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How to improve the Football League?

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Paul Fletcher | 07:35 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

On Monday evening, Football League chairman Greg Clarke sat down for a low-key, off-the-record dinner with 12 chairmen from clubs in the North West of England.

He was hoping to find out what they really thought about the state of the Football League and if they thought it could be improved. He wanted to hear their ideas and opinions, no matter how bizarre or radical they might seem.

It was the latest leg of Clarke's very own grand tour, as the 53-year-old attempts to visit all 72 clubs under his jurisdiction during the course of the current season.

Clarke dropped in at Preston, Accrington, Stockport and Crewe over the course of Monday and Tuesday. On Friday evening, he will be at Burton and on Saturday will see Charlton play Yeovil at The Valley.

Accrington supporters are determined to save their club.

Accrington supporters collected money to help save their club last year. Photo: PA

It is a busy schedule - and one that has so far taken Clarke, a former chairman of Leicester City, to roughly 35 clubs. But he firmly believes that by sounding out opinions in small groups, chairmen will be more candid and forthcoming than they would be at the quarterly general meetings that are attended by all 72 clubs each year.

The intention is that Clarke, who succeeded Lord Mawhinney in March, will build up a detailed picture of issues facing his clubs and the concerns of people running them.

"I am collecting opinions," Clarke told me. "Ultimately, I am trying to move us away from dealing with issues as they emerge to having a view of where we want to take the Football League over the next five, 10 or 15 years."

Lofty ambitions - and not surprisingly a lot of Clarke's discussions have focused on finances. With the country facing an uncertain economic future, financial health is surely the single biggest issue facing his clubs.

"We are all holding our breath wondering what is going to happen," added Clarke, who has a lengthy business background, including spells as chief executive of Cable & Wireless and head of Australian company Land Lease, which is building the the Olympic Village in London. "What we do not want to do [at the Football League] is spend all our time rescuing nearly bankrupt clubs."

His comments are timely given the situation at Sheffield Wednesday. The League One club are £27m in debt and this week were given 28 days to find new owners and clear an unpaid tax bill after surviving a winding-up petition in the High Court.

Then there are the clubs Clarke visited this week. Accrington needed a 'Save our Stanley' campaign to prevent them from going bust last year, while Stockport recently spent more than a year in administration and Preston are cutting costs as they attempt to reduce their sizeable debts.

Not surprisingly, Clarke is actively encouraging his clubs to try to maximise their ways of generating income while finding out whether they are willing to put in place regulations that will help them control spending.

"Imagine there is a small chance of really bad economic things happening in six, 12 or 18 months - what tools do we have in place to manage it?" said Clarke. "Currently we don't have them." So what ideas have been thrown at Clarke? And what are these tools?

Well, clubs in the fourth tier are currently limited to spending 55% (it used to be 60%) of their income on player wages or risk a transfer embargo. This is technically known as Salary Control Management Protocol (SCMP).

League One clubs agreed to trial the system at their last meeting in October. They are currently filling in the necessary paperwork and will continue to do so for the remainder of the season, although at this stage there will not be any punishment for clubs that fail to stay within the limits.

Clarke has not encountered much support for this sort of scheme from Championship clubs. Most have been in the Premier League and are focused on returning. However, Clarke hinted they might be prepared to trial an adapted version of the Uefa financial fair play regulations brought into force in May. The gist of these is that, over time, top-flight clubs must break even financially if they want to play in European competitions.

"All the clubs in all the divisions are looking at very different ways of examining how to keep their costs under control," added Clarke. "We are not looking for revolution but to evolve good ideas. Trying something out is a painless way of understanding what works and what does not."

Listening to Clarke in conversation can be a dizzying and confusing experience for someone without a business background. His answers are sprinkled with phrases such as trajectory of governance, negative economic consequences and managing cost space.

Yet Clarke's willingness to leave his office to engage with 72 Football League chairmen suggests a man who understands that football does not operate like any other business.

Blackpool celebrate winning the Championship play-off final last season.

The Football League believe they govern an exciting three divisions. Photo: Getty Images

"The skills you need to draw ideas out of people at a football club are fundamentally different to being the chief executive of a multinational [company]," he said.

Chairmen of clubs are under pressure to spend to succeed (to up the risk profile, as Clarke put it), signing the players that might bring promotion or stave off relegation. Clarke was briefly in charge of Leicester during their spell in administration in 2002 and reckons he has been up to his neck in the mud, blood and bullets of running a club. His experience has taught him that a club must be run on a sound financial footing if it is to survive. "Finances are fragile and we have to address some of the fundamental problems," he said.

Clarke also told me he has been surprised by the volume of innovative ideas he has encountered in his informal meetings and believes that the assertion that football is run by inherently conservative people is wrong. "A lot of clubs are willing to think the unthinkable if it takes them where they want to go," he said.

He is in no doubt that the Football League would be happy to trial goal-line technology, for example, or other such initiatives. "The Football League will put itself forward because we are an innovator," said Clarke. "There are always a few who are not sure about something but they are generally willing to try it."

Clarke's big idea is that the Football League puts in place a vision of where its clubs are going in the long term. What opportunities will emerge? What are the big risks? Trying to find the answers to this is part of the reason he is going out to visit his clubs.

"The whole idea is that we will have some initial analysis to share with the clubs at the end-of-season meeting in June," he said.

Clarke's predecessor, Lord Mawhinney, showed during his seven years as chairman an ability to drive through the legislation that brings about change. He rebranded the league, introduced transparency over payments to agents and tightened the rules regarding administration.

Clarke believes that the Football League is a strong product - exciting, competitive and unpredictable. He wants that to continue while ensuring clubs are robust enough to survive if the economy really does sour. It is a laudable and, in these uncertain times, sensible aim.

Personally, I have yet to be convinced that clubs would willingly sacrifice ambition for stability even though it is clearly time to prioritise a balancing of the books. What do you think? And If you were at an off-the-record dinner with the chairman of the Football League, what would you suggest to him?

