B teams: supporters must say no

Cod Almighty | Article

by Peter Anderson

13 June 2016

On Friday 10 June, the Football League voted to include Premier League B teams in an expanded Football League Trophy. Peter urges resistance.

Against League 3 banner

Supporters must unite and respond.

At a time when we need the Football League and club owners to be defiant and strong, they have failed us. Allowing Premier League B teams to enter the Football League Trophy is a step towards implementing their flawed 'League 3' proposals and the effective dismantling of the English football pyramid. We need to make it clear to our clubs and the owners that this will not stand.

Boycotting the team that you support is a drastic, and to some unpalatable, step to take. It must be done in the case of the B team fixtures. Furthermore, the clubs who voted against the proposal should boycott the competition and make it clear that they will not fulfil their fixtures against B teams.

The decision, and the process that produced it at the Football League AGM in Portugal last week, are both unsound. Taken without supporter consultation, the League lowered the threshold for acceptance in the ballot to 75 per cent. With confirmation that at least seven of the 48 clubs voted against, the proposal would not have passed using the League's normal voting threshold of 90 per cent.

Why should we make a fuss about the B team proposals? Grimsby Town and their fans reached the mountaintop on 15 May. A play-off victory at Wembley stadium sent them back into the Football League after a six-season absence. This will sound ridiculous to some people and I can't prove it as fact. It doesn't matter: I know it's true and thousands of other Mariners do too. Grimsby winning the Premier League or Champions League will not bring greater joy than that day.

Grimsby winning the Champions League will not bring greater joy than the play-off victory that sent them back into the Football League. These emotions are founded on the football pyramid

There are supporters of clubs across the country who will identify with this apparent illogical or irrational belief. Surely the thrill and exhilaration of victory and success rises in accordance with the level of the accomplishment? Not necessarily. To detail the reasons for the ecstasy of that Grimsby win would take thousands of words covering 15 years of dips and falls, and many other words for downward motion.

The sequence of events that gave rise to the ecstasy may be unique, but the feelings themselves are shared. Other teams have moved their fans to tears of joy in games that mean little to the wider sporting world. Football in England, and these emotions that it inspires, are founded on the pyramid. A beautifully simple and meritocratic structure that allows teams to enter at the lowest level and work their way up through the divisions. The story of AFC Wimbledon and their magnificent success this season is an example of this. Teams can also descend, only to joyously rise again, as Grimsby did.

The purity of this concept is under threat. Premier League club owners at the top of the pyramid envisage an endgame similar to sports in the US. A system where they are permanently positioned at the peak with the notion of relegation removed.

The Premier League is an organisation where football and purity are not the prime considerations. Decisions are not made in the interests of football or its supporters. They are made to benefit the owners, many of whom are not from the club's community and have backgrounds that make a mockery of the FA's 'fit and proper' assessment.

The acceptance and complicity go beyond the FA. The media is in a symbiotic relationship with the Premier League. Owners don't get scrutiny. They get limelight during the inevitable Match of the Day image of a smiling owner from Stamford Bridge or the Etihad after another win. Sickeningly, those at the forefront of turning football into a money-filled joke are lauded like kings. It's worth repeating: every decision is made for their benefit.

When you buy a Premier League team you want security for your investment. The pyramid, the structure at the core of football, is perceived as a threat. This attitude is at the core of sports executive Charlie Stillitano's comment in March, when discussing proposals to guarantee the most glamorous clubs a place in the European Champions League: "Did Manchester Utd create soccer or did Leicester?"

Relegation can mean the investment is seriously and irrevocably devalued. Premier League B teams are a step towards protecting this investment. Their presence in the pyramid undermines the basic rules of promotion and relegation and paves the way for their ultimate removal.

None of the reasons that the Premier League or the Football League put forward to support their plans for B teams will be genuine. Sounds unfair? Their proposal in May was for the pyramid to be replaced by a structure with a fifth tier that includes Premier League B teams. The cornerstone reason to support this change was to relieve fixture congestion. Put aside the fact that most fans in the pyramid were asking "What congestion?" The deceit is revealed by the agreement at the Football League meeting to allow Premier League B teams to enter an expanded Football League Trophy that will include group stages – and more fixtures.

The silver that the Premier League will pay for this betrayal is 0.0002 per cent of their TV deal. The existence of clubs undermined for a figure lost in the rounding

The silver that the Premier League will pay the Football League for this betrayal? £1 million. Less than 0.0002 per cent of the new Premier League TV deal. The Football League is willing to undermine the very existence of its clubs for a figure that is basically lost in the rounding. It represents a mere £20,000 per club if divided among the 48 in the Football League Trophy. A pittance that will surely be obliterated by the lower gates that the move will bring.

B teams playing against Football League sides is supposed to relieve bottlenecks in player development. But that is a problem of the Premier League's own making. Chelsea's astonishing 82-player retained list is indicative of the stockpiling that the clubs are guilty of. Rather than deal with the problem themselves with sensible limits on squad numbers, they are looking for help from the very organisation that they wish to destroy.

How have we arrived at a situation where the Premier League dominates football in England with no counter or defence from the Football League? The answer may lie in the identity of the League's chief executive. Shaun Harvey's background of leading Bradford and Leeds into a total of three administrations doesn't inspire confidence.

His attitude towards fan involvement is both depressing and revealing. During a 2011 House of Commons inquiry into football governance, Harvey stated that he didn't think supporters' trusts should be involved in the boardroom or club governance. "They (Leeds and Bradford) had very small boards with the ability to make answers quickly. The one thing for certain is the quicker you're able to make decisions – and effective decisions – in the knowledge of the full circumstances that surround the issues you're dealing with, the easier it is to be effective." When asked directly by the committee if supporter trusts should have a place in these small agile boards, Harvey answered that they should not.

Quick decisions without fan involvement? It seems cavalier and is an extraordinary strategy, yet this was the case in Portugal. Institutions with years of history and generations of support deserve far better.

If the Football League, if the owners of our clubs, do not know it for themselves, we must show them.

What should Town fans be doing to stop B team proposals in their tracks? Share your thoughts.

Photo: Against League 3 website