Armchair Pundit

The evil threat that doesn’t exist

Alex Chick

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This week, defenders of English football have been
circling the wagons against a proposal that could destroy the game as we know

Plans are afoot, we have been told, to eliminate promotion
and relegation from the Premier League.

Foreign owners supposedly want to create an exclusive group
of carefree money-makers, unburdened by worldly concerns like finishing in
the bottom three.

And it has created quite the furore.

It has echoes of the '39th game' controversy, when the
suggestion of playing an extra Premier League game abroad was met with outrage.

That time it was Richard Scudamore who mooted the idea
- logically enough since he is the chief executive of the Premier League.

But the 'no relegation' scheme was actually outlined
by one of its opponents - League Managers' Association chief exec Richard Bevan (pictured).

Bevan cited unnamed "overseas-owned clubs already
talking about bringing the avoidance of promotion and relegation in the Premier

He might be right, but the fact that none of these
clubs has made their intentions public tells you everything about the likelihood
of it ever happening.

So too, does Bevan's vocal opposition to the idea.

If anybody were to come out in favour, you might
imagine it would be the LMA - by eliminating relegation, you might reduce the
need for short-term results and increase managers' chances of staying in work
longer than five minutes.

But Bevan, like the rest of us, realises it is a
stupid idea.

Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of US-owned Manchester
United, said the move would be tantamount to "suicide".

Wigan owner Dave Whelan got typically aerated,
saying: "It's a worrying thought that if we get 14
or 15 foreign owners, they come up with some mad idea and it gets voted
through. It would ruin and kill English football."

Those pesky foreign owners, eh? Always trying to kill English football. I suspect Whelan is misinterpreting their intentions somewhat.

They want to make money. It may not be the
purest motive, but financial gain can hardly be achieved through a scheme that
would prove universally unpopular and do huge damage to the reputation of
English football.

Certain foreign owners might think it is a nice dream,
but they know it is a non-starter.

People are raging against a menace that simply does
not exist - I have not heard anybody come out in favour of abolishing

OK, that's not strictly true.

Collymore proposed it two years ago in a column with logical flaws so big you
could see them from space.

He said teams should be elected to the Premier League based on who has
the most over the last 100 years".

Bad news for Wigan and Swansea. Good news for
Leeds, Nottingham Forest and West Ham. And Huddersfield, for that matter.

Worse, Collymore's system rules
out the possibility of any new clubs contributing over the next hundred years, because
they will be denied entry.

In any case, a brief outlining of an idea does not equate to a concrete scheme. I'd quite like to see points abolished and leagues decided on goal difference alone, but I don't have a rigorously thought-out plan to make it work, nor do I expect anybody (and I really do mean anybody) to agree with me.

Leaving Collymore to one side,
the scheme cannot work because British football culture - and that of most European
countries - is incompatible with a franchise system.

It might work in the United
States, but it would take a colossal misjudgement to think it could be
transported to Britain (or any other major football country).

Franchises work when one team
represents an entire community - and only the biggest cities have more than one
team per sport.

If you come from Pittsburgh,
you are a Steelers fan. Chicagoans back the Bulls, and Bostonians root for the
Red Sox.

Try explaining to the people of
Sheffield that if they would be kind enough to merge their clubs, they could
have a spot in the Premier League.

Supporters of Wednesday and
United, even those hailing from outside South Yorkshire, would rather languish
in the third tier than gain top-flight status via a merger.

It is fashionable to think that
football fans have lost their power, but that is not the case.

Fans (or 'customers' as they are now described) are the only generators of
wealth for clubs. The gate receipts, the television money, the sponsorship - it
all derives from the simple fact of people wanting to watch football, whether
in person or on the TV.

If people walk away from
football, they take their money with them.

Globalisation might broaden the
profile of who these fans are, but it does not lessen their power.

Which is why, if someone comes
up with an idea that the fans hate, it is simply not going to happen.

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