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Its good to see that the chairmen of the Football League is a solid minded Businessman. Like all the Leagues they must generate an income for the clubs that it hold within it. Whether it be the Premier League or Blue Sq South. Its also good to see that he understands football and is willing to listen to so many chairmen throughout the year. If we were allowed by FIFA I would love to see goal-line technology introduced. And possibly some sort of fair play regulations. It seems ludicrous that some clubs, mine included gamble millions to try and get to the Premiership and then have no back-up should this fail. Its time to start balancing the books like every other business, otherwise clubs like Palace, Sheff Wed et al will continue to get into trouble. And eventually when one goes bust for good. Maybe FIFA and the FA will sit up and take notice. Great Blog.

  • Comment number 2.

    I have a grand plan you could tell him and it fits in nicely with the news that Burton has been given the go ahead to start construction in January.

    First up, take a slice out of prize winnings, a percentage off each one, then put this money towards a natinoal youth coaching set up.
    Second, have a sort of draught like they do in Amercia with American football but based on the entire football league final positions. Where teams are relegated to the conference, the teams being promoted into their places, can also take their places within the draft pick.
    Lowest based teams get the first pick, then next lowest second pick, and keep going until all the youth players deemed good enough to "graduate" that year are signed up.

    In my opinion, this way, there will be more young talent able to get into first team squads and getting competetive games, meaning they learn more, and progress more. Secondly we will be able to coach into these kids from a young age what style of play we want the England team to be playing, so that Englsih football has an identity, much like Spanish football does, all their teams play the same way. Once these kids have lpayed enough, if they are as good as we thought they would be, not only do the lower teams get the benefit of them helping the team out for a season or two, but when a big club comes calling, they get the cash for selling them on. It is usually the teams finishing lowest in the football league that have the biggest cash problems. This will help stabilise finances and share money and talent around more evenly. It will also allowyoung players more of a chance to develop and shine through.

    Just a thought?

  • Comment number 3.

    I think this is a really great blog and proof that the powers that be are looking out for the interests of all football league clubs. Although what comes out as a result of this is yet to be seen.

    My personal feeling is that every football league club must conform to some standard of financial stability, with more emphasis placed on long term building as opposed to flash in the pan spending. How this is encouraged though is anyone's guess.

    @ #2 Footywins

    I think the draft is a great leveler of competition. The problem in football is that where does this free youth come from. Currently clubs invest money in developing young talent, this can't just be plucked from them and given to someone else at the age of 18. In america the college system provides a fresh batch of youngsters each year for the draft picks, which we don't have.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think the idea of capping wages at 60% of turnover is an excellent one. Too many clubs 'chase the dream' without thinking about the long term consequences if they fail. Look at Portsmouth, Hull City and more significantly, Leeds United.

  • Comment number 5.

    FootyWins - So the best graduating player gets coached at Grimsby where the worst could get coached at Leeds or Wolves? Hardly seems like a fair system.

  • Comment number 6.

    FIRST GOAL RULE :
    .5 (Point Five Points) to the Team (Club or Country that SCORES THE FIRST GOAL
    • 0 Points to both Teams in a NO SCORE DRAW (0 – 0)
    • 1.5 Points (1 Point + .5) to the Team who SCORES THE FIRST GOAL in a SCORE DRAW, 1 Point to the other Team
    • 3.5 to the WINNING Team who also SCORES THE FIRST GOAL
    • 3.0 to the WINNING Team who DOES NOT SCORE THE FIRST GOAL
    • .5 Points to the LOSING Team if they SCORED THE FIRST GOAL
    • 0 points to the LOSING TEAM if the WINNING Team also SCORED THE FIRST GOAL


    OFFSIDE RULE
    • A Player is Offside If the Ball is passed DIRECT to them or if the REFEREE JUDGES it is WITHIN ARMS-REACH
    • A Player is NOT Offside if the Ball is NOT passed direct to them i.e. OUT OF ARMS-REACH


    ATTACHMENT / ADOPTING A CLUB
    • Each Premier League Club will ADOPT 1 (One) Club from each of the Lower Divisions and pass on their non-confidential Training and Management Ideas and Techniques
    • Mid Season the Clubs will ADOPT another Club from each of the Lower Divisions to impart the same knowledge
    • A Partnership League will be drawn up to see which English Premier League (EPL) Clubs are best helping their Lower Division ADOPTEES. Certain benefit will accrue to the EPL Club

    You see Club and National Team Football can only improve if QUALITY IS BEING CREATED 24/7 and my Method is simple to implement.


    QUALIFYING SYSTEMS AND QUALIFYING CRITERIA
    • Football MUST CHANGE ALL its Cup and Competition Qualifying Systems and its Qualifying Criteria

    The SINGLE LEAGUE TABLE QUALIFYING SYSTEM – Played Without Groups – is waiting to be used!

    INCENTIVES
    • Incentives for the Clubs
    • Incentives for the Spectators / Full Stadiums
    • Incentives to Local Business that Support Football
    Traceable Incentives to Television Audiences to keep the TELEVISION RATINGS up

    FOOTBALL’s LOCAL TALENT POOL
    • 1,000* Education Facilities (Primary / Secondary Schools, Colleges etc) sign up to provide information on the 4 MOST TALENTED Players
    *1,000 is a suggested figure only
    • Names, Ages, preferred Position, Strengths, Talents, Skills, Weakness etc of 4 of the most Players are put into a Database and the FA provides Skilled Coaches and Managers to Develop this Talent

    Annually up to 4,000 Talented Players are available to feed into the Leagues and Export. You cannot beat this cost-effective System which develops all Players within their own Communities!

    Same model is used to Develop other Sports including Medalists in the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games etc

  • Comment number 7.

    I'd suggest a redistribution fund. All clubs put in a small % of their annual turnover ~ with the rules including sufficient bite to capture business conducted through off-shore 'parent' or 'holding' companies. A proportion is taken to fund grass roots projects / coaching with the remainder shared between clubs.

    It would start to create a leveller between the 'parachute'-funded former PL teams and the rest. I'm sure any extra would be gratefully received by the Accringtons and Wednesdays of this world.

