October 25, 2020

Project Big Picture: Plan to change England’s game driven by greed

Football in England below the elite level is in crisis. Bury went out of business last season even before the pandemic, and Macclesfield was tipped over the edge last month. Estimates vary but, without their major sources of income–match-going fans–as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, it’s thought that around a quarter of professional clubs below the Premier League level are in serious financial straits. If an environment that has existed for over a century is not to be devastated, then a major bailout is needed. 

That’s why leading clubs have put together Project Big Picture–the package revealed in the Telegraph on Sunday–although nobody should think Liverpool and Manchester United, the two clubs leading the charge, are acting out of charity. Were the plans to be instituted, it would represent the biggest shakeup in the English game since the Premier League was formed in 1992. 

But before getting into the details of the proposal, it’s perhaps worth explaining some of the background. There are 92 league clubs in England (including some from Wales, although there is a separate Welsh league), and the majority of the sides at the top level of the National League (the highest tier of non-League) are essentially professional. This is far more than any equivalent European country, and there are those who believe a process of rationalization would be beneficial. 

That, though, is to ignore the roles smaller clubs have both in youth development and, more importantly, as hubs of their local communities. It may not be efficient, but the glory of English football, at least as much as the Premier League, is that every town has its team and they are all linked in a vast pyramid. This is why the suggestion last week by Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano that Premier League B teams should be admitted to the English Football League drew such howls of fury: far rather every small town in Lancashire has its own side than that City has two (and maybe if City stopped buying so many players, they wouldn’t need a second side to fit them in). 

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