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Football Just Now
Musings on Covid-19, football and the moral vacuum

Covid-19 and Football

The current Covid-19 crisis has thrown football a massive curve ball. The hand to mouth culture of so many clubs has been exposed; even for a few in the PL, never mind the Championship where some spend 150% of income on wages and are more dependent on income from match-days. The top clubs in the PL will be ok at the end of all this as they are less reliant on match-day income, they also spend a lower proportion of income on wages. By the way I don’t buy the argument that Sky will pull the plug if all remaining 19/20 PL games are cancelled – their economics relies so much on football I doubt very much they would do that and sour the relationship.

 When the PL and EFL imposed the football shut-down there was hope that the 19/20 season could finish after a suitable break, an option I supported, but that now looks increasingly unlikely as the continuance of social distancing measures looks to be here for a good while longer - even games behind closed doors will be logistically very difficult. Much the better option now seems to be to cancel all the remaining games and then decide whether there will be promotion and relegation based on the table as is, or points per game (PPG), or just to void the season altogether. The latter option will prompt legal action from some clubs no doubt! Such legal action would be an indication of the ‘me now’ attitude and the total lack of trust in the football system just now. Importantly it won’t be fair for the power clubs in the system to foist behind closed doors games on to clubs in the EFL for whom it is financially unsustainable.

A compromise could be just the PL could finish 19/20 (behind closed doors), that would allow for PL positions to be determined, and then for Championship promotion to be sorted on PPG outcome. The remaining EFL clubs would then have no games to play and the only decision left would be to allow Barrow to be promoted into League 2 to bring numbers back up. No other promotion or relegation within EFL. That would allow EFL clubs to release players at the end of June and to start to plan for next season - maybe a truncated season for EFL clubs that starts when games can be played with normal attendances allowed. The PL, broadcasters and government should then contribute to a fund that ensures that clubs outside the PL can survive financially until the 20/21 season can get going fully again. To deliver all of this it will require government to bring together all the different factions and interests in the football system that need to be made to work together, and to then ensure that an Independent Football Regulator be established with a role to ensure long-term sustainability in the system. Players wages would need to be driven down, and payments to agents and intermediaries outlawed, so that those monies and others are shared more equally across the games. Ticket prices need to go down too. This opportunity has to be taken to re-boot and re-set the whole system.

The Moral Vacuum

We now have a football system that:

  • is comfortable with forking out millions of pounds to average players when millions of ordinary people are living on the breadline
  •  pays even more millions to agents and intermediaries of those bang average players
  •  expects fans to fork out high ticket and replica shirt prices to help fund it
  • allows TV to call the shots when games are played, irrespective of the impact on fans
  • is not bothered if owners are incompetent, rogues, profiteers, oligarchs or nation states looking to whitewash their image and wield ‘soft power’ through football
  • allows one league to distort and massively shape all that happens in the leagues below it and to act in its own self-interest at all times
  • worships the twin gods of money and the PL more than anything else
  • will exploit loopholes in rules to further their position and turn to lawyers when found out doing it
  • has a regulatory system that is failing absolutely to protect clubs, fans and communities from the effects of all this morally dubious stuff

The Fans and the Moral Vacuum

And what is our role in all this? All of this moral vacuum stuff happens because we keep turning up; we keep handing our money over to clubs, Sky Sports and BT Sport; we turn a blind eye to the activities of club owners; we don’t care who owns our clubs so long as they pump money it; we continue to buy in to “the PL is the promised land stuff” that Sky puts out; we focus on our club first and foremost and not on the wider system of which it is a part. We don’t value anywhere near enough the collectivism of football, of clubs being part communities. We don’t focus on ensuring the long-term sustainability so that our kids and kid’s kid’s can be part of it too. We don’t set out a positive agenda for football to be more than just about winning games and trying to get promotion. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have ambition, but that ambition should not become unrealistic targets and pressure for clubs to achieve what they reasonably can within the resources available.

Whilst we are hoping that the powers that be can sort out the football system, let’s all give some serious thought to what we should be valuing in football, and what our contribution should be to making the system, and our club, more sustainable for the future.

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02.06.2020
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