    Ideally it would include the Premier League as that is where most of the money lies. However, I guess that circus is far too insular and self-serving to be interested so perhaps one to trial in the FL?

  • Comment number 8.

    The league needs to encourage beter coaching standards and bringing on the youth players. Money incentives for clubs to cover basic costs if they meet some standards/criteria or assessment.

    I suppose not so much of a problem in the FL, but there is a gulf in finances from Championship to League One with the new agreement with the PL for "trickle-down" payments. The FL should try to even those out so the football talent should be the deciding factor on who does well rather than amount spent.

    Lastly, some of the referees in the League are awful. Again investment is required to improve standards and encourage those interested to be a referee to take that step.

  • Comment number 9.

    I wasn't sure whether this was going to be about the Scottish Football League or the English Football League or the Welsh ...
    Then I remembered it was the EBC.

    Guess what - Only people in England call it the 'Football League'. We 'foreigners' call it the English Football League. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    Cue we were the first.....

  • Comment number 10.

    @5 and @3

    Ok, so it's not a perfect model, and key tothe problemis that there aren't enough good coaches. If the system was allowed to bed in and implementation of more coaches was put in place, along with the aforementioned idea of a national identity of how to play football then it won't necessarily matter where the player is training but it does help create a more level playing field across all clubs.

    The other major problem of course would be getting the big clubs to give up their own youth systems which they have spent years trying to create and spent millions on in the process.

    @ No 6 Not quite sure I understood the "The SINGLE LEAGUE TABLE QUALIFYING SYSTEM – Played Without Groups – is waiting to be used!"

  • Comment number 11.

    #6 Not sure I've ever disagreed with anyone more over so many things in a single post, but there you go. The only thing I do agree with is the talent pool thing. How do you expect a linesman to be able to tell if a ball's within arms length from 30 yards, given foreshortening?
    Anyway...
    Remove the reward for failure in the Premiership aka the parachute payment. £36m/year currently. Divide that by 72 and you've got 1/2 a million per League club, which must not go towards player wages but instead a large propertion (say 75%) be accounted for by development of stadia and training areas, youth facilities, etc., basically anything deemed for the good of the game as a whole and the other 25% can go into getting League clubs back on an even financial keel. I'm sure Chester City would have been grateful for £125,000 to fix the club's finances at a time when the HMRC was looking to put them out of business for £26,000, meanwhile ignoring the disgraceful finances at certain other clubs with bigger histories, but I reluctantly digress.

  • Comment number 12.

    If I were at an off-the-record dinner with the chairman of the Football League, what would I suggest to him?

    • Opt for RADICALISM! That is how Business NOTICES YOU!
    Business – the type you want to Brand Associate with Lower Division Football – got where it is by being DIFFERENT, by being RADICAL!

    • INNOVATE, INNOVATE and INNOVATE! You never get stale when you INNOVATE!

    • Don’t worry about what FIFA will say and do. If it is going to SUCCEED FIFA will be completely against it! They will threaten you. FIFA do not like change ........ it shows their failings!

    • GOAL LINE TECHNOLOGY will not put Pounds and Euros in the Club’s Bank account! If one Refereeing Decision goes against you – so what? That is all part of the game.

    Goal Line Technology in any case will probably not be affordable to the Clubs existing in the Real World!

  • Comment number 13.

    Clarks could start enforcing rules for a start. It recently ememrged that Notts County broke some 60% wage cap rule when they were promoted. What happened ? Nothing.On ther other hand Luton were docked huge numbers of points for some footling offence. He could also try to stop drugs in football (although it is probably too late now). A Sheffield payer recently tested posoive for drugs. Again no actiom was taken.

  • Comment number 14.

    #12 re GLT: It would amount to 72 cameras per game day maximum in the FL. They don't even need to be broadcast quality (you can see this sort of camera in action during the BBC's highlights of L1 and L2 games HO HO HO!). You can get a high quality digital SLR that does film for less than £1000 so a similar video camera for use at football grounds, considering the amount of money swilling about, the cost is minimal, probably less than one of the FL Chief Exec's luncheons. Given that success of a trial could change the game worldwide for the better without experiencing the wrath of FIFA's cronies punishing the Premiership by not allowing the teams to compete, when everyone sees how cheap and easy it is and most of all that it gets the correct decisions happening, the issue will disappear as countries will start to request it. FIFA cannot ignore such a request from its members, no matter how hard Blatter tries to run the world game in a bizarre, out-of-touch fashion.

  • Comment number 15.

    Great blog Paul, it's encouraging to hear of Greg Clarke's approach to matters and it can only be a good thing to engage so personally with all the clubs affected.

    For me, the Football League's biggest selling point is its' unpredictability - it's the perfect contrast to the dull-as-dishwater Premiership that I think people are already seeming to tire of. The fact that Blackpool are the most exciting thing about the Premiership this season speaks volumes. I'm not sold on the idea that the Premiership is some kind of "promised land" that all clubs should aspire to, not any more, at least.

    Swiss Tony at number 8 makes a good point about referees as well. I'm more than aware it's a hard job but rather than supporting them and making their jobs easier through technology or other means, it just seems to be getting worse. As a Donny fan, six years ago in Divison 3 (remember that?) I remember the refs were poor but I was hopeful because in theory, the higher the league you're in, the better the referees you get. Fast forward to now we're at Championship level and most of them aren't a patch on the ones we had 6 years ago, so my heart goes out to the fans in leagues 1 and 2 now because I daren't think how bad theirs must be by now!

    I'm not sold on the changing of the points systems or any kind of youth draft systems and such. For me I think the best thing that could happen would be for the "Big Clubs" of the Premiership to get so bored of visiting places like Blackpool that they break away and form their European Super League where every weekend can be the match of the century, no-one has to worry about being relegated, and everything can all get even duller than it is now. Then the Football League can revert once more to being a 4-tier competition that fans can engage with and get excited about, knowing that even if they ever made the top flight, they would actually have a good chance of making a good go of it without having to flog the club to some half-interested billionaire from halfway round the world.

  • Comment number 16.

