The answer to the question posed in the title is ‘not at all’.
That is for starters, and I do want to be clear about this. I love football, and once upon a time, I loved it from the top to the bottom. To coin a rather popular saying from Bill Shankly (I believe), if Premier League football today was taking place in my garden, I’d draw the curtains. I care not one bit for the big six, not even the top nine. Having seen Sean Dyche’s comments recently, I’m not sure I care for any side or event in the top 20 teams in the country until it affects Lincoln City.
I think that gives me a different perspective on the big clubs right at the top of our leagues. Look, when it comes to B Teams, I made my feelings very clear and whilst I may be classed as a hypocrite for supporting the EFL Trophy, I make no apologies. I don’t believe the Under 21 sides being in the competition is the evil everyone claims and just because Covid has put the whole ridiculous B team debate back in the public eye doesn’t (in my opinion) mean that was the intention all along. I can happily debate this point until I get called names by left-wing supporters eager to hold on to their values and whilst I respect their position, I would like them to respect mine.
I also maybe have a different perspective to many when it comes to the proposed (and in my opinion doomed) power shift, because I don’t have a second team in the top flight. I haven’t watched live Premier League action for many, many years, I can’t remember the last time I even tuned in to Match of the Day.
Basically, the big Premier League clubs are proposing that their division is reduced from 20 to 18 and the money saved will be spread across the EFL making it sustainable. Everyone wins, except for the nine top-flight clubs that are not part of the voting elite. The big six (Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs) would get increased voting rights on major issues, with Everton, (and oddly) West Ham and Southampton joining them. Those clubs would essentially control top-flight football as a reward for giving us money they have made by sacrificing two of the weaker sides in their division. You have to admire the cheek of it really, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who feels those clubs already think they’re better than us.
Our reward for agreeing to this shift in power? A £250m rescue package, 25% of future PL revenue dropping down to the EFL, and a raft of other changes. The Football League would become 90 clubs, but the National League would get the four up, four down they have been craving for so long. The League Cup would be shelved, no big loss in my eyes despite our good fortune this season and the Community Shield would be obsolete too (maybe we could play the winners of the EFL Trophy against the Championship winners or something). Football would be changed for good, the big teams would hold the all the cards and effectively, we’d have our four-tiered system just with a super league at the very top that was harder to break into than ever before.
Of course, there has been plenty of hand-wringing, anger and outrage at the temerity of those big clubs. It’s expected these days, though, the whole ‘us v them’ scenario has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the haves are completely out of touch with the have nots. The big six want English football to sell its soul for more crumbs from the top table. Shockingly, I’m not actually angry about it.
As I said at the very top of the piece, I don’t care about the Premier League, nor the clubs contained within. I don’t believe it is an achievable dream to get there anymore either, not for clubs like us. Look at the teams drifting in and out of that level over the last few years, often they are clubs that yo-yo between the two divisions, or clubs like Bournemouth who have bought their way into the top table. The Holy Grail is the Championship and that is our ceiling, in my opinion. I appreciate people at the club might argue otherwise, but frankly what happens above the second tier only affects us in terms of what money comes down.
I’d have to look closely at the sort of sway those big clubs want and what protection there is for the structure of the game. I wouldn’t get behind it if they had the ability to drop B Teams into our structure, for example, or hold sway over the future direction of the EFL, but if they want their European Super League and their pre-season tours of Asia, then as far as I care they can bugger off and do it. The Premier League has long since lost touch with Lincoln City and real fans and for me, a seismic shift is maybe even needed. The current model is broken, if you don’t believe me ask clubs that rely on parachute payments (which would be abolished under the new proposals) and then end up being stripped of their money by rogue owners. Charlton and Bolton classic examples, whilst Sunderland and Villa both struggled once payments ended. We are seeing more clubs going into administration because they are chasing money, and whatever anyone says it is killing our game. I firmly believe a change is needed and if it were up to me, I’d cut the Premier League off right now, no promotion, no relegation, just sod off and do your own thing and let the rest of us do ours. I know we can’t because football needs the money those big clubs generate, but in my eyes as a football fan, the game I love stops at the top of the Championship. Genuinely, I wouldn’t thank you for Lincoln’s promotion to the Premier League. 5.35 pm kick-off times, desperate spending to keep up and a sense of losing sight of where you have come from and who you are (I’m looking at you, Dyche) aren’t for me.
There are other points within the proposal I quite like the sound of too. They haven’t moved to kick out FA Cup replays, so at least the magic of one cup would remain. There is also an overhaul of the loan system too, where loanee clubs could benefit from payments based on the future sale or performance of loaned players who they have a hand in developing. Let’s say, Alex Palmer does well this season and Man Utd snap him up for £20m, we might get a slice of the pie. It’s an interesting angle, and one that I think gives a good starting point for debate.
Every angle has a counter-angle of course. There is a concern around the fact four players from any one club could go to another club, creating feeder clubs of sorts, but then with three from West Brom right now, I don’t suppose Lincoln fans can complain. There is worry over what power those big clubs might yield over us and the EFL in general, but if they’re just powerful in terms of the Premier League, then sod it. This has been coming ever since 1992 I’m afraid and Covid-19 is just the final pinch on a zit that has been waiting to burst for nearly 30 years.
In my opinion, the argument that the elite are trying to create a closed shop at the top is moot. Aside from Leicester and Wolves recently, how many sides not in the nine elite clubs mentioned have finished inside the top six in the last 20 years? One or two, maybe? We are kidding ourselves if we think there is anything but a controlling elite at the top right now. They’re conducting a power struggle to simply rubber-stamp a situation that we are moving towards all the time and I get that people don’t like it, but what is the alternative? If these proposals are not passed, how long before something new comes along, something that is more of a threat to smaller clubs, such as an all-out breakaway, revenue and everything, into a full European Super League? It sounds fanciful, but so did finishing a season on PPG, or introducing VAR, or Lincoln briefly topping League One in successive seasons, but it could happen.
I know this article won’t go down well with everyone and I welcome counter-argument and those more knowledgable than I pulling it apart, but right now I don’t think Project Big Picture is a terrible idea. The devil might be in the details and I’d need to see the full proposal and the power those big clubs might get over us, but all negotiations have to have a start point and this is ours. Elements of the proposal do appeal to me as a fan and, as someone who doesn’t care about the Premier League, the implications don’t seem to directly affect me either. My only concern is with Lincoln City and the future for our club, not the English game as a whole. Sadly, it was irreversibly damaged in 1992 and many crises since have been as a direct result of that (ITV Digital, rogue owners, proposed B Team).
Maybe it is time to cut the big ones loose and take what we can from the broken pieces of our national game.