We’re under no illusions that English football is a utopia. At the top end, it’s an allegory for everything that’s wrong with capitalism, all geared towards serving the rich and powerful with little regard for those at the foot of the ladder.
It’s all about the broadcasters, sponsors and advertisers, at the expense of match-going fans. £1,000 for a season ticket at Tottenham? Nah, you’re alright.
We know it’s bad, but every now and then, something comes along that reminds us just how bad. Like this week, when the Premier League announced in the middle of a rapidly worsening pandemic that they would be putting half of their matches onto pay-per-view at £14.95 per game.
That was a highly controversial decision that left many fans – including season ticket holders who haven’t yet been told they can watch matches free of additional charge – feeling cheated and undervalued. Yet the scandal here is a drop in the bucket compared to what The Telegraph reported on Sunday.
The newspaper broke the news on ‘Project Big Picture’, a document tabled by Liverpool owners FSG which promises to ‘revitalise’ English football with a load of flashy promises. The project is being driven in a joint effort by Liverpool and Manchester United, who expect the support of each of the ‘big six’ clubs, as they look to tear up the current structure of English football.
At face value it might seem like a much needed refresher. A change to 18 clubs in the top flight, a re-distribution of TV income, and a £250m aid package to help out struggling EFL clubs. It all seems too good to be true, so what’s the catch?
Well, under the proposals on the table, voting rights would be held exclusively by the nine longest-serving clubs in the Premier League. Nine of the richest and most powerful clubs would have the final say on all matters – and could even veto ownership changes for the clubs beneath them.
The Telegraph note that those driving the deal are pushing for it moreso than ever now that EFL clubs are struggling to stay afloat due to the current financial climate, under the guise that the deal will help them keep the doors open. Yet they are not prepared to offer such help until these clubs hand over a disproportionate share of the power.
Sounds like the start of a George Orwell novel, because it basically is. It’s thinly, pathetically veiled blackmail that clubs further down the ladder might have no choice but to yield to.
What’s more is that the proposed £250m ‘relief package’ would then be subtracted from future TV income that EFL clubs receive as the result of the new deal. The only thing actually being offered up without the expectation of return is a £100m ‘gift’ to the FA, which basically serves as a bribe to curry favour as they look to force the proposals through.
Should the proposals see the light of the day – which they may not, given how strongly the league has come out against them – there are positives. The EFL Cup being scrapped is something clubs have been calling for for years, while 25% of the Premier League’s TV income being handed to the EFL would be a huge step towards closing the financial chasm between the top tier and the rest.
But it comes with a sinister undercurrent, and would only create even more inequality at the top of the game. Make no mistake: Liverpool, Manchester United and every other club backing this do not have the best interests of football at heart. They want the power to do whatever they like. Everything else here is smoke and mirrors.
It’s particularly disappointing from FSG. The owners have previous for undermining the compassionate, socialist principles for which Jurgen Klopp vocally advocates; the fleeting decision to furlough staff at the beginning of the pandemic was a PR disaster, and this is a million times worse.
It’s not just Liverpool at fault, of course. They’re in the driving seat, but every multi-millionaire owner who stands to benefit will throw their weight behind these proposals without a second thought for the ‘bigger picture’ that the proposals are marketed on.
Looking out for yourself is one thing; holding the rest of football to ransom to force through an anti-democratic transfer of powers is another entirely. It’s embarrassingly transparent, and it’s a disgraceful indictment of the state of English football that, for a number of clubs near the foot of the EFL, it may be the only hope of survival.