Monday, 2 March 2015

The Curious Case of English Football.

Harry Kane, ‘B’ teams, and the gut-wrenching £5.136 Billion Premier League Television deal. Not the sordid title of a rejected Roald Dahl novel, but three separate entities that can all be included within the discussion of English football’s longest running soap-opera, the development of homegrown players. And much like a soap-opera on Christmas Day, a time of the year that should be lauded and celebrated, we’re faced with a dark gloom and haze as to what has just gone on and that very English footballing question, “Where do we go from here?”

According to the FA, the Football League and the Premier League, one of the various solutions is to introduce Premier League ‘B’ teams into the already fatiguing Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Quite how a handful of games a season against sides that more often than not don’t take the competition particularly seriously until the latter stages will benefit the development of young English players, I don’t really know. But the FA does, so why question it? It’s not like we matter, is it? We’re only good for crowd shots in the latest Barclays or Sky advert anyway. We’re not supporters, we are the advertisement.

From my own personal perspective it also damages the integrity of the competition I secretly enjoy. The JPT isn't glamorous, but it’s one of the very few chances a lower league supporter has of seeing his or her side get a chance to play at Wembley. You try telling a Walsall supporter who will see his/her side at Wembley for the first time in the clubs history this month that it’s a worthless competition and see what response you get. Introducing ‘B’ teams here is the start of a slippery slope, a slope that we already have minimal footing on as it is. Allowing this to happen without a fight is akin to digging our own graves. They wanted to introduce ‘B’ teams into our leagues before, and they’ll want to do it again if they see weakness.

But it’s not just the thought of this that disturbs me and many other supporters of lower league clubs, but also the lack of consultation that has surrounded the seemingly sudden implementation of this idea. I'm realistic as a football supporter, I know that I won’t hear the ins and outs of everything that goes on at my football club or in the wider context of the game in general, and that’s quite right. But to brush such a fairly big decision under the carpet, to the point where it has only become apparent as a result of supporters trust meeting, is utterly despicable. We don’t expect total transparency as supporters, but we expect honesty when something that we’re involved in is subject to change despite the fact we have not been consulted.

It’s not just the fact that our opinions have not been heard in this matter, as the majority don’t want ‘B’ teams anywhere near our competitions, but also the simple fact none of our number were even aware that such a vote was taking place at any point. Surely it is the duty of the FA, the Football League or simply individual clubs to notify supporters that such a significant issue is being discussed. It’s not about the implementation, it’s about the principle. It’s a phrase I detest, but in a lot of ways it sums up the way supporters are treated within English football, with total and utter disdain. I don’t care about some rubbish McCoy’s promotion, the SkyBet Transfer fund or a Capital One advert which are systematically churned out nonchalantly by every club’s standardised official website. I care about what is happening to my game and ultimately what we as supporters can do to aid the development of English football. We’re not unapproachable dinosaurs you know; consult us; maybe we’ll actually have some reasonable suggestions as to how to realistically improve English football. “We are football”, so we’re told sparingly by the media, so why not listen to us? The FA has done a fantastic job of corroding English football, so why not give us a chance?

Quite frankly, your average match-going supporter of a Premier League side right the way down to the regional combinations is more in touch with what football really needs than anyone sitting in the ivory towers at Wembley will ever be. It’s ‘jobs for the boys’, it always has been and it always will be. None of ‘our kind’ will ever get a say because we don’t fit, but that’s by-the-by.   

Moreover it’s fairly clear so far that we don’t know the ins and outs of the discussion, but for only one club in League Two to vote against it (AFC Wimbledon), it suggests something is awry. Given the Premier League’s previous with EPPP, which Football League clubs were more or less blackmailed into signing up for, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that there is more than meets the eye.

