful.
In these circumstances, which are unique, anything to improve the viewing of the game has to be considered.
The first point they make is valid but do they really think they will get anywhere. I feel so sorry for fans like my mate Marty, he has hardly missed a game home or away for years and it feels to me that the football is carrying on without him and the rest of the fans. How fans like Gus and another old friend of mine Glen feel I do not know as I bet they haven’t missed a game for decades.
But the truth is so many people just couldn’t take the risk and go at the moment Marty included, so despite what the fans seem to be saying, that they must return very, very soon it cannot be until it is safe to do so.
We all know these games are not being played for the integrity of the league, its all about the money. Small point but 2/3rds of the season 3 subs and now 1/3rd with 5. Who does that favour, the big clubs of course. That’s integrity straight out of the window.
Look at how Florida opened up too soon commercially and have seen a big spike in covid cases or the recent tennis tournament in Croatia which has seen 2 players and at least one coach test positive.
I think fan consultation for this is correct but the decision when fans can return has to come from the Dr’s and scientists.
On the final point I agree football must change, spending 150% of your income on salaries like some of the Championship sides do has to stop and by the EFL with legislation that works. And while I agree the Premier League should help the smaller clubs now, it has to be your Exeters, Rochdales etc.
Does anyone really think it fair we give clubs like Sunderland or Ipswich money when it is through their own miss management and incompetence that they are where they are and have rich owners as well ?
B****r Off !!!
Robin Sainty says
Thanks for the reply Tim. I think you may have misinterpreted the first point being made. The fan groups are actually concerned about fans being brought back too soon because the broadcasters realise that people aren’t buying the behind closed doors stuff and want the atmosphere back.
We’ve had some really constructive talks with City about this and believe me, no-one is rushing it!!
I take your point about the canned noise, I’ve tried both that and silence and neither works for me!
I don’t disagree with any of your analysis Robin but fear the genie is out of the bottle regarding football finances.
Coronavirus has demonstrated how strong a hold tv revenues have over the game. Gate revenues make a minor contribution to top premier league side but are the life blood farther down the league system.
I can’t see any form of cap being introduced as this could be reviewed as a restraint on trade and the legal world we be very grateful for the windfall.
The only way things would change is if we all cancelled our tv accounts and I for one would be reluctant to do so as the test matches are about to start.
It is worrying as to how football at lower levels will survive as you only have to look at how many local amateur leagues have folded to realise that the supply of future players is likely to be reduced. Likewise school football is almost non existent and junIor leagues in decline.
The one area of hope is sport in the community which does a lot of good work and has given my grandson access into the game via evening training sessions.
The game really requires a philanthropic outlook from the top teams but I think that is a desperate hope.
David Bowers says
Gate Receipts are worth 8-10M quid. “Commercial” revenue about the same.
It costs between 50M (at our leanest) and 108M (in 2016) to run NCFC.
The genie is out of the bottle and as I’ve said many times before, we have one strategy and that’s being a PL funded club (via participation or parachute payments). Everything else is hot air.
Nicholas Francis says
Great article and interesting thoughts. I think that Spain and Germany have ownership models with greater fan participation ? Are their structures and finances any better, or are we just so dependant on Sky billions it is too late?
martin penney says
I cannot speak about the Bundesliga although I know that clubs such as BVB actively encourage supporter participation – to a certain degree – on how decisions are made.
When it comes to La Liga I lived on Mallorca on and off for a while and RCD reeked of corruption. What “El Presidente” decided was the whole of the law. I went to several matches at the Son Moix and saw a club in irreversible decline.
Within two seasons of winning the Copa del Rey they had sold off Samuel E’too, Pierre Webo, Ariel Ibegaza and several others I cannot remember. They sank to tier III – regional – but somehow managed to claw themselves back into La Liga after about 15 years. Like us they will be relegated soon.
No genuine input from supporters [aficionados] is welcomed in Spain I’m afraid. Not from my perspective anyway – their fans tend, like us, to ask too many unwelcome questions.
Colin B says
I think that playing behind closed doors makes watching games on tv a terrible experience. I think it will turn viewers off the game. The longer it goes on the more viewers will be lost.
The longer there are no fans allowed to attend matches then some will decide to do other things. If there are lots of redundancies and people out of work for a long time they will find it hard to justify having season tickets. I can see crowds declining.
I think the gravy train may not be over but there will be less gravy to go round. So there may just be an opportunity to force change.
There needs to be a fundamental review of football and its structures. But for me the fundamental question is what do we, the fans want from our football. For me it is entertainment, excitement and seeing skilful players. I would love to go back to the days when teams like Norwich had a realistic chance of winning the top division in this country, when Carlisle and Oldham could play in the top flight, when Wimbledon could win the FA Cup, when my home town club, Boston United could get into the 4th division ( where Jim Smith and Howard Wilkinson cut their managerial teeth ).
If a lot of clubs fold as a result of this pandemic then I fear for the whole game in this country. There is not going to be a lot of spare money around for people to throw at football. If nothing else lower league football must be self funding. A proper salary cap that is enforced is essential. There short be no loop holes to boost income like the stadium deals some of the mega rich clubs currently use to get round the rules.
Philip Huish says
The problem is that football is set up for the interests of the big clubs of Europe, they make the money for the top leagues and for UEFA. There is nothing that will force those making the decisions to take the hard choices for the good of the game as a whole.
just look at the amount of ‘top’ pundits who don’t pay attention to the bottom end premier league clubs, let alone the championship or the game as a whole other than as an interesting side note. The big clubs, UEFA, FIFA, ‘top’ pundits, Sky, BT don’t realise that without the football pyramid there is no gravy train.
FFP needs to be reformed and strictly enforced at all levels of the game. it should include
1) only direct income into the club to be spent
2) a strict salary cap of between 50% and 70% of income
3) reform of the league structures and the way that TV monies are distributed
4) banning artificial owner sponsorship deals