    Now then,

    Thanks for your comments so far. Lots of interesting and, in some cases, extraordinarily radical ones. I'm not really sure the FL would ever be able to persuade it clubs (or indeed any other governing body) to go with Ivan's suggested change to the points system (comment 6).

    Having said that, there is no doubt that Greg Clarke is keen to hear all ideas, big and small. As he told me, some that might initially seem a little crazy might be excellent when refined.

    Clarke is clearly looking to apply strong business principles to football - and should, after his time at Leicester, understand it enough to know that it is a very different beast to a normal organisation/business.



  • Comment number 17.

    Merge Leagues One and Two into north and south divisions. This brings lower clubs closer to the higher echelons and save a bit on petrol in the bargain. Clubs should be seeded for the the FA Cup and League Cup meaning that lower division clubs get at least one big match bonanza every season.

  • Comment number 18.

    The first reform that is needed is a more even distribution of TV revenues.

    The current 80/12/8 split is just not right or fair.

    Other sports in this country and abroad recognise the importance of helping their less successful clubs redress the balance. If the League's priorities are the 'integrity of the competition' (cough) you would think that League Two clubs should get the most money from TV revenues in order to help them grow. Not the least. At present the allocation of TV revenue is acting only to preserve existing advantages. Typical of a Tory-led organisation, but not a policy that does the competition itself any good.

    Giving so much bigger a slice of the cake to the Championship means that the temptation to gamble to get into (and stay in) that division is massive. The consequences of relegation are financially grave.

    To have sustainable appeal the competition needs to be exciting. The Premier League is dull, dull, dull because it is dominated by a few teams, there's some interest in the relegation scrap but the rest (the vast majority) is mind numbingly tedious.

    Tighter financial regulation of clubs is vital and must go hand in hand with this. Unscrupulous or incompetent Chairmen must not be allowed to keep putting these community assets at risk. I would personally be radical and insist on a certain set of articles of association to be adopted by clubs' companies before they were allowed to compete in the league - along the lines of a CIC.

    Getting round Bosman. Clubs need to get transfer fees when players move. End of story. The tribunal system worked, if the system for U-24s is legal, it is legal for all ages - let's see it implemented for all players once again.

    Lastly, kick Franchise out. They are a stain on the character of the sport and the sooner they are gone the better. It's not too late to correct that terrible mistake.

  • Comment number 19.

    @6. I'll have a pint of whatever you're drinking please.

    I think that the biggest problems in World Football are Blatter and the anti-British Platini. Until these two jokers leave their positions then nothing will ever improve.

    Ticket prices MUST reduce for ALL clubs. This will encourage the fans of the future - kids - go to matches as their parents will be able to afford it.

    At my club, Everton, for a family of 4 to go to a match it's around £80 - £90. This is cheap compared to many other clubs, but is still high for the average family.

  • Comment number 20.

    The fundamental problem is that the gap between the prem and the rest of the league is too big. If the prem aren't willing to bridge the gap (which history shows us they aren't) then the league needs to take unilateral action to help it's own clubs. They could start by whacking a large levy on player transfers from the league into the prem.

  • Comment number 21.

    @20 I agree with the first part of the post, but not your solution. That would only serve to excacerbate the problem - The Premier LeagueTM already buys too many players from abroad and not enough from the Football League.

    Until someone has the power to compel The Premier LeagueTM to do things its clubs won't like in the wider interest of the game, things will continue in that regard.

  • Comment number 22.

    The biggest enforcement the FL can take is to introduce measures to protect smaller clubs from being taken over by 'dodgy' owners. It's happened so many times in the past yet the authorities have done little to stop it, then hammer the clubs who are left behind after these owners run for the hills with pocketfuls of cash.
    The 'fit and proper persons test' the FL passes on new owners clearly doesn't work. They let Luton Town get taken over by land developers out for a huge payday before breaking all sorts of rules despite the club crying out for help while it was going on, then when new owners take over and try and fix the mess left behind, along come the FL 2 years too late and effectively throw them out of the league. The same almost happened with Bournemouth, worse happened with Chester City who were allowed to be taken over by the Vaughan family and who subsequently went out of business.
    It's like the FL sit by and watch unfit owners take over, sanctioning the moves, then fall asleep for a couple of years, wake up, then decide 'action' needs to be taken against the club when the rule breakers have already bolted for the door after asset stripping the club and the fans.
    I mean seriously, going back to Luton Town, the FL have all these ideas in place to try and allegedly help smaller clubs, and help the development of young talent in the game, yet they sat by allowed unfit owners to take over Luton Town, idly sit by and watch as they get ravaged by said unfit owners, then effectively kick them out of the league, where youth funding is cut after 2 years in the BSP.
    Now this is also important, because their incompetence have seen the youth policy effectively cut from a club who currently have produced the FIFTH highest number of English Premier League players in the country. Now that's more than some of the biggest clubs in Europe have bothered to try and produce.
    So, rant over, this is how the FL needs to help small clubs and help protect the development of youth.

  • Comment number 23.

    Not sure why it went like that, but the above paragraphs should have spaces in!!

  • Comment number 24.

    'The gist of these is that, over time, top-flight clubs must break even financially if they want to play in European competitions.'

    This is another of those Football 'rules' designed to FAIL!

    Why would anyone do that? Simple! Enacting 'rules' designed to fail gives INCOMPETENTS BREATHING SPACE!

    Heineken and Sony will NEVER ALLOW Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Europe's giants to be 'knocked-out' of the UEFA Champions League because their Management has deliberately mismanaged their finances.

    Get Real!

  • Comment number 25.

    @24 Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United are not members of the Football League.

    The principle of 'manage your finances properly or you don't compete' is a sound one for the FL to adopt - but only if it is part of a regulatory framework that provides governance for clubs all the time and not some retrospective draconian punishment.

  • Comment number 26.

    Two video appeals per team, get the big decisions right !
    To stop the manager from abusing the law he can only make a video appeal in his own half if the ball is dead.

