Part 3: The Government, The Fans And What Happens Next? 

Darren Young


Darren has spent four years working for The Fan Experience Company and is a UEFA Mentor. He is responsible for assessment reports that in 2019/20, went to over 200 clubs in 13 countries. 

He has a background in working on customer service excellence projects in the UK and Europe, and an MBA that included studying customer service in the USA . 

Our three-part blog that looks at the fallout from Project Big Picture concludes with the final stakeholders (including the most important one and the one that everyone wants well out of it – I’ll let you decide which is which) concludes and also asks, where do they go from here?

The Government


Front and centre – in the eyes of many including club owners – of all this was the government and their incompetent handling of most things Covid. The #LetFansIn campaign already outlines the dissent to measures that allow pubs and theatres to open but doesn’t allow people in socially-distanced outdoor stadiums at a reduced capacity.

Peter Moore, who left the Liverpool CEO position in August, puts this existential crisis for football clubs on their shoulders. As did MacAnthony, Millwall chief Steve Kavanagh and Brighton’s, Paul Barber, to name a few. It’s not unfair. They dithered for so long, expecting the Premier League to find the money, while bailing out others including over £1.5bn to the arts – nothing helps fuel a North / South class divide quite like that one. And so the fallout from PBP gets them out of a jam.

But the alternative would have been to have them more involved, and that could have been the death knell for not just clubs, but the game in general. This is the same government, after all, that wants ballerinas to give up their dreams and fight cyber-crime and who’ve put students in the godawful mess they are in right now; miles from home doing online course while being blamed for a second wave. And that’s on top of all the other corona-related calamities they’ve had a hand in since March.

On Monday, Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, threatened that ‘if the Premier League doesn’t get its act together, the Government will have to step in.’ That is the last thing anyone wants or needs. The only option worse than delayed action is this bunch trying to fix it when they have royally screwed up everything else they’ve touched since this pandemic started. Maybe, leave football to people who know the game and stick to sorting track and trace, eh?


The Fans


The government’s manifesto (it did have other things than Get Brexit Done, would you believe?) included a review of football. Nice words but with very little action. Dowden also said “Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that may undermine them is deeply troubling. Fans must be front of all our minds, and this shows why our fan led review of football governance will be so critical.”

Whilst the first part is hard to say out loud without laughing, you also wonder when or if this review will take place, if ever. Or is it more like telling people what they want to hear?

It’s true that such an approach would be brilliant, and also that fans didn’t get a lot of consultation about the Big Picture but leaked documents tend to create that issue. The reaction from fans was, understandably, wide ranging and again, often depends on perspective, who you support and what division they are in. A few on the BBC were varied to say the least:

  • A lot of the proposals make sense, but it would be silly to miss out on a chance to make further change.
  • Anyone that thinks it’s OK that established successful clubs have the power to veto takeovers of those trying to improve their circumstances does not have the interest of the game at heart.
  • It’s an unashamed power grab by those clubs with the most money and laughs in the face of democracy.

Some EFL clubs’ fans didn’t have the luxury of deciding what was best for the game in the long term. From a choice of something now or nothing, they’ll take the one that means they still have a club.

I did see a fan (of a Premier League club presumably)  tweet one view that we should ‘let the big 6 go and we have a better league without them.’ But while that might get some nods of agreement, the reality is it would be removing the thing that makes it so marketable. Just watch how much the TV deals decrease if that happens and how much more the Big 6 would command in individual deals with broadcasters. Careful what you wish for.


Where Next?


We’ll not know immediately if this has ushered in change or simply kicked the argument into the long grass. It has certainly smoked out alternative solutions; who knows, that might be exactly what was intended in the first place by the leaker of the document.

As yet, no agreement has been reached and the EFL have rejected the initial £50m offer from the Premier League to help out League One and Two clubs, saying it ‘falls short’ of what is required. There is also the Championship to consider as, despite the insistence that they aren’t impacted as much, they have been paying full salaries throughout yet have received no gate income since mid-March, with warnings of up to half a dozen clubs being in danger of folding.

What this pandemic has done very well, apart from the obvious, is exacerbate the problems that were contained in English football so that the practices and day-to-day running of clubs can’t be hidden any longer. We could argue for months about where the fault lies, but that it can’t continue like this is an easy one to agree on. So, change has never been more necessary; be it the Big Picture or a completley different picture.

Darragh MacAnthony knew that PBP wouldn’t happen and said it was an unfortunate distraction from the looming cliff edge. But maybe, rather than distract, it’s actually focussed minds in the pressing concerns and the game’s long term future.

In the PBP proposals, reducing the 92 league clubs to 90 was one of the smaller points contained within. But unless action had been taken, finding ninety viable clubs in the first place would have been difficult enough. Now there is a chance to get it right for the foreseeable future.

In 1974-5, the production of Jaws was, to put it mildly, a troubled one. From issues with actors, problems with budget, unwanted influence from above (sound familiar) to the obvious difficulties of filming at sea, it’s a miracle that the film was ever made at all. But it was, somehow, and is now widely considered a masterpiece and the perfect summer blockbuster. The end justified the means. Everyone involved eventually came together and made it happen.

Proof that, even if it gets extremely messy along the way, the final big picture can end up looking much better than anyone expected it to. Over to you, stakeholders.



Part 2: The Government, The Fans And What Next? Click Here to Read

Part 1: The Government, The Fans And What Next? Click Here to Read

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