Instead of putting a sledgehammer to lower league supporters, the FA should be embracing a modern form of the game instead; Futsal. It’s probably escaped the attention of the majority of football supporters, but England does in fact have a steadily improving national Futsal team. Buoyed by a crowd in excess of 1400 on Saturday afternoon, a gate similar to that of a bottom end League Two side, England defeated Sweden 7-3 at one of London’s premier sporting arenas, the Copperbox. An affordable, fun and ultimately enjoyable day out for supporters, it also has the potential to develop the next generation of young English talent.  

We’re relatively new to the Futsal game in this country, having only established a national team as recently as 2003. In the first five or so years, progress was slow and tentative, with the lowlight a 24-1 defeat to Portugal in 2004 under manager Graeme Dell. But under the stewardship of current manager Pete Sturgess, in place since 2008, England have made good progress, climbing the rankings to 55th in the world and amassing a total of thirty victories, including a recent run of six wins on the bounce. Yet despite this, we remain behind countries such as Uzbekistan, Solomon Islands, Macedonia and Guatemala in the rankings. And without wishing to disrespect the aforementioned associations, you can’t help but feel with some emphasis from the FA, a larger degree of funding and a more wider publicity, Futsal in this country could grow and go on to significantly aid the development of young English footballers. No-one is suggesting this could bring radical changes straight away, but if done properly, it has the potential to be a stepping stone in the progress of our homegrown footballers.  

Added to that, it’s a way of progressing technically, adding something different to the game that we do not currently have in this country. Football League clubs already embrace Futsal, so why don’t the Premier League? Could it be something to do with the ability to import ‘talent’ as a result of a certain TV deal? I think so. Futsal teaches the art of close control, tight passing and finding gaps in the play whilst also retaining that frenetic element we all love about football. It has such fantastic untapped potential if used correctly by the clubs that have the funds. Let’s face it, it’s not like the Premier League is strapped for cash at the moment. Instead of wasting £4 million on that half-rate Spanish forward who scored a handful of goals for Numancia, invest in the future. Germany did, turns out they’re half decent, bit bloody weird that.

Does anyone want to see the youngsters of our game play at most eight games a season against sides in League One or Two? How does it aid their development? Of what benefit is it to the real clubs in those leagues that are more or less reduced to friendly encounters? We have a thing that we use already to enable players to get serious game time amongst professional footballers on a weekly basis, it’s called the loan system if you didn't know. It’s not perfect, and a lot of the time players that go out on loan won’t make it to the top level, but that’s the nature of the beast of football. You only need to look at Harry Kane to witness the positive effects that it has in association with top level coaching – an issue which deserves a whole post of its own given the astronomical prices coaching badges cost in this country. Introducing ‘B’ teams into the JPT won’t change anything, it just creates the illusion that an effort is being made when in reality it’s not.

If the FA or the Premier League wants to make some sort of impression in the lower leagues, do so by funding Football League academies. Allow a proportion of the TV money to be given to those that need it, to those that will spend it and cherish it. You only have to look at Jordan Ibe’s flourishing form to see the effects. He was a product of Wycombe Wanderers’ academy, an academy that is no longer running due to lack of funds. What sort of injustice is that; that a club can produce a player with the quality of Ibe yet be forced to shut down their academy? The FA or the Premier League should be begging Wycombe to keep their academy open, but instead it has been allowed to wither and die. It’s a similar injustice for clubs that fall out of the Football League, whereby their academy funding is cut. Why? It’s a totally backwards mentality to have when actually funding these academies could produce the next great England player, or at the very least a competitive Englishman in the Premier League. The system is completely flawed from top to bottom.

To be quite honest, this has been nothing more than a ramble. The ramble of a supporter who is becoming increasingly disillusioned with a lot of what surrounds football. I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with my club, but in the wider context you so often wonder what the actual point is. And if you totally disagree with me, ask yourself this, is what I'm proposing any more barbaric than what the FA are seeking to do?

Keep updated with @AgainstLeague3.

Follow me on Twitter at @NickMurphy1995.  

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