    The Linesman having to be more pro active as a result of video appeals would make more decisions and not hide so much, he will feel more empowered, garner more respect from the players, video appeal will embarass him into more decisions, psychological accountability.
    The linesman is "miked" up, take away his flag so he can run properly and keep up with the line of play. (In every "ten" uses of the flag the players already know 5 of the decisions, the Ref will decide one, and the Linesman will decide the other four decisions)
    With his new found self respect the Linesman can "encroach" on to the pitch to help with penalties and free kicks, when Agbonlahor is sprinting on to a 60 yard pass and the 39 year old Ref is 60 yards away, the Linesman can be ten yards away in line with play, helping to Referee.
    Instead of carrying a "clumsy" flag the Linesman can wear flourescent green sleeves.
    The players will be more aware of the Linesmans position and less inclined to break the rules.
    Increase the ban for Yellow card accumulation, increase the ban for a Red card.


  • Comment number 27.

    1. Introduce the Salary Control Management Protocol (SCMP) to all divisions - including the Premier League.

    2. Force the Premier League to divide the millions in TV revenue more proportionately - as an agreed percentage of the total, rather than brushing a few crumbs from their top table as they currently do.

    3. Reduce the distance, and cost to teams, fans and the environment by regionalising leagues.

    I would incorporate the Premier League, Football League and Blue Square Premier teams (116 teams) and re-organise them as follows:

    Premier League - 18 teams
    Championship - 18 teams
    League One North and South - 20 teams each
    League Two North and South - 20 teams each

    3 teams relegated from the Championship. Both League One Champions promoted and the two playoff winners meet to decide the 3rd promotion spot.

    No more necessity for Plymouth fans to travel to Hartlepool or Carlisle on a cold, wet Tuesday night in February! [unless they both make it to the Championship of course!]
    With shorter distances for fans to travel, we have the prospect of higher attendances, ergo more exciting atmosphere at matches

  • Comment number 28.

    Footywins: are you an OLBG member?

    #13: anticorrupt: Are you talking about Goalkeeper Paddy Kenny? if so I think you will find he was banned for 9 months.

  • Comment number 29.

    These ideas get more and more radical (for the most part). I reckon most of them might be a touch too out there for the FL.

    Clarke is not after anything that would impact on the Premier League so, as I'm sure you can imagine, a complete restructuring of all the divisions is completely out of the question.

    As for the idea of a north and south division in the lower leagues - I used to kind of enjoy those long-range away days. Learnt something about somewhere. Occasionally.

  • Comment number 30.

    Instead of Premier League clubs adopting Championship and beyond clubs (which might have serious competitive repurcussions) how about encouraging closer tie-ups with contintental clubs on similar financial footings inc. the SPL?

    Maybe a draft system could be introduced where certain players are nominated to be put up for moves to Premier League clubs with an equal guaranteed pay-off from the big boys?

  • Comment number 31.

    Interesting that this is predicated on the belief that all the league clubs shall survive. Does he advocate that irresponsible clubs be suspended or asked to resign from the league?

  • Comment number 32.

    Great blog and some good ideas. I'm going to try not to write an essay!

    On the financial side, I think a total wage bill cap at 50/60% of income is a great idea. Could this be extended to a wage cap per individual player and more emphasis put on performance related bonuses?

    What about forcing clubs to invest in youth by demanding a percentage of their income be allocated to youth development? Would like to see clubs have better links with local schools as well, maybe helping PE teachers get coaching badges etc to increase standards and thus increasing the possible talent pool for both coaches and players across the country.

    Now on to refereess! Firstly, there are always going to be mistakes, they do a tough job. As hard as it is when your team is on the receiving end of a howler from the ref, you have to ask yourself: Would we really be better off without controversy and talking points in football? Isn't this part of what makes us so passionate about it? What I do think football should do is take on an idea from rugby. Allow the ref's mic to be aired. This would have several benefits. Will make it easier for the FA to assess referee's performances. The refs will be encouraged to be a bit more vocal about their decisions which can only help the players (nani goal for man utd against spurs for instance). Commentators, pundits and fans alike will at least hear why the referee has made the call they have. I think it would also help with players proffesionalism on the pitch. Is a player really going to risk being caught on air shouting and swearing at the ref with lucrative sponsorship deals on the line?

    Turned out to be an essay anyway, oh well.

  • Comment number 33.

    The first thing which has to go is the football creditors rule. This underpins all the financial irresponsibility (I'd prefer to use to the word 'criminality' but the evidence isn't strong enough yet to print that) in football, deliberately sending clubs bankrupt whilst bleeding them dry, then starting again doing the same thing again after hanging the creditors out to dry. It's simply unacceptable in any shape or form and framing 'fit and proper people' definitions to exclude for life any Director involved in that kind of thing is but the smallest start to clearing out the financial rubbish which has gone on for decades.

    The second issue is agents and player wages. Agents couldn't give a monkeys if clubs go bankrupt so long as their player gets a good deal. Once you remove the football creditors rule, agents will be less likely to go after silly money for their client for risk of bankrupting the golden goose. Sanity might return.

    The third issue is agent commissions. Agents should get no cut whatever of transfer deals. They can be paid a percentage of a players wages through a contract, if the player wishes that to happen. But all this rubbish of agents taking £2m to facilitate a transfer between two well-established clubs is precisely that: rubbish. There needs to be a central clearing house where transfer funds are held in escrow and publication of full funds reaching banks must be disclosed to show that transfer funds benefit the club, not a few shady third parties. It's a waste of time talking about being a 'selling club' and 'nurturing young talent' if all the hard work doesn't see the money benefit those who put the hard work in. End of story.

    Once you got all those basics out the way, you can start to talk about what sizes football clubs are likely to be sustainable at. The reality is that the crowd potential is proportional to the catchment area for most clubs. So Bristol will be bigger than Colchester. Fact of life. There's pretty much a minimum crowd you need for professional players to earn a decent living without bankrupting a club. So if you want fully professional clubs where senior pros can earn £100,000 a year, you probably need turnover of £4m-£5m per annum to do that sustainably. That probably needs crowds of 5- 10,000 to sustain it. So fairly soon you come to a position as to how many clubs can be run sustainably with reasonably remunerated full-time professionals. You might choose to set the bar at £10m T/O as that which signifies a long-term sustainable fully professional club.......

