Earlier this month I attended the launch of BT Sport’s newest project, 100% Sport. The initiative focuses on “inspiring sports fans to take action in creating a more sustainable world”.
Let me tell you, sitting in a room all afternoon amongst people who think cycling to football matches solves all our problems is tough – especially when you’re hungover following Latics winning the league. (Still not got over the fact Kev McNaughton – our veteran full back – was chatting up the shots girl that night).
A well respected member of the Leeds United Supporters Trust was in attendance and gave a good speech on behalf of our particular group on what is important to us about football. An Everton fan went off on a rant about how public money has been spent on opening an Everton Free School, and he raised some important points to be fair to him. Football clubs shouldn’t be opening schools with central government funding which ultimately reduces the money given to that area’s local council.
Then there was the rep from one of Arsenal’s supporters’ branches who asked if any of us knew of any job vacancies he could apply for and the three Wigan fans who were the last ones standing at the free bar. And yes that was us, stuffing the remaining bottles of Portuguese beer into our bags before finally leaving.
Before that BT Sport’s Chief Operating Officer (Jamie Hindhaugh) faced a tough question and answer session. Jamie performed well and tackled various misconceptions fans have about broadcasters. Having said that, he was unable to defend selecting matches for TV coverage on such short notice and accepted that the distance an away team needs to travel has no impact on the fixtures BT Sport choose.
Like with most of his answers, Hindhaugh referred in some way to a higher power – someone above broadcasters that called the shots. It was, after all, a Football League initiative to have teams in the Championship, League One and League Two play long away trips in midweek (as voted for by the majority of those 72 clubs).
A cowardly proposition passed behind closed doors that almost all supporters are oblivious to. Whilst Wigan Athletic have not revealed how they voted, it is a disturbing that so many Football League teams are willing to tread on their most dedicated away supporters in this way.
But the bottom line is this: in this world of six and seven digit viewing figures, who cares to speak for three and four digit match-going supporters? As far as the majority of clubs in the Premier League and Football League along with BT Sport and Sky Sports are concerned, it seems if they can get away with acting in the interest of viewers rather than attendees, they will.
And if it’s not fans, it’s the smaller clubs in the 92 facing the brunt of radical plans. The EPPP [Elite Player Performance Plan] brought in a few years back “allows the Premier League’s wealthy elite to cherry pick the best youngsters from Football League clubs,” as Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish put it.
Unfortunately many lower league sides could again see themselves screwed over by a majority voting in favour of proposals to have five professional football leagues of 20 teams. Details on this have up to now been concealed and that’s likely to be with good reason – the threat of Greg Dyke’s B-team dream becoming reality.
Some League One and League Two clubs have claimed there could be a financial benefit gained from this which to be fair to them is a possibility. That’s until you see the backlash from fans of League One and League Two sides on social media, in fanzines and on sites like this one.
Nobody wants to go to Stoke City B away on a Tuesday night or face Southampton B at home in the cup. A Premier League Wigan Athletic side a few years back would probably see its B-team attract a strong amount of away supporters, but now we’ve had three seasons of fun and games outside the top flight – even our appetite for a trip to Southend or Crewe isn’t that desperate. And even then the novelty would wear off should there ever be one. Reserve/Under 21/Development Squad football (whatever it’s called nowadays) is a decent step up for academy players and there’s a revolutionary term called ‘loaning’ which has also been known to improve footballers.
We must guard the structure of football and continue to push for the changes that we as fans want to see.