Tag Archives: EFL

Will the pyramid collapse?

It is not unusual for my feelings about football to oscillate between fear and hope. What is unusual this season is that most of the hope is related to my own club, Birmingham City, and the fear is about football in general.  I came across a headline of an article recently that asked, “Football pyramid on the brink of collapse?” and that’s what I have been worrying about.

Here’s a chart of the top of the pyramid that I took from the Wikipedia article on the football league system. (Note that the Pyramid Image is by Simon Steinberger from Pixabay)

The Premier League was launched in September 1992 and the money from the Sky TV rights did not have to be shared with the clubs in the English Football League (EFL). People from the lower divisions and some League officials were against this breakaway. In his book The Beautiful Game, David Conn includes a quote from Gordon Taylor saying,

“The FA is trying to diminish the Football League and with it most of the professional clubs in this country. Its blueprint is a way for the leading clubs to seize virtually all the money, leaving the remaining clubs to wither and, for some, die.”

It feels as though the dying is starting to happen. Bury FC were expelled from the EFL and Macclesfield Town were wound-up.  Other clubs will struggle without gate receipts.  When giving evidence about the impact of coronavirus, EFL Chairman Rick Parry said it was “difficult to answer” how many might go out of business.

This makes me sad because I think of football clubs as community organisations and part of the glue that holds society together. I support my team because they are my team, not because they play the best football. I went and watched them play when they were in Division 3. I also think that the football pyramid helps to provide players for the top clubs and if there were fewer lower level teams then fewer talented players would be discovered.  That’s why the idea that the pyramid might collapse worries me.

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Uncertainty

Uncertainty is one of the attractions of footfall; not knowing what the result will be adds to the excitement. But uncertainty can also be a pain. In seasons in which relegation is a possibility, I look forward to the last game and knowing whether or not we will be staying up.

This season is different. An EFL statement has said Wigan will have points deducted after their game but that they can appeal. So there is a possibility that we might not know tonight if we are safe or not. If Wigan get 12 points deducted and end up in 22nd place and Birmingham City end up just above them in 21st place, we won’t know if we are really safe until we know if Wigan’s appeal is successful.  If it is successful then I think Wigan would stay up and we would go down.  I’m quite good at thinking about things to worry about. I hope we win tonight but don’t expect we will.

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Easter Saturday

It’s Easter Saturday and the weather is beautiful, it doesn’t seem right to be staying at home. But that’s what I’ll be doing. It’s what I’ve done for the last 3 weeks and what I’ll probably be doing for many more weeks to come.  The Church of England prayer for today talks about crying to God from “the depths of our isolation” and seems very suitable for the present situation.

I miss the excitement of football and the way you never know what to expect. Performances can range from pathetic to peerless.  I’m reading books during this time and there can be surprises in them.  But finding out that the woman you thought was an evil interloper is really his daughter does not compare with watching your side score just after your goalie saved a penalty.

An EFL letter has been sent out, saying that this season, including playoffs, can be finished in 56 days.  They also said that training should not start before May 16 but did not say when playing games might start.  May 16 is 5 weeks from now, which seems a long time.  But, of course, that date isn’t fixed; there are so many uncertainties.  Richard Bevan, of the League Managers’ Association has said that football should only start again “once all players have been tested for coronavirus” and who know when that might be.

So I’ll continue to read books and miss football.

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Losing is not so bad

Losing a game is not so bad as losing your team. Birmingham’s 3-0 loss at Swansea on Sunday was discouraging but Bury being thrown out of the English Football League (EFL) on Tuesday was devastating. It feels as though the whole system is broken. 

The Guardian editorial on the collapse of Bury expresses how I feel in words more eloquent than I could write. I agree that “football is about more than money” and “That is why the end of Bury Football Club after 134 years is important. Before it was shut, 400 supporters had volunteered to mop and sweep the Gigg Lane ground hoping to show that the true value of their football club cannot be counted in pounds and pennies.”

One thing seems clear to me: the League is not doing a good job of regulating itself. The club statement mentioned the “extreme lack of communication from the EFL”.  That’s why I signed the petition calling for the government to legislate for the creation of an independent regulator for football and subsequently to oversee the implementation of such a body.

I will also support the Football Supporters’ Association call for supporters everywhere to applaud for one minute on the 27th minute of each game in a nationwide display of solidarity for Bury. “Why a minute of applause on the 27th minute? Because on 27th August a football club was expelled from the league for the first time in 27 years. Let’s show that we care and we are angry that this situation has been allowed to happen.“

I wrote a short post about Bury on the Blues Trust website and will finish with my football version of John Donne’s poem that I mentioned in that:

No club is an island, entire of itself; every club is a member of the League, a part of football. Any club’s death diminishes all fans, because we are involved in football. Therefore never send to know for which club the bell tolls; it tolls for you.

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Points

A nine points deduction is not good but, after spending time worrying about losing twelve points, my first reaction to the news was that it could have been worse. The Birmingham Mail also reported that aside from the points deduction, Blues will face no further economic sanctions or transfer embargo. That’s good news. I think it would be possible for the club to appeal this decision, but I hope that they don’t. I think our players can play well enough to stay out of the relegation zone and I’d hate to start next season with minus points.

I agree that the League should have rules that encourage clubs to run in a sustainable way. But the huge financial gap between the Championship and the Premier League provides a seemingly irresistible temptation to spend big and gamble on getting promoted or avoiding relegation.  The rules are inadequate because the whole system is broken. 

I have just read an interview by Andy Holt, the owner of Accrington Stanley. He said, “We need a proper distribution of funds, the cash gaps between leagues are far too big.” I agree with that, and also that we need “an independent regulator, someone who says, ‘We can’t have it like this — clubs incapable of moving up and down the pyramid without financial distress’”.

As a fan, I can support my team and help them get the points needed to stay up. I can also belong to Blues Trust and support the view that I want my club to run in a sustainable way so that the kids who are taken to games now will still be able to support Blues when they are grown up. 

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