    You might like to ask whether a USP of Football League clubs, as opposed to the increasingly foreign-controlled EPL, would be development of English talent. So long as you have a French, a Spanish or an Italian manager in the EPL, they won't put their heart into developing the English. They'll buy French, Spanish players etc beccause they know their managers, the national federation wants them to and the TV deal depends on them doing so. Only the English people will, a priori, see developing English talent as an imperative. So it is arguable that the football league is a far more sensible place to ensure quotas for English players than the EPL right now. It would be easy to say: 5 players in each starting line up should be English, 10 players in a 25 man squad must be U23 and English and that 40% of capital gains from transfers should be reinvested in academies, community programmes and stadium facilities.

    If that were done really, really well the best players would graduate to the EPL anyway, ready and fully formed technically. If Bacary Sagna can do it from the French equivalent, no reason why it can't happen in England. But it's only worth the Football League clubs doing that if all their years of hard work aren't ripped away by criminal thugs who call themselves agents, EPL managers or EPL media partners. I'm not joking, unless that is sorted out, you can forget producing English talent. There's no point if you do 10 years hard work and an EPL thug sweats you for the asset. No point at all. And remember this, the EPL chairman couldn't give a monkeys about that. All they care about is money.........not to mention the agents.....just look at the way Arsenal hoped to get Andy Carroll on the cheap in the summer if you think there are any angels around.......if Arsenal want Andy Carroll, they can pay Newcastle what he's worth.......just like they expected Real Madrid to pay them what Anelka was worth......and they can buy him to play him, not buy him to do what Barcelona did to Hleb and Henry........and they can do it out of respect to Mike Ashley who poured £250m of his own cash into saving that football club and who therefore deserves to be treated better than some debt-fuelled international raider who couldn't give a monkeys about English football but could give a monkeys about selling the club in a few years for a fat profit..........yes, that's Newcastle fans I'm talking to as well: your hated owner saved your football club from bankruptcy. Paid off the debts of the last lot. With his own money. Remember that.......

    So then you get down to what sorts of people you want owning your football club. You could want the fans to own it, the local town to own it, some local businessfolk to own it. Or you could choose to go foreign. What needs to be asked is what the drivers are for each type of owner and what the fans really want, long-term, for their football club. There's a lot that can be learned from the Constitutions of AFC Wimbledon and FC Utd of Manchester in that regard. They decided what their football clubs were about and codified it. You can agree or not agree with them, but you've got to admire the principles they enunciated and how they went about implementing them. Got to. So if 72 sets of fans did that and decided from that what kind of owners they wanted or would support, you might get to a stable ecosystem of ownership in this country.

    It's a sad fact that the EPL is moving ineluctably away from geographical roots. The new owners see that as a block to making money. They want Man Utd to play Chelsea in New York or the like. Forget the local fans, they don't matter. What do Football League clubs think about that?

    Out of such discussions, iterative rounds of input from fans and owners alike, will a long-term sustainable structure for english football emerge.

    The word 'monkeys' was used repeatedly to overcome the profanity filter....

  • Comment number 34.

    Drafts woudnt work in England since there is no professional college academy system. The only place an aspiring young footballer can go is to sign for a club. In America all aspiring young sportsmen go to college, and are trained and coached by the college (the degree they are actually 'studying' for is usually a meaningless mickey-mouse course, they are given scholarships as sportsmen, and the degree is just a technicality)- the 'draft' is the clubs picking up the sportsmen when they graduate from the colleges.

  • Comment number 35.

    just one small thought with bugets as tight as they are and most of the confrence now being full time clubs. Why dont they join league 2 and confrence and make them league 2 North and South. Trips such as Carlisle to Exter are fun but not easy and cheap these days

  • Comment number 36.

    Palace are in trouble cos of mismanagment, same with portsmouth, Leeds etc I dunno about Wednesday. Bosman has not helped traditional selling clubs like palace either, they lost a lot of young talent for peanuts thanks to the authorities.

    But look if a club wants to make an all or nothing charge for the premier league then why shouldn't they be allowed to? People on here are often stating that football is a business like any other. So if other firms can borrow big in a bid to make the big time, why cant footie clubs?

    there's no fundamental changes needed, the standard in the championship is fine, leave it alone.

    oh & KEEP TECHNOLOGY OUT, those saying otherwise haven't thought it through....BALE, pulls one back for arsenal!

  • Comment number 37.

    @ #33: One agent per club would be a good way to deal with that particular problem. The scouts bring the talent to the attention of the club, whose agent then facilitates the player's contract or sale. If you have one per club then the agent collects a regular yearly wage and looks out for the interest of the club, not of himself.

    @ #32: I've been espousing the use of mics for referees for years now. The only part I find difficult to grasp is why nobody in the professional football heirarchy has demanded it yet. The players are hugely accountable for every moment they spend on the pitch, but nobody knows what the referee's thinking. It's only when they make colossal cockups (like Graham Poll at the 2006 World Cup - who remembers that gem?) that they get called out on it. Overall the standard of refereeing needs to be raised, and that means steps need to be taken to help them out.

    I realise these points would likely affect the Premiership clubs more than their lower-league counterparts, but as several people have pointed out, the Premiership has never been one for innovation. Push it through in the lower leagues and when it works the Premiership can jump on the bandwagon.

  • Comment number 38.

    I would like to see a return to regionalisation in the lower divisions - this could help clubs cut down on travel expenses, create more local derbies and possibly bigger gates for clubs. It might even be good for clubs on a community level - perhaps regionalised divisions could foster a greater focus on developing local talent?

    I don't like the suggestion of bigger clubs adopting smaller ones. Where is the local pride in knowing that your best players will be snapped up? You're always going to be kept in your place by your 'parent' club, which destroys the dream for football fans, everywhere. Besides, what would happen to your club if you'd been 'adopted' by a club which then got in to huge debt?

