As one of those persistently irritated by the constantly reinforced myth that professional football came into existence in 1992, the end of the first quarter-century of the Premiership seems an appropriate time to consider its future direction.
Setting aside the perceived strengths of the “best league in the world” – which are wholly dependent upon the inter-related factors of finance and television exposure – a focus on its weaknesses might not only be salutary but provide pointers to the next twenty-five years. Three of these weaknesses are much less well-rehearsed in media circles although there are corners of the once-respected profession of journalism that continue to strike a non-deferential tone.
Firstly, a lack of competitiveness: six clubs dominate, ‘Everton Seventh’ slot into their appointed place and 13 other sides spend the season looking anxiously at the dotted line and wondering whether they should have appointed Sam Allardyce as their manager.
Secondly, the disruptive impact of TV scheduling not only for away supporters but for home supporters who do have other lives to lead.
Thirdly, the impact of relegation from the élite on the financial stability of such clubs: the issue currently facing the Norwich City board.
There could be a bold but simple solution: the Premiership (British) becomes a ‘closed’ league of 20 or, even possibly, as few as 16 clubs with no relegation, thus separating the ‘made for TV’ entertainment branch of football from the rest of the sport. The authority to select the chosen few could be exercised by the ‘Big Six’ who would be best placed to provide leadership for the change. A British Premiership would also solve the Rangers/Celtic conundrum as - with their world-wide support - they would undoubtedly be included even if the league were to maximise at 16. The Big Six would effectively ‘franchise’ other clubs to join them in the venture.
Franchising is the basis of all top-level sport in the United States; it works as a business model and appears to work as a sporting model, although the retention of competitiveness is greatly helped by the draft system which it would be difficult – probably impossible – to replicate in a ‘closed shop’ Premiership. It might not be the traditional English/British way but 2018 is a different world to 1992; it might be the logical next step
Where would it leave the un-chosen? I would argue that Norwich City - who could by no stretch of the imagination be selected for the élite – and other medium-sized clubs could, after an initial period of adjustment, become healthier both financially and in their approach to the sport. The mad scramble to join – and avoid being relegated from - the Premiership would disappear and a top division including Stoke City, WBA, Leicester and Southampton from which we could - from time to time - be relegated would provide a good level of competition. Sides could be built, managers could be given time; perhaps we could even start to enjoy football again.
By J. H. Norvic