B team plan not even good enough for the reserves

7 May

SOME ideas just never go away. They simply lie dormant until something happens to trigger a debate once again. One such notion is that of decimating the traditional English 92-club system to suit the larger clubs.
This idea has taken many forms. A few years back, chairmen like Phil Gartside of Bolton talked of a two-tier Premier League with no promotion and relegation, which conceivably could have taken the name “The Pull The Ladder Up and Sod The Rest League Divisions One and Two”. This idea was never really a goer, born as it was in the minds of club chairmen who knew their clubs would only have a limited time in the top flight and wanted to make sure they never endured the hardship of the lower leagues again.
Now we have the Big B Team Plan. This has been championed by managers, many of them foreign (such as Andre Villas-Boas) who believe that Premier League reserve teams should be able to compete in the lower divisions because it would provide young players with more competition and get them to play in front of proper crowds.
These plans always come on the flimsy pretence it would “help the England team” and obviously have nothing to do with the big clubs’ desire to monopolise all the wealth in the English game. The FA chairman, Greg Dyke, should know better. He was non-executive chairman of Brentford FC for seven years. But this did not stop him and the rest of his commission set up to improve the England team (note no fans are on this panel of ‘experts’) pitching the idea to the FA board earlier today, presumably on the back of an assumption that because Villas Boas is Portuguese, and Portugal are better than England, his idea must be revolutionary.
The exact plan is to insert a division between League Two and the Conference, where reserve teams would play. They could win promotion as far up as League One but no further, and they could be relegated as far down as the Conference. They would not be allowed to participate in the FA Cup (ironically where most top clubs play their reserves). So poor old Bristol Rovers would suffer the ignominy of being relegated two divisions in one fell swoop, despite 10,000 supporters attending their last game of the season. Clubs in the Conference, proud ex-league clubs such as Wrexham and Hereford who retain a hardcore support in their respective communities, would suddenly be cut adrift.
Premier League fans in support of the idea have been trotting out wildly inaccurate statements on the bottom half of the internet, claiming it would be good for clubs like ours because more people would come and watch. No they wouldn’t. I for one wouldn’t turn up to see us pit our wits against some side’s reserve team. It would be no more than glorified pre-season friendlies, opposition kids barely trying in case an injury damages their chance of a call-up for the first team. You’d soon get earthy managers like Aidy Boothroyd instructing 32-year-old bruiser centre halves to “make sure that flash kid knows he’s in a game early on”. And how many of these reserve team players are English anyway? A quick scroll through Man City’s Development Squad web pages reveals Spaniards, Belgians, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, a Norwegian and an Austrian.
The logistics simply haven’t been thought through. Would the B-teams play at their club’s home ground? And risk damaging the pitch with a vital Champions League qualifier coming up? No, they’d play at a training ground with no supporter facilities. And what if one of these games was an important one for the opposition? What if Sheffield United turned up with 2,000 away fans to Cobham training ground? What would they eat? Where would they sit? It doesn’t bear thinking about really.
People trot out the line that “it works in Spain”. Well, Spain doesn’t really have the same football culture as we do. Gates in Spain’s second tier aren’t great and there isn’t really a culture of away supporters like there is here. In their third tier, the attendances are proper non-league level. To put it in perspective, Portsmouth had 18,000 for their last home game of the season. Wolves took 9,000 fans to Franchise FC in March. The reason Spain are so good isn’t because their second string gets to play in front of 800 fans against Bergantinos. It’s because the number of qualified coaches outnumbers ours by about 10 to one and they are not yelled at on local pitches from an early age to “just get rid of it” by dads intent on living their dreams through their kids.
Whenever I go abroad and speak to locals about Southend, they are constantly amazed that a team in the fourth tier of English football regularly gets gates of 6,000+. They just can’t comprehend it. Our pyramid system is the envy of the world. Why does our own governing body want to jeopardise that in the hope (and it is just hope) that the England team might achieve more once every four years?
And there’s not just football at stake here. There’s civic pride at risk, communities can be bound together by their football club. How often do you see whole towns turn up for trophy/promotion parades? It gives people of a community, particularly in areas struggling due to the closure of traditional industry, something to unite behind. The support for clubs in towns like Burnley, Huddersfield, Blackburn and Oldham is something to behold considering the amount of wealthy, successful clubs around them. Those supporters are proud of their town and football gives them a vehicle with which to show that. If you take that away, you risk having hordes of young men roaming town centres on a Saturday afternoon with nothing to do and nothing to believe in. Not an ideal combination.
If the best interests of the game were truly at the heart of this, why not ring-fence some of the TV billions for clubs lower down the leagues to hire more coaches and spend more on developing young players? It’s bizarre that four or five clubs should have to coach all the young talent. Squads in the bottom couple of divisions are made up mostly of British players, it is here where there is potential to improve youngsters. Ramping up facilities for smaller clubs would surely be just as beneficial to the England team in the long run.
The whole thing stinks of a plan to kill the lower leagues and get more revenue to the top clubs. But if it does go through, us fans won’t play ball. No self-respecting Southend supporter I know would take the bait and, having seen any form of competition at our level obliterated, suddenly become a duvet cover-buying, half-and-half scarf-waving, Sky Sports-subscribing Chelsea/Spurs/Arsenal enthusiast. We would simply not bother with the game anymore. And certainly not the England team, with whom our empathy as supporters seems to fade with every tabloid story about another £300k-a-week contract to someone already richer than God.
If a half-baked plan like this kills off our club in the name of England, I certainly won’t have any desire to cheer them on anymore. The love of the game in smaller communities across England – and some of those communities themselves – would simply die. Clearly Dyke and co need a plan B. It’s time this idea was filed away for good.

4 Responses to “B team plan not even good enough for the reserves”

  1. Joseph Rutter May 7, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    Well said!

  2. Bryan Woodford May 9, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    Great response to a ridiculous proposal. The Premier League only represents 20 teams out of 92 English professional clubs. The Football League is much bigger and the PL ‘tail’ cannot be allowed to wag the dog! Football in England and the UK as a whole is much more important than just the PL and England winning more games.

  3. Paul Taylor May 9, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Couldn’t agree more. A sound and intelligent response to a poor poor idea. In over 50 years as a born and bred Southend supporter, hardly missing a home game and having been to over a hundred away grounds, I am not going to start now supporting Arsenal Hotspurs A or B teams. I have no interest in Premiership football and an ever decreasing interest in the England team.

    In fact in all my years watching God knows how many matches, no more than about 20 have not had Southend United playing in them. Then only when I take a game when on holiday. Thats what English football is about, supporting your local team, come what may. Not becoming a Sky Ranger and following a lot of overpaid underbrained ponces on Sky Sports Sunday or paying the equivalent of many peoples weekly wage to go to a live game.

    My standing joke with all the local imported Hamsters is that our friendly pre season game against that team from East London, whose name does won’t pass my lips, is always a charity match. Southend only put it in each year so the so called Hamster “fans” can afford to go to at least one live game a year.

    Paul Taylor—– Southend, and only Southend, till they put me in my box, and even then I shall be wearing my shirt. No Southend, no football.

  4. Prent Williamson May 9, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    While I agree with the majority of what you say, at the same time the thought of someone like Ryan Giggs coaching a Man Utd team in the lower leagues would give him great experience and young players a competitive environment in which to play.

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