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[20] A view from the lower leagues about the Greg Dyke proposals to help England

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  • [20] A view from the lower leagues about the Greg Dyke proposals to help England

    Statement from FC United

    FC United believes that, if the proposals raised in The FA Chairman’s England Commission ever come to pass the very fabric and long term future of the game of football in England would be under threat.

    The FA is the governing body of the game in this country, yet the evidence would suggest that The FA increasingly exists to do the Premier League’s bidding. Those such as Lord Triesman who challenge the Premier League hegemony do not last long.

    The report from the FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s England Commission should be seen for what it is; a report on the state of the National side and the view of the Chairman’s hand-picked commissionaires on ways to improve the fortunes of the national side. The identified route to redemption is to further strengthen the Premier League clubs at the expense of the rest of the pyramid.

    The report’s focus is on elite development, with the Premier League and the England team seen as the only elements of the national game that matter, everything else that we treasure as football fans should be sacrificed in the interest of what we are patronisingly told is ’progress’.

    The commission identified four key barriers to the advancement of talent from the grassroots of the game to the national side:

    - Facilities
    - Coaching
    - Reducing the number of non-EU players
    - Playing opportunities for young professionals between the ages of 18 and 21

    The facilities and coaching issues report is still to come, the report released this week concentrates on non-EU players and the playing opportunities for young elite players.

    In headlines reminiscent of ’Game 39’, the report’s findings have united supporters, league and club officials in condemnation like no issue before or since.

    It is noteworthy that there is no supporter or non-league representation on the commission, which, above all else, shows the continuing contempt that those running our national game have for football supporters. The commission is undoubtedly made up of people who have an insight and knowledge of the game, but the limitations on the breadth of their experience is exposed by the conclusions drawn. The interests and influence of the Premier League are a common theme throughout the report.

    The FA is dominated by the interests of the Premier League. Dyke was a key architect in its creation and his report is about further protecting the Premier League, masked by the interest of the national side. Richard Scudamore reportedly refused a seat on the Commission; he had no need to be there when the agenda was already boxed off.

    The Commission and Dyke have once again shown how football patronises match going fans when it is these fans that are the biggest funders of the game.

    Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters’ Federation were ignored. Supporters Direct have reported that its submission to the commission was not even acknowledged despite it being sent twice!

    The headline story has been the proposal to introduce a ’B League’ citing the success in Spain and other countries, but not acknowledging the criticisms also levelled at those systems.

    FA Commissioner Danny Mills claims that Hartlepool fans would rather watch their team play Manchester United B team than watch Hartlepool play Torquay. Not surprisingly this patronising drivel was spouted without speaking to Hartlepool fans themselves.

    The commission allegedly ’consulted 650 people from all levels of the game’. Mills again claims that the Conference league was consulted. This was apparently news to the Conference board who put out a statement saying ’neither its chairman nor any other members of the Board of that particular competition were in any way consulted nor were their views sought directly or indirectly’.

    Football League clubs have been vocal in their opposition too. This should make the League AGM interesting with the League Chairman Greg Clarke sitting on the Commission. Fan-owned Portsmouth were the first to scream foul and see the plans for what they were - another attempt by the Premier League clubs to extend their suffocating influence deeper into the game.

    In the opening paragraph of his introduction Greg Dyke states:

    ’In twenty years the number of English players playing in the top division of English football has fallen by more than a half and the trend remains downwards. Our Commission was set up to ask what, if anything, could be done about this.’

    Greg Dyke’s own words are a direct recognition that, in the lifetime of the Premier League, the very issue his commission set out to address has got steadily worse. The Commission report identifies three major events that have brought the current situation to pass:

    - Sky TV money and its concentration in the Premier League
    - The establishment of the Premier League itself
    - and …Bosman

    The report gives the detail on the huge sums now available to the game and recognises that these riches are concentrated at the top with little trickling down. The Commission’s solution to more money for the lower leagues is that each Premier League club wishing to introduce a ’B-team’ would pay £2M for the privilege; a sum of money equivalent to a couple of months wage bill for one of their first team players. In a radio interview, it was put to Dykes that this is encouraging the Premier League to bribe the Football League.

    The twisted irony of the B-team idea is that the commission claims it will allow young talented players to play competitive football against players at other clubs in a way that the Premier League U21s league has failed to do. The Premier League’s ‘imposed’ Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) ‘designed’ to enhance development of talented players at lower league clubs has also been identified as a failure.

    Before EPPP young talented players at lower league clubs had a chance of gaining the very experience in first team football that Greg Dyke’s commission claims to seek. EPPP has removed that opportunity as Premier League clubs seek greater control and horde talent. Since the imposition of EPPP a Premier League club can simply walk in to a Bury or Crewe Alexandra with a few days’ notice and take youth players for a fixed fee. No longer will lower league clubs be allowed to hold on to their best players and gain a meaningful return on the hours of coaching and support. No longer will that player have the opportunity to gain first team experience at the very level that Dykes ’B-team’ proposal would seek to establish.

    Some clubs continue to promote youth, Manchester United’s long standing record stands comparison, as does Southampton’s. Yet who is to say that will continue with the current ownership demands for success and profit?

    Premier League clubs act like the corporate behemoths their shiny faced Execs hail from. They trawl the football world for any flickering sign of promise. A player acquired in such a manner may never even make the ’Elite Development Squad’ but at least none of their rivals will be able to have him. Restrained from nakedly taking over smaller clubs, they settle for sucking the talent from those very clubs who have invested in player development, and who they now seek to use for ’practice matches’.

    In short Greg Dyke’s report uncovers some interesting statistics but his conclusion should dispel any doubts about what is really going on here; it is the interests of the Premier League which is strengthened not the advancement of English playing talent.

    It is interesting to note that in the 20+ years since the establishment of the Premier League that Greg Dyke helped to create Greg Dyke is now saying that the experiment has failed. The whole report points to the abject failings of the Premier League in developing talent or improving the game.

    Yet Dyke concludes by praising the Premier League for their ‘phenomenal and laudable success’. The facts don’t support that conclusion:

    - We were told the Premier League would improve the England team - Greg Dyke’s report marks that as a fail.

    - We were told that EPPP would improve the development pathways for talented young players - Greg Dyke’s report marks that as a fail.

    - English clubs won more European competition trophies in the 20 years before the establishment of the Premier League than the 20 years after – that is also a fail.

    The Premier League is good at marketing and gathering cash for its members. The Premier League is good for making rich people richer and football poorer.

    The coaching and facilities report should be interesting reading. The Premier League has systematically cut the proportion of TV revenues that goes to funding the grassroots of the game. The FA’s charges for coaching badges are some of the most expensive in Europe. To get on a course is a major operation.

    The game needs root and branch reform in coaching and regulation. The Premier League and the tiny group of interested parties it represents will never agree to the long term planning that is required.

    The supporters’ summit on 26th July at Wembley will bring together members of the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct. That conference needs to demand root and branch reform. FC United will be attending and calling for football fans to put aside our rivalries and exert some real pressure on The FA for a root and branch reform of the game.

    If the Premier League and its tiny group of myopic, self-absorbed owners get their way, the richness and diversity of the game of football as we know it in this country, will be damaged for ever.
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