Wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous 2022.
This is our first article of what promises to be a busy year for all Supporters Trusts, and we would like to begin it by wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous 2022.
While the year may be a new one, many of the challenges that English football faces are very familiar. Rising debt, competition integrity and governance remain as important as they ever were ; closer to home, we find ourselves contending with the more familiar issues around poor form, a lame Cup exit and a lengthening injury list. The first four months of the year are pivotal for our club’s prospects on the pitch.
That said, we do start from a decent position. The cushion to the bottom three is a good one, and given how they are performing, as little as four wins and a sprinkling of draws should be enough to ensure that this ends up being a season of consolidation - and in August most of us would have viewed that as a real success.
The step up from League One to the Championship is the second biggest in British football, and making it successfully would be an achievement for which we should take great pride.
The club faces a huge managerial challenge in ensuring that the club flourishes at this level, given how football is currently run. We have many times pointed out the huge gulf between the top two tiers of the English game, and the way in which this affects the spending of some clubs. Add in parachute payments to perhaps half a dozen clubs and it is easy to see how a club with average crowds of around 12,000 has something of a mountain to climb.
This of course means that the club has to be creative in finding ways to compete. We are clearly prepared to spend significant sums when circumstances demand it ; but we seem to be developing a modus operandi that involves recruitment of mainly lower league players who are young, upwardly mobile, athletic, flexible and intelligent.
This puts a huge premium on good scouting and recruitment - and there will be misses as well as hits - but when done properly does prove that managerial competence can sometimes trump spending power. It is likely that some familiar names who yo-yo between the top two Divisions will dominate the promotion shake up in the Championship in May. But the success of clubs like Blackpool, Coventry and Luton adds a huge amount to the pull of the Division.
Elsewhere, the poor management of the game by the ruling authorities continues to frustrate. We have asked you more than once to empathise with the fans of Derby County and make no apologies for doing so as the club’s troubles with the EFL enter a THIRD calendar year. At the time of writing one of the potential bidders for the club has quit the arena ; Mike Ashley has reportedly headed in the opposite direction ; but the administrators have still not named a preferred bidder, are fighting off unwanted legal claims from Middlesbrough and Wycombe Wanderers and still have to negotiate a deal on debts with HMRC. And we haven’t mentioned the small issue of who will own Pride Park. It continues to be a mess that the EFL in particular should be ashamed of.
Those of you who follow governance matters at all closely will have heard the term “competition integrity” bandied around regularly by the people who run the game. In the interests of giving the EFL a rest, we thought we would this month concentrate on the FA and the EPL instead.
The FA made what looks a very clumsy decision with regard to the FA Cup this season when they decided that VAR would be used - but only for those ties taking place at Premier league clubs who have the technology in place. On the face of it, this might appear non-controversial ; the technology exists, why not use it? The problem is, however, that this means that a small number of games are being refereed in one manner - while the vast majority are being refereed in another. What might be judged a penalty at Old Trafford is not necessarily going to get the same verdict at Aggborough.
It is also a matter of great regret that the FA also decided that the third round could be managed without recourse to replays. This is, of course, routinely blamed on fixture congestion, but all the football authorities from FIFA downwards continue to try to shoehorn more and more games - or revenue generating opportunities - into the calendar, thus creating that congestion themselves. The clubs who end up suffering are - naturally - the lower league clubs who hope for the chance of a home draw against top opposition, and possibly the chance of a replay that will generate revenue (that phrase again) that might actually change their future - as opposed to merely topping up the coffers . We think it is a retrograde step, and have noted the promises made about it being a “one off”. We will see.
At least the FA took a strong line on clubs seeking COVID related postponements and - surprise surprise - the programme took place on time and pretty much unscathed, which just goes to show that clubs can fulfil fixtures when the prospect of forfeiting them if they don’t play exists.
That sort of rigour doesn’t seem to be carrying over into the League programme. Here, there have been a lot of short-notice postponements and almost no transparency about the rules, and the way in which they are being applied. We have heard Neil Critchley express his frustrations about this, and he is by no means the only person doing so. In fact, at least one Premier League club is asking that any players who are signed in January be precluded from playing in matches that should have taken place before their transfer - but were postponed. If this seems like a potentially big can of worms - that is because it is. To be fair to the ruling authorities, COVID is a huge headache they could well have done without. But the way it is being managed is unclear to many, and in turn this erodes what sympathy fans might have.
If you have read this far, you may have gathered that the way in which our national game is being run continues to cause us great concern. BST is working hard to progress this debate on behalf of our members and we need and value your support and your contributions now more than ever. If you have never been a BST member, please consider joining us and helping to shape our future or if you have allowed your membership to lapse recently, please contact us so we can get you back on board. We hope 2022 may indeed be the year in which many of these concerns get properly addressed so please help us continue with our best endeavours in supporting the case for change.