the real fa cup


The thing about the Football Association, as an entity, is that they have made a rod for their own back by even allowing the Premier League to exist. There are many and varied reasons why the Premier League came to pass and, it’s fair to say, the current FA administration had nothing to do with that. But, they’re stuck with it and they have to deal with it. Their control over English football has waned because of it and, as we’ve said before, to support their income they’re left with a comatose knock-out tournament damaged by the earlier submission to the money league and a national side most obviously suffering because of that submission. Extrapolate from that as you wish.

So, given the FA Cup isn’t exactly a money-spinner and international football, the World Cup, is still perceived as the pinnacle of the sport, the FA, pragmatically, have to protect their interest. A strong set of English players at the top level is how they are able to protect the brand of Team England. But, as we’ve known for a while and as has just been illustrated with their embryonic plan for a b-side league betwixt League 2 and the Conference, this is at odds with their primary raison d’être, which is to protect the integrity of the game in England at all levels. ALL LEVELS.

This week’s FA Commission document is a far more wide-ranging beast than just the b-side league but, as of now, that is the issue that has raised most chagrin on our Twitter timeline in the last 24hrs, though as a wise man said yesterday …

It’s  fair to say that our followers and readers have a specific agenda and fans of Premier League teams and Team England might well feel this proposition is a good one. However, when you have (apologies to both) the likes of Henry Winter and Ollie Holt raising a concerned eyebrow at something, you know there has to be a problem.

The thing that most commenters seem to have hit on is that the commission’s report says that “By creating spaces within the current footballing pyramid, no clubs would be displaced by this system.”  Comforting words until you consider that the mere creation of a new league at tier 5 means that the (maximum) 14 clubs who do not make the new league will effectively find themselves not in tier 5 but in tier 6. Ditto, those in tier 6 will be in tier 7 etc. Self-evidently, all leagues below the proposed League 3 will of course be displaced and further away from the promised land of professional football.

And that is exactly how the very few non league clubs to, as yet, publicly comment have interpreted it:

This feeling was somewhat echoed by an unsurprisingly terse statement from the Football Conference itself (who incidentally represent none of the clubs we’ve quoted above).

The statement seems to broadly reflect the views of non league football clubs and fans and illustrates the schism within the game between the haves and the have nots. But, what the Conference statement, and recent actions, also illustrate is that there is a schism between upper and lower non league. With the statement “We, like all supporters, wish to see the national team successful on the world stage but not to do it in a manner which threatens the whole existence of the Pyramid, on which the solid base of our whole game is dependent”, the Conference seek to unite non league clubs and fans behind the idea that “the Pyramid” is everything and it’s a thing they themselves hold dear.

That may be true but it is very selective when you consider that only a few months ago the Conference clubs themselves were barring entry into their competition for clubs in leagues below with new 3G/4G plastic pitches. This seemed, at the time, incredibly short-sighted and unnecessarily restrictive on clubs who increasingly need those type of facilities to be financially viable.

Essentially, that Conference decision was born out of self-interest. And their stance on League 3 is also born out of self-interest but yet brazenly still they seek to unite non league football against the self-interest of the FA. This is splitting hairs and unfair on the Conference, also not entirely relevant to the actual issue – but it’s worth pondering because it is very unlikely that the Conference is actually commenting on behalf of grassroots football, because the Conference is not really grassroots football, it  is (partly) concerned with profit and promoting their own agenda just as much as the FA.

However, the topic of 3G pitches is relevant and, although the timing of the Conference vote on that issue was unfortunately timed, the FA do not exactly come out of it smelling of roses either. During Greg Dyke’s press conference he noted that:

As of now, the FA can point to the fact that they allow 3G pitches in all competitions at all levels and, presumably, those were the grounds for Greg Dyke to make this comment. However, the shortage of facilities to which Mr Dyke refers are almost entirely because the FA had, until three months ago, steadfastly refused to countenance them. (In fairness that is likely the cue from which the Conference sides took theirs when taking their vote on whether to allow 3G pitches.) Basically, Mr Dyke was bemoaning the absence of something that until recently they themselves would neither allow in the ‘proper’ rounds of the FA Cup nor, more importantly, the FA Youth Cup to which the facilities are a) more important and b) the focus of his comment.

Here is the rub and indeed the staging post of the schism. The FA has a duty to the grassroots of the game, it also has a need to fund itself in the best and most economical way possible. The FA’s funds are largely gleaned from the England team and it is becoming increasingly clear that ensuring a successful England team is incompatible with their duty to the grassroots of the game.

Resolutions? Well, yep, in fairness to the FA there is no easy answer. Is the answer to ensure young English talent gets a foot up by playing in the lower leagues? Two things  immediately spring to mind.

Firstly, it seems unlikely that Englishplayers will gain much from competitive football three divisions below the target, surely playing at a higher level (Championship or a lower ranked country’s top flight) by way of loan would be more beneficial? Secondly, there is no guarantee in the FA”s scant proposals that ensure the players in the Premier League b-sides have to be English. Indeed, that is not possible to restrict due to European Law.

How about we split the England side from the governance side of the FA? Maybe sell (or lease) the England team to the Premier League to fund grassroots and so the PL have an incentive to look after it? Left-field ideas are go tho week!

Whatever the answer actually is, a league of Premier League b-sides does not seem a logical one. It also seems that it is an unpopular one, though not universally so. As several commentators have pointed out, the b-side league plan may well be a stalking horse for a different idea. Either way, non league football waits with baited breath.

Headline courtesy @DannyLast

1 Comment
  1. The B league system is a great idea – we need to come out of our old ways and adapt to the modern, more efficient and proven to work system that is used within Spain. How these conference clubs can claim their relegation will stunt the growth is football is beyond me – since when has a rising England star come through the ranks of the conference bar maybe a Rickie Lambert? No disrespect though… But – the greater good.

Leave a Reply to Kyle Stephenson-Wood

Non League Day
Bobby Robson Foundation