My take on Project Big Picture.

Published: Tuesday, 13 October 2020

It’s another of those stories where it’s difficult to know how to start. It’s also annoying because I like to go my own way with a blog - but I can’t ignore this.

English football is up in arms. And so is the Tory Govt. Actually, let’s start there. Get back in your box Oliver Dowden. How dare you? Whatever the debate right now it has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Dowden is a chancer. As Culture Secretary he represents a Govt that believes in free trade - a free market - and all that is good in liberal conservatism - whatever that is. To be honest, I’ve no idea, but I hear a lot about it when it suits people like the Culture Secretary to lecture us on it.

Is this the same Oliver Dowden that was doing all he could over the summer to desperately wave through a certain football takeover, despite the prospective purchasers stealing billions of pounds of commercial rights of the UK creatives industries for over 3 years. Funny that….

Is this the same Mr Dowden whose Government over recent months has been patronising and insulting everyone in arts and culture to re-train into IT? Funny that…after an IT error meant 16,000 coronavirus cases were missed in the Government’s daily figures.

Is this the same Mr Dowden that has been demanding over recent weeks that the PL share their riches with the pyramid? Yep. Well that’s funny…because that’s the idea here, Mr Dowden.

You know the thing about age is that it brings with it a whole lot of experience and perspective. We’ve been here before you know. I’m reading all the same things that I was in 1991 - when setting up the PL was being discussed and, with it, a pending Doomsday. The world didn’t quite end - but for the majority football writers back then it was apparently about to if the ‘big boys’ set up on their own. Well? Exactly. Oh - most of writers are saying exactly the same things again! And live football on tv didn’t kill the game. And Sky didn’t fold after 6 months. And we did attract the biggest names on the planet into the English game. And the Premier League is perhaps one of this country’s greatest ever exports.

So even though it seems to be the only way people operate on Twitter these days, how about we stop the blind incessant outrage over Project Big Picture and actually pause to see if there’s anything in it that could be useful.

The first thing I’d say is that football has to evolve. Evolution might sound like revolution to some – those in the ‘if it ain’t broke’ camp. But it’s not, it’s simply evolution – if you wait until something is broke to fix it, au revoir. And in any event most of the things in United/Liverpool’s wish list have been discussed many times.

An 18 team PL? That was the original idea. We got down from the initial 22 - but there’s room for another reduction isn’t there? Why not?

Two up from the Championship - with teams finishing third, fourth and fifth entering a play off series with the 16th placed PL team. That’s almost how it used to work. More drama and tension – sounds good to me.   

The abolition of the League Cup and Community Shield? I’m ok with that. No-one takes the LC seriously anyway.

The abolition of parachute payments? Absolutely. It’s outrageous that a team finishing 20th right now can go down with a bigger prize for failing than the team winning the Champions League. The money also distorts the Championship and I agree that it would discourage clubs from gambling recklessly on promotion.

Instead there’s a 25 per cent revenue share on offer. We’ve been here before as well. The last time this was discussed the Football League clubs turned down 20 per cent. They’ve regretted it every day since.

Also suggested - the capping of away tickets at £20 and subsidised travel. That’s a ‘yes’ from me. Safe standing? As someone close to the Hillsboro disaster - I’m uneasy about that.

A later PL start? Yep. Ok. This allows for more lucrative friendlies. Well, it’s either that or even more discussions about a Euro Super League.

I don’t have an issue with suggested player loan regulations. Again - what’s the better idea - that or ‘B’ teams being operated by PL clubs?

FFP regulations in line with UEFA. That’s a big ‘yes’.

The creation of a new women’s league independent of the FA and PL. Why not – let’s at least explore it – as long as it’s properly funded which is critical?

I do have a problem with the big six needing only six votes to make changes. I’m not a fan of Ken Bates, but in fairness, he more than anyone, fought for the one club one vote system back in ‘91. I’d be sorry to see ALL the power shift - but I suspect it’s coming anyway.

It’s too late for us to start complaining about what foreign club owners want to do with our game. We opened that door a long time ago. The X PL Chief Exec Richard Scudamore didn’t care too much who owned what - as long as the tv rights kept going up. I feel sorry for Richard Masters - who’s inherited his mess.

The question was never really ‘why are these guys buying our clubs?’ Surely it had to be ‘what do they intend to do with them?’

Please don’t tell me that the Glazers were long time United fans. Nor that John Henry grew up supporting Liverpool. The Fenway Sports Group have done a fantastic job at Anfield - but why? Have they done it so they could hold the CL trophy? Of course not - they’re businessmen. They bought Liverpool to make money. All the foreign owners have bought in order to make money. And there aren’t too many more ways to make it from the domestic pot. They’ve got to go bigger. They’ve got to think ‘world’. That’s where the money is now. That’s why they want the pre-season tournaments and friendlies. That’s why they want a more lucrative CL.

Ironically the 39th game might have satisfied some of them - but even that idea seems outdated now.

How long, I wonder, before games are being played all over the world on a Friday night - Real Madrid v Liverpool in China? Barcelona v Utd in Qatar? Juventus v City in New York? Paris v Bayern in India? This is where it’s going you know. Just ask the NFL fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Wembley last year, or the NBA fans in Paris this January. There’ll be a Super League playing live games for the highest bidders.

I know it sounds fanciful and I’ve heard the argument - ‘what about the fans?’. Well - what about them? These clubs now have more ‘fans’ all over the world than pack into their grounds on a weekly basis. Owners will argue that they’re taking their teams to ‘see their fans’.

I’m not suggesting this will happen anytime soon - but we will ‘evolve’ there. It’s inevitable. In the meantime - I believe we should look to embrace the best change that we can get from the latest proposals – rather than lynching. I made the mistake back in ‘91 of believing a PL would only be ‘Division One’ in disguise. Rick Parry and others assured me it wouldn’t, that a PL would look very different. The rest is history - and Parry is back on the scene to help guide more change. If only we’re ready to listen for a moment, not immediately lynch.