These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Monday, February 05, 2007

SHOTTING THE GOLDEN GOOSE

Printed in the Ryman League programme Saturday 3rd Feb 2007. We scored with the last kick of the match to get a 1-1 draw to lift us off the bottom of the league (and last Saturday we won away 3-2, our first win since October)/

Imagine finishing bottom, yet sill getting a £26 million handout? Another dodgy corporate executive paying himself some over the top bonus? No, it’s what the football club that finishes bottom of the Premiership will get when a new TV deal kicks in next season.

The new TV deal means the Premiership will receive £2.7 billion over three years from next season – so will we see this trickerling down to the lower leagues and grass-roots or will it end up stuffed in overpaid footballers and agents pockets?

Believe it or not, despite Sky’s Year Zero policy, there was life before the Premiership. I can’t argue that some of the football and some of the foreign players have brought something a little different to the top flight but getting relegated is such a financial nightmare, that watching teams fighting relegation leaves a lot to be desired – and is bloody expensive. So now there’s a mooted parachute payments of up to £12 million for those relegated to the Championship, helping to also make that league financially skewered, as the gap between the haves and the have not-been-in-the-premiership grows even wider.

Shooting the golden goose? At Man City gates are down almost 8000 in three years, and there’s already been two boycotts by the clubs supporters of away games over expensive ticket prices. City fans are notorious for their support, but one fan I chatted too told me he and others are just bored of the whole thing. Magic of the FA Cup? In the lower rounds yes, but half empty stadiums where cup upsets becoming more and more unlikely a pointer to attendances of the future?

The Football League are trying to get a slice of the new TV money for areas such as youth development and community programmes. One report ‘Football and Its Communities’ understands the role that football could play in involving, in particular, young people, and helping to improve health, education and community safety, and to reduce crime and tackle social exclusion. Football, the report notes, is identified as an ideal vehicle for working with difficult-to-reach groups, including looked-after children, minority communities, offenders and people with disabilities, because of its glamour and intrinsic, near-universal appeal.

Yet while the top division is awash with cash, out of the current £1.6bn TV deal, the only money the Premier League pays directly to Football League clubs is the £4.2m to help fund youth development programmes, which works out at just £60,000 per club.

The financial chasm wasn’t always so. Before the Premier League was formed in 1992, the TV money was always shared throughout its four divisions. 50% went to the First Division clubs, 25% to the Second and 25% was split between the Third and Fourth. Then came SKY waving fists of cash and the First Division clubs plotted to break away from the League and keep for themselves all the huge money about to pour into football. Unbelievably the top clubs were backed by the FA, whose leaders believed a Premier League would strengthen their rule over English football. In return the FA asked for nothing from the top clubs: no sharing of the money with the remaining 72 Football League clubs or improved regulation of the game. Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive at the time, has since admitted ruefully about that decision: "We were guilty of a tremendous, collective lack of vision."

On top of all this comes the Champions League – which not only takes away vital support for non league clubs with its mid week televised games – but rewards the clubs that take part handsomely, skewing the financial gulf even further, and making sure that it is usually the same old clubs from across Europe that compete in it season after season.

Any sport has to be about real competition and unpredictability. We may see the odd shock result but we will we ever see another shock league winner? The game has become dull and predictable and the new TV deal will only serve to make it even more so. How can a smaller club build and succeed when as soon as they get a good manager and players a premier league club comes along and takes what they want? What chance of a club coming from the lower leagues of ever been able to compete at the top? Whilst we might still see exciting games the fact is the real competition and excitement in football is dead and died when it sold its soul to Sky TV. If football doesn't act, then just like in Italy, the Premiership could well shot the golden goose.

* To keep up to date with the financial side of football http://www.footballeconomy.com/.

* To read the Football Foundation report http://www.footballfoundation.org.uk/news-and-media/latest-news/community-at-the-heart-of-football

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