Date: 16th November 2009 at 11:36pm
Written by:

Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside has been in the news recently with his proposals for changes to the Premier League structure.

His suggestion that Celtic and Rangers are invited to join the party has already been rejected, fourteen clubs deciding that this part of the proposal was neither desirable or viable. Sensible, you may think, with the worry that it may affect the status of the national teams of England and Scotland within FIFA.

But if you look closer, it may be just self-interest that led a majority of PL chairmen to turn away the two most successful but financially pressured Scottish clubs. It’s perhaps understandable that they want to protect their own position, but there’s a warning light flashing there for all Championship clubs with an aspiration to make it into the ‘promised land’.

Gartside proposes a two-tier Premier League structure of 18 teams per division, with the subtle suggestion that all this is required because the gap between the Champsionship and the Premier League is widening at an alarming rate. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Not to me. Let’s read on a little. Gartside says that addressing ‘the polarisation of clubs and the increasing revenue differentials will be the major strategic issue for the Premier League over coming years’ and also that a ‘fear factor’ was ‘beginning to emerge among Premier League clubs outside the top few’.

OK, lets rephrase that. Phil is scared. His club is in debt and if Bolton drop down, they might be lost for ever, because they won’t have the revenue to service their debt, even if all the players are sold, because the player worth won’t cover that debt.

We read on further. Gartside originally suggested there would be no promotion and relegation (can you see where this is going?) but his new plan is believed to include limited scope for relegation and promotion of those teams who are not originally one of the selected 36 PL clubs. We have no details yet of what criteria clubs would have to satisfy to achieve promotion, even if they topped the League below the new Premiership. This scares me.

Would a club be denied promotion if (as proclaimed by the New PL) its ground was ‘too small’? We would hope Wednesday would be OK in this respect having the 12th biggest ground in England.

Would a club be denied promotion if its ‘fan base’ wasn’t big enough? Again, we would hope we’re OK, but what if the New PL said ‘OK, there are two teams in Sheffield and only one of them can be in the Premiership’. Hmm. Our friends across town might not be too happy about that either.

Would a club be denied promotion if its away support wasn’t big enough, or of the away end of its own ground couldn’t contain enough fans of the big clubs?

Or would a club be denied promotion if its debt was too large, despite several of the sainted top flight already being in hock with sums greater than the GDP of small African countries? I begin to worry.

Take Burnley, for example. Would a club like that make it in to the Premier League under Gartside’s new proposals? Turf Moor is a venerable old stadium with a fine tradition, but it is only the 43rd biggest ground in England, with an average home crowd of around 13000 in its last Championship season (and that in a successful year) and it’s pretty close to Bolton (and indeed Manchester).. tell us, would that be good enough, Phil?

Can we be comforted by the fact that all this requires not only the approval of those in the Premier League but the FA too? That doesn’t comfort me one iota, since the FA can regularly be relied on to do the wrong thing.

The Premier League clubs will tell us that they distribute TV revenue very fairly and we should count ourselves lucky.

But a two-tier Premier League with restricted promotion and relegation? Top flight football in this country could be about to change into a closed shop. Not content with ripping the heart and soul out of football with commercial considerations at every turn, some chairmen, Phil Gartside now prominent amongst them, now want to destroy the game as we know it.