Well, what a start to the season. Talks of Super Leagues, managers sacked
and takeover bids coupled to a completely inept performance by our
national team has made this one of the most bizarre starts to a season.
As always, the key driving force in all this is money and significantly
lots of it.
Christian Gross and Kenny Dalglish must be feeling downright annoyed and
miserable right now. Whilst I do not think that either is the finest
manager ever to grace the game, to remove them so unceremoniously from
office after only a handful of games is to say the least a disgrace.
The pressure from fans for success is clearly the catalyst in modern
football that causes seemingly level-headed chairmen and boards to make
the most hasty of decisions. The merest hint that relegation might
happen seems to be enough to send shock waves right through the club.
Whilst some sympathy must be felt for these two unfortunate casualties
one must also reflect that they are also, in part, the cause of their own
downfall. In response to the fans demands for success, both managers
bought expensive players in with the consequence of further increasing
expectation and so the failure is compounded until the manger suffers.
It is interesting that it is never the players, who often perform so
spectacularly poorly, who are kicked out without pay and no certainty of
Next we have the talk of Super Leagues. Thankfully, well into the eleventh
hour, the FA noticed what was going on and took some measure to stall, if
not prevent, this process. The Super League plan is a clever one. The
best teams in Europe guarantee themselves of three years of competition
and, more importantly, money. Money that will be reinvested to ensure
that the clubs will probably stay there for an awful long time. Equally
interesting are the criteria for entry. Three self appointed clubs,
Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd go forward from the Premiership. Why ?
Man Utd's recent history has been riddled with an inept failure in
Europe. Ditto Liverpool and, to a lesser extent, Arsenal. What of Chelsea
- current holders of a European trophy ?
What a Super League signifies is that certain clubs have realised that
the popularity of the home market is saturated. Sooner or later the
football bubble will burst and the big clubs, with big overheads, need
another market to exploit and draw money from.
BSkyB will probably end up buying Man Utd. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission didn't stop Alan
Sugar at Spurs, with his vested interest in the satellite market, so why
stop BSkyB ? They won't. The FA has said that it is not their problem, so we
are left with the voices of a few fans to cry out against a potential
If BSkyB have their way then football will be changed in this country, and
probably Europe, forever. The amount of media control gained by owning Man
Utd will enable Sky to control even more of football. They already
dictate when fixtures are to be played, how much more when they can do it
on a club by club basis. If this takeover happens I genuinely fear for
the survival of many clubs.
So we stand at one of the most critical crossroads in football for many a
decade. Money has for some time controlled to some extent the game but in
recent seasons it has grown in influence. The buck, if you pardon the
pun, stops quite clearly at the doorstep of Lancaster Gate and the FA.
This body is supposed to govern and run our game at all levels. This is
meant, in theory, to include Man Utd and the Kings Head Pub Team playing
in some local weekend league. At all levels though the FA is failing quite
spectacularly to meet the needs of players and fans alike.
At the start of the decade we saw the formation of the Premiership with
the FA selling out to Sky (i.e. for money NOT fans interest) in the
creation of their league. Doing this has had several effects. Firstly
it let Sky in who then proceeded to dictate when matches should be
played. Secondly it monopolised the power of the game into the hands of
twenty chairmen NOT ninety-two as was previously the case. Finally it brought so much
money into the game that players demanded greater wages. This coup has
meant that clubs, like Man Utd, have too much power. The clubs now
control the authority, not the other way round. Their demands are
seemingly met without thought for the impact on the remaining seventy-two clubs
who are an annoyance, particularly in cup competitions. The fiasco over
the League Cup and the various exemptions is a simple pandering to the
demands of a few clubs. The FA has a lot to answer for and to say "we
don't care about the Man Utd situation" is an complete abdication of
My final comments are reserved for UEFA. Another incredibly inept
organisation which has allowed itself to be caught on the back foot at
least twice in the past five years such that it no longer has any power
and merely responds rather than leads. The whole Bosman situation could
have been avoided if UEFA had intervened and offered some kind of
arbitration instead of letting the EU dictate how transfers should
operate. Secondly the UEFA Super League has come about in response to a
situation that they had no control over. Surely UEFA should have been
able to anticipate this problem and make proposals five years ago ? Once
again out of touch people are controlling the game.
The upshot of all this mess is that a few clubs will inevitably get
richer. Maybe this isn't too surprising with the game structured the way
it is as opposed to the American system whereby the worst team picks up
the best players. The long term impact is difficult to guess.
Personally I feel that ninety percent of the money and power rests with ten percent of
the clubs which is a very dangerous situation. I think we will see a lot
of smaller clubs going at least part time and possibly in some cases
being shut down altogether. The game of football in this country will be
changed irreversibly in the next few years unless UEFA and the FA stand
up to the big clubs and prevent them spoiling the game so many of us
love. The ultimate long term consequence, which might be a bit fanciful,
is the abolishing of national teams altogether. Instead Man Utd, Arsenal
or Liverpool will represent the nation at the World Cup with a team of
internationals against the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real
So the inevitable happened and the Man Utd board accepted vast sums of
money in the interests of their bank balances. Martin Edwards has been
proclaiming that this is "..a great deal for the club.." and you know
what? He is right.
This is a wonderful deal for Man Utd - they join a massive sporting
family that has money to spare to pump into them to keep them going when
they finish second in the Premiership one year. Furthermore they have a
ready-made platform on which to launch their own pay per view system. It
is a dream ticket - if you have shares in the club and get a cut of the
For once, however, I feel genuinely sorry for the Man Utd fans. Whatever
you say about their general attitude to have your club sold off in this
way is of genuine concern. The loyal fans will ultimately suffer.
What's more the two organisations that could help them, the FA and the
government, have both washed their hands of it. Credit Mr Murdoch - he has
done one hell of a job, pulling off one of the biggest coups in sporting
The FA won't get involved because SKY pumps so much money into the pockets
of those that run our game that they won't exactly take a stand against
it. A case of not biting the hand that feeds you.
The government won't get involved because Murdoch controls the media in
this country. Consequently a government that is under some pressure
could do with good publicity, not the bad publicity it will almost
certainly get if it becomes involved in this debacle. Again a case of
not biting the hand that feeds you.
So although the Man Utd supporters in the short term might see a team
built from the billions of the Murdoch group, ultimately they might just
be cut high and dry. If the other nineteen Premiership clubs get their act
together they could force football back onto terrestrial TV which would
leave the Man Utd deal with SKY in an interesting position.
The Man Utd board is taking a big gamble which, if it pays off, will see
the club dominate domestic and European football. If the gamble fails
Man Utd could be left isolated on the fringe of English football.
So why rant about this on a Watford web page ? Well, if the worst things
happen Watford FC will struggle. Let us get that clear from the start.
The already tight financial constraints will become tighter. With less
publicity, so less investment so the club struggles and the vicious
circle grows. I would guess that well over half the clubs in the country
could suffer as a result of the demands to compete. The game in this
country will be changed forever and not for the best.
Football is changing and it, like most things, must evolve with time but
this latest step in its evolution is a risky one and potentially a
disastrous one. Yes, Man Utd's board become very rich BUT most fans of
this great game will be left with memories of their team.