Latest from the CEO.
Good evening and welcome to another sold-out Elland Road. The quality shown for 90 minutes against Leicester City and in the first 45 minutes at Spurs, plus the resilience shown in a less than convincing performance at Brighton, should be enough for all of us to believe we have the capability to soon return to winning ways.
However, although the squad has always appreciated the challenges of the second Premier League season, there is an acceptance that we need to be more consistent to reach our high internal standards and, most importantly, that results need to follow.
At the time of writing both Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling are due to make returns to the Under-23s and Robin Koch is making steady progress which will hopefully return us to the full first-team contingent that we have, as yet, been unable to field this season. In the meantime, it is essential that the team’s belief is shared by supporters. We must not let the unity that has been a pillar of Marcelo’s reign be compromised.
In wider football news it came as no surprise, in a week where the glorious leader of our nation enthralled the globe with his searing insights on Peppa Pig World, that his government should back the report calling for Whitehall to formally meddle in both the UK’s greatest foreign export and also the deepest and most flourishing professional pyramid in world football.
Of the 47 recommendations contained in the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance there was much to applaud. Increased supporter consultation, heritage shares, renewed focus for the women’s game and improving equality and diversity (among others) will all be met with almost unequivocal support.
However, the two most significant recommendations are as flawed as they are radical. The first is the demand for independent regulation and the second is an increased transfer levy to redistribute increased funds further down the football pyramid. These proposals have been conflated to address the very separate issues of the demise of Bury, the threat of the European Super League and the takeover of Newcastle United.
Forgetting that independent regulation has not proven to be a panacea for any industry (take Ofwat presiding over three billion litres of leaked water every year and thousands of hours of illegal raw sewage disposal in our nation’s waterways as a case in point), it is hard to see the value an independent regulator would have added to the perceived issues. We should remember that the European Super League was so repugnant in its conception and so seditious in its execution that the game and its supporters regulated it out of existence without the need for a third party.
When it comes to the takeover of Newcastle it is inconceivable that a retired civil servant in the pocket of Westminster would have made the call that, while it is morally acceptable to trade billions of pounds worth of arms to an oppressive regime, it is morally unacceptable for them to own 11 teenage millionaires who kick around an inflated pig’s bladder.
On the recommendations around financial redistribution, it seems to have been conveniently forgotten that the Premier League distributed £1.5b to the wider football pyramid in the last three years, with a further commitment for another £1.6b in the next three. I don’t believe there is any industry where its biggest entities donate at anywhere near that level to both their aspiring competitors and their community. There is already a four per cent levy on transfer fees which is distributed between a player pension fund and Academy investment. Football is a private sector business and has flourished that way. Enforcing upon football a philosophy akin to Maoist collective agriculturalism (which students of “The Great Leap Forward” will know culminated in the greatest famine in history) will not make the English game fairer, it will kill the competition which is its very lifeblood.
Teams further down the pyramid do not need their means artificially inflated, they need to live within them. As a recently promoted team we were asked by the review what we would have done with increased funds if Premier League teams had been forced to financially contribute to our promotion campaign and the answer (although more eloquently expressed) was, fundamentally, that we would have still blown it on Pawel Cibicki.
Would an increased redistribution of wealth have saved Bury? The answer is: “Probably not.” There is a false narrative that the English game is unsustainable when a glance at the league table of 50 years ago, all, bar less than a handful of teams, shows all the protagonists are still operating professionally today. Which other industry could boast such sustainability? The beauty of the English pyramid is the depth of competition. For every fallen giant there is a new ambitious club striving to compete. In the same way Leeds United have no God-given right to be in the Premier League, the right of an emerging and innovative Forest Green Rovers to league football is no less than that of an historic Notts County. The determining factor to their relative status should be no more than how well they are run on and off the pitch, in an unadulterated competitive environment.
Redistribution of wealth will simply favour the lowest common denominator, clubs who excel in recruitment, player development or commercial enterprise will be punished, while less capable ownership will be rewarded for incompetence. Core to the villainy of the European Super League plot was its attack on the very spirit of sporting competition. It would be the ultimate irony if the report that was designed to respond to this threat achieved exactly the same outcome, but by different means.
However, the most significant political discussions in English football this week did not take place in the corridors of Westminster, but at the home of Eddie and Linda Gray where I was treated to dinner. Eddie passionately regaled us with stories of his lifetime of service and Don Revie, Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter et al which reinforced our wonderful and uniquely colourful history.
As I left and stumbled into the dark and cold Yorkshire night, I turned to read a sign on the front door which read, “Welcome to the Home of the Grays – nobody leaves here sober”. I may not have been sober, but I left even more inspired to play my small part in helping to make our club great again.
Marching on Together