|Does the NFL Point to Football’s Future?|
Written by ElephantintheRoom on Monday, 26th Aug 2019 09:46
We live in strange times. Town’s embarrassing embarrassment of recent Premier League and Championship play-off bogeymen Bolton Wanderers highlighted the massive financial and ethical problems now facing football, eloquently discussed in the recent blog by Stowmarket.
Yet despite Bolton’s imminent threat of extinction (and the lack of credible opposition provided), many Town fans embarrassed themselves and the club by seeing something in a 5-0 romp that wasn’t there.
We’re cynically indifferent to clubs’ financial woes. We’ve seen it all so many times before. Most people expect Bolton to survive in some way or form – and indeed Bury, whose situation seemed even more dire all of one week ago.
But the distortion of the third division this season is absolute. There will almost certainly be at least three more farcical mismatches (banana skins in Lambospeak) to ‘look forward to’ (and gloat over if you are that way inclined).
The Premier League is to blame we are told. And it probably is to some extent – but not for the obvious reasons. Bury and Bolton’s woes, Like Town’s at the turn of the century, are directly due to financial overreach.
Bolton, like Town, destroyed themselves by getting into the Premier League and thinking they belonged there. It’s not long ago that Bolton’s fans were arrogantly agreeing with Big Sam that the UEFA Cup was not worth trying in – even though theirs was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Meanwhile, the eye-watering fees paid for adequate central defenders – be they Harry Maguire (or indeed Adam Webster and Tyrone Mings) cynically exposes the Premier League’s indifference to the relatively small sums that could help out financially-troubled clubs further down the pyramid that actually developed these players.
But should they? The callous indifference of Lambo and his risible talk of banana skins and insensitive Town fans who gloated so embarrassingly at the ludicrous mismatch on Saturday shows that in football’s not-of-the-real world bubble, even third division clubs are seemingly indifferent to their fellow clubs’ woes.
Embarrassingly (and conveniently forgotten), in Town’s case, we have trod this path of self-inflicted financial destruction not once but twice in recent years. The way Town and other clubs were cynically allowed to benefit from other people’s money led directly to the current slightly more stringent rules about playing fast and loose with cash that isn’t yours.
Leicester City are perhaps the ultimate poster boys for financial disrepute – rising phoenix-like from reneging on massive debts to lift the Premier League as everyone’s favourite underdog, seemingly in the twinkling of an eye. But who remembers their financial misdeeds, apart presumably from those who lost money through no fault of their own?
Where do we go from here? More and more destitute clubs unless things change. Strangely, as relatively few smart at football’s seeming indifference to Bolton and Bury’s plight, it may be the Premier League and insights from further afield that actually delivers football’s salvation.
The most successful sport in the world is arguably American football. More and more American owners are dipping their toes in English football’s deeply distorted market. And whilst financial greed and opportunism are their motivation to dabble in the Prem and Barnsley, the sporting model they are used to is competition on a level playing field through financial and sporting equality.
Sure, the owners of Manchester United and Arsenal saw nothing wrong when their faces were deep in the trough. But now they are excluded from the Champions League gravy train they are perhaps seeing things from a different perspective.
Heck, nowadays every new stadium being constructed seems to be with half an eye on American football. Even the slightly repulsive Twickenham has dipped its toes in the gridiron water. NFL is on the cusp of becoming established in this country. It’s almost certainly something we can learn from.
For now the Premier League is anything other than a meritocracy. It is a money-gobbling machine that ignores English football traditions and supporters almost entirely, obsesses with the Champions League and gobbles up the untold millions to be hoovered up from TV rights and merchandising to global on-line supporters.
But what if the Champions League morphs into the European ‘Super League’ it effectively is already? Or makes the jump into a global super league? The ‘big four, five or six' might be gone in the twinkling of an eye – but the not-so-big 15 remain. As does the audience. And how do you rebuild from that?
Not so long ago Bolton were one of the teams just outside the Champions League places, that nearly men status recently occupied by Charlton – and yes even, Ipswich. The churn below the clubs who have always had money, money, money is absolute. They come and go – and always have done.
But when the worst (or best) happens and the ‘big clubs’ move on what might give stability to and stimulate interest in a competition shorn of its alleged glamour clubs? Parity. It a chance for football, proper football to re-emerge from the trough and gutter.
The same income. The same opportunity. Everything shared. Every year a chance to reboot. In theory insolvency and destitution can be avoided – and there is opportunity for all.
You might scoff – but look at Ipswich Town fans today. The third division was allegedly something to be feared – a trapdoor to hell and beyond. But lo – a few wins, a few players to identify with and attendances are up and supporters are hopeful again – many are already showing arrogant, Waitrose-customer levels of entitlement. Again.
This in an era when Luton, Millwall and Charlton are playing at a higher level – and the unsung likes of Brighton, Southampton and Bournemouth are established in the Premier League.
Stoke perhaps threaten to become the new Sunderland. But give it a few years and it will all change – apart from the mini-league enriched by Europe. It was always thus – apart from the glass ceiling now firmly in place.
Maybe the answer lies with the vision of the NFL, themselves well into a decades-long expansion plan into the UK. A good few TWTD posters seem interested in the NFL. With the new season fast approaching, if you haven’t given it a try I urge you to watch a game or two. Perhaps even take a trip to London to watch one of the (admittedly now-hideously expensive) NFL matches.
They really are a spectacle and open your eyes on how to stage a sporting event. Failing that (and closer to home), The NFL Show is probably the most interesting and entertaining sports programme on television at present.
I got into NFL back in the 80s when I worked in Chicago. But I developed an irrational and enduring interest in the Cincinnati Bengals who I saw as the Ipswich of the NFL. I was probably wrong in that. The Ipswich of the NFL is almost certainly the Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay is a slightly awful, remote outpost way up in Wisconsin, population not much more than 100,000. They used to be good – and occasionally still are. Wholly owned by the fans and still competing with mega-franchises in the major cities, Green Bay Packers are a symbol of the sporting past that gives hope for the future.
They even have perhaps the greatest player of the last decade in quarterback Aaron Rodgers – a laid-back Californian plying his trade in an icy cold outpost in search of the superbowl trophy named after Vince Lombardi a legendary Robson-esque Green Bay coach of times past.
Green Bay are indeed the Ipswich of the NFL personified. Except they play in Norwich colours and they would never sell out their supporters - and their soul, to the offshore devil. Green Bay remain a beacon of unlikely hope in the chilly extremes of upstate Wisconsin.
This is of course only possible because the NFL distributes all income from all sources equally to every club (sorry, franchise). I’m not sure how such a meritocracy ever got off the ground – especially in the land of the fast buck. But when English football is forced to reorganise – and that time cannot be far away – I for one hope they take a long hard look at the NFL and restructure English football around the very core of what the game used to be about. Opportunity for all.
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