    The points system is fine as it is. I if you look at clubs who got relegated and apply a more encouraging points system to their performance over the season - they still get relegated . . . one point for a draw and three for a win is just fine.

  • Comment number 39.

    Brian Malwhinney tried to get more changes than he got through. He even had a draft agreement with HMRC to give an amnesty to clubs in exchange for better control by the league to prevent tax bills being built up. And in every meeting of chairmen, the Championship chairman voted him down - for instance they voted down the HMRC deal because HMRC want to charge VAT on payments to agents. Nothing major will change until the Championship chairmen stop having more votes than Div 1 and 2 chairmen. For instance, the idea above about better distribution of TV money will be stopped by the Championship.

    So my no 1 change - which of course won't be adopted - would be for all clubs in the League to have the same voting power.

  • Comment number 40.

    Stronger emphasis on football academies. Start from ground up, the fact is there are no quick fixes. Ensure investment in the future and in a few years reap the rewards of talent coming through the ranks. No need to spend millions on imports and lower costs for the lower teams.

    All clubs are run as businesses now and so follow the same rules as businesses. If those don't stop regular business going bust then they won't stop football clubs going bust.

    The fact is that basic approaches to the developments would be the most effective. Expectation on immediate returns should be shelved. The issue with this is that football is also about the performance on the field, the silverware on the shelves. The teams at the top won't willingly commit to anything that negatively impacts their chance of success next season.

  • Comment number 41.

    Echo Footy wins, that way more Lamberts/Lefondre's (15 goals already this season) might find their way to higher league football not at the expense of lower league clubs. Just shows there is too much money in the high echelons of english football. The concerns were voiced when the premier league first came about - denied but proven to be 100% true. Players on £50k plus a week could easily take a 50% pay cut and still live happily, investing that money in lower league development as well. Perhaps we might then have a world beating world cup squad after the last debacle.

  • Comment number 42.

    I'm sorry but no amount of soft PR will hide the reality that the Football League always backs away from confrontation when push comes to shove. Until the FL demand that Leeds United provide a credible, readable and understood explanation of who the benifical owners are then Clarke and the rest of them lack credibility.

  • Comment number 43.

    the big turn off is the standard of refs and linesmen in the football league every week games are not decided by the ability of the teams on the pitch but by a ref or linesman making a wrong decisionand changing the result. Myself and many of my friends no longer go to many games so sorting the officials out first would increase the crowds and help clubs finances

  • Comment number 44.

    I think it is interesting how many supporters are in favour of wage capping. It won't happen in the Championship - and I don't think there will be any with regard to a salary ceiling for individual players.

    There are several interesting points made with regard to tax, the football creditors rule and HMRC. When you think that money owed to the tax man is actually ours in the sense that it is public money, then I think HMRC are right to insist they are paid in full. Especially when you consider that the football creditors rule ensures that all players etc receive all they are owed.

  • Comment number 45.

    The point for me would be the regionalisation of the Leagues below the Championship, at no other division around the world does any form of it begin at the SIXTH tier of its national competition which is ridiculous. Lower-league competition would increase surely with a focus on more regional football, plus it would increase the number of teams at a lower level who can reach their dreams of a Football League place? Premier League controlled by, well, the Premier League, the Football League to control the Championship and Leagues One North and South, scrap the concept of a League Two tier and make this the Conference North 1 and South 1 and also a Conference North/South 2. You'd expand the number of teams from the bottom up which is the right way to go about things and reduces the stages from top to bottom by one also.

    I'd also like to see the LDV Paints (whatever) Trophy amalgamated with the FA Trophy in this case and open it to the 2 x 24 teams in Leagues One and the 4 x 22 in each of the Conference divisions and also have that non-regional so there's more of a genuine cup feel to it but that's another story.

  • Comment number 46.

    From my view, the salary cap will only help the bigger teams in the league. A club with a smaller fanbase and attendance will get less income therefore will not be able to attract the better players. Clubs like Scunthorpe, Doncaster etc would struggle even more to survive in the Championship.

    Distributing the tv money a little more evenly could be a good idea but the Championship should get the majority still as this is the bigger product. Also, from the premierships perspective, why would they want to distribute their money to the football league? They sell their rights individually so it would mean losing money for them!

    North South split is interesting but the numbers of away fans making the cross country trips is small so would have little impact. Also the practicalities... a team in the midlands could be required to keep swapping between north and south depending on promotions and relegations. Also, it would mean, in effect a promotion for all league 2 clubs who would then be only a division away from the championship.

    I personally think clubs should be more transparent with their finances which would help educate fans on the state of the clubs. This would lead to more involvment with fans groups and may, at times stop the fans drive for instant success.

    Also, off topic a little, I think clubs should have to pay 100% of loan wages. It would stop people parachuting into a league and having a big impact despite the club not being able to afford the player.

  • Comment number 47.

    As pertinent a question is to ask why so many clubs have considerably greater financial outgoings than incomings. There is nothing intrinsic to football as a sport which means that clubs have to spend more than they make, otherwise they would not have existed for so long. The League needs to understand why this is such a common situation.

    Without being exhaustive, I'd have thought that the following would be fairly common reasons:

    1. Increased short-termism, be it in terms of signing players (permanently or on loan) rather than waiting for youth team or reserve players to develop or the expensive business of sacking managers as soon as form suffers.

    2. Player demands being entirely unrealistic with regard to the financial state of the club; there will be Championship players earning 5 figure weekly sums where the club's attendance barely reaches 5 figures. Add to this the transfer / agent / signing on fees and these add up to amounts which clubs cannot realistically expect to recoup by funds raised by achievments by the players e.g. cup wins and so on. Even promotion to the Premiership would lead clubs to have to increase wages / transfer spending to such a degree that the income increase is nullified; take Bolton as an example, in the Premiership with all its money for 11 straight seasons I think, yet perhaps having to sell their best players this winter.

    3. Lack of significant transfer fees - bigger clubs will no longer buy from lower divisions, whereas this was once a vital source of income for many clubs. They will now tend to move to clubs in the same division, or perhaps up one division (if a fee is involved), and as the buying club will not be flush with money itself, yet the selling club requires funds, the fee is smaller than it might otherwise have been. Bosman obviously was no help, but there can be little argument that to charge a fee for a player without a contract was on shaky legal grounds.

    4. Protection of struggling clubs - finally, as harsh as it may be, to fight the market does not help. If a club runs out of money, like any other business, that should be it. Should it happen to a few clubs, there will be players available for nothing, which would help the better-run clubs in terms of expenditure. Where is the incentive to run clubs in a more efficient manager if the maximum punishment is a 10 point deduction?

    However, a number of League clubs should just hold their breath, it cannot be long before the a number of Premiership clubs are dragged down by their huge debts, giving clubs the opportunity to be promoted without huge outlays.

  • Comment number 48.

    Cynicism alert.
    Asking chairman about changes smacks of Turkeys and Christmas.

    Lower league chairmen do on the whole have slightly more realistic views than Championship/PL chairmen of course, but how many of them aspire to be Championship/Premier League Chairman?

    Reform going in the wrong direction IMO.

    Maybe Greg Clark would be well advised to meet with supporter groups as well - particularly supporter Trusts. One myth that Chairmen live by is the one of fan expectations. Ask fans if they want ambition/profit hunting to kill their club as has nearly and actually happened in so many cases recently. See how many would rather have their club survive in a lower league than winning big and then going out of business 2 years later. The answers might surprise him.

    Uncynic mode:
    Agree with the comments about Fit and Proper Persons. One thing that would be useful is a forensic investigation of owners BEFORE they get involved. And a ban on anyone taking a club into admin owning it again on exit. That would focus their minds when it comes to paying the tax bill.
    The FA and Prem/League pretend they are powerless in this respect - but they need to be more persistent in asking awkward questions. Anyone who doesn't want to answer becomes suspect I would suggest.
    This particularly applies to companies owning clubs - holding company ownership should be declarable - BVI registered or not. The ruling body should know ALL the ultimate beneficial owners of all companies in a chain of ownership. Money laundering checks in particular should be carried out on club finances. (see FATF report on the potential for money laundering in football on their website if you think this is not a problem).

    Further, I would advocate the FL investigates a form of triple bottom line accounting for football clubs. This means they report on their social and environmental impact as well as their financial one. It is time that owners buying a club acknowledge through ACTION the community/social nature of their business and were mandated to make proper contribution to the community they both serve and profit from.

  • Comment number 49.

    The comments made about referees and goal line technology are interesting, have a read of this blog

    'Scotland Yard: Is there too much pressure on referees?'
    http://upper90magazine.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/scotland-yard/#more-270

  • Comment number 50.

    Its good that he's going around having these meetings. Hopefully its not just being 'seen' but actually DOING something. Obviously, any decisions will not come into effect until after Wednesday survive by the skin of their teeth due to years of incompetent management, started by the person who has a history of failed companies and is somehow now Chairman of the FAPL and FA Board member . :-0 Maybe they should be looking rather closer to home regarding the management of football!

    13. At 1:18pm on 19 Nov 2010, Anticorrupt wrote:
    ...He could also try to stop drugs in football (although it is probably too late now). A Sheffield payer recently tested posoive for drugs. Again no actiom was taken.

    Can't disagree with the sentiment. But, if you're talking about Paddy Kenny, you couldn't be more wrong:
    Recently = over a year ago.
    No action = 7 month ban.
    and the drug? An over-the-counter cold remedy that contains a tiny amount of a variant of a banned substance.
    Stupid, yes. Unlike 'forgetting' drugs tests.
    A big-name player in the Italian league was found guilty of exactly the same, but no punishment. Cocaine? It's up to the club to discipline. Consistency is required.

  • Comment number 51.

    The main thing the Football League needs to do is grow some balls and stand up to the Premier League, and increasingly the Chairman of Championship clubs. Far too much money goes to Premier League and Championship clubs and some needs to be distributed to the lower leagues (and I would argue filtered the whole way down the non-league ladder). With the new parachute payments, clubs coming down from the Premier League get £48 million over 4 years, whilst clubs coming up from League One get something ridiculous like £100,000. The gap is phenomenal and should never be allowed.

    A few years ago, they also changed the prize money for the FA Cup so that getting through the early rounds meant less money, but winning it rose from something like £600,000 to £1 million. A terrible decision - as if Chelsea and Man Utd need £400,000 more, when many a non-league and lower league team can really benefit from the prize money for getting through the early stages.

    The Football League needs to start standing up for itself against the FA and Premier League and it needs to take into account the wishes of ALL it's members, not just the Championship

  • Comment number 52.

    My suggestion is simple ..... a bonus point for every 3 goals scored - win, loose or draw. This would encourage more attacking football.

    English football was the first to introduce 3-points for a win back in the 80s, so why not lead the way again?

  • Comment number 53.

    I would suggest a different system based on goal difference. Teams would be credited with points relating to goals: Take a score line such as 2-0, the home team take two points while the away team loose two points. a 3-3 draw, neither team gain a point. a 6-5 win is only worth a point to the winning team where as a 4-1 win would be worth three points and the loosing team loose three point. I think this would promote attacking play as it pays to have a good scoreline and is important to hold a strong defence. Should two team have the same goal difference then it order the leauge accoring to who scored more goals, who scored more away goals, who won more games.

    an alternative would be, as some one said, bonus points along with current system. +1 for away win, +1 for loosing team being within 1 goal lose, +1 for three goals or more. thus a team loosing away by 4-3 gets +2 points whilst the home team gets the regualar +3 for a win and +1 for 3 goals. a 3-3 draw, both teams get regualar draw point but the bonus point for 3 goals = 2points, a better reward than a boring 0-0, which only gets 1 point

  • Comment number 54.

    #35 Carlisle and Exeter are both in League One. Thanks for playing, though!

  • Comment number 55.

    @34 - that's only true of American "football". Other US sports, e.g. the NHL have a pool of incoming talent that is from a much wider base - leagues in several countries. It works well for the NHL - but I don't think it would work here either due to the sheer number of clubs throughout the pyramid.

 

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