Football: Hypocrisy of the First among unequals

LIBERO
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The Independent Online
UNCIVIL war appears to have broken out in the ranks of the Nationwide Football League, with First Division set against Second and Third. One guess as to the cause, and one clue: it begins with "m", ends with "y" and the answer is not marry. In fact, divorce is more in mind.

Yes, money is the root of the problem. Changes are afoot in television technology which mean, the thinking goes, that more cash will be flooding in. And the First Division believes that it should get a bigger percentage than it is. The Second and Third Divisions think otherwise and a meeting of all parties last Wednesday broke up without agreement.

At the moment, the Nationwide League receives, after costs, an annual income from TV of pounds 33m, of which just under 60 per cent goes to the First Division clubs, 23 per cent to the Second and 17 per cent to the Third. The First Division clubs say that if the income goes over pounds 75m, which it could do with new TV deals, they should receive 97.5 per cent of the new money to reflect their contribution and status.

The Second and Third Division clubs counter that in terms of all income, the First already gets 80 per cent. Back come the First to say that the Second and Third receive pounds 20m but generate only pounds 8.2 m of the income.

Apart from showing that the same figures can be viewed several different ways to support whatever case one wishes to advance, the whole argument contains at its heart a staggering hypocrisy on the part of the First Division clubs.

Once, and not so long ago, they accused the Premier League of being greedy, of casting them adrift, of putting profit before the traditional organisation that had been so good to and for them. The Football League was the breeding ground, they said, for the players the Premiership required. Well, now it seems the First Division has a sponsorship deal with Pot and Kettle Plc.

The former Lincoln City chairman John Reames, speaking on behalf of the lower division clubs, warned that up to 45 of them could go to the wall but this is probably an exaggeration. Then again, so is the First Division clubs' assessment of their own worth.

They seem to think that they are big clubs in waiting and only have to say the word to set up a Premiership Division Two. But the Premier League was formed to get away from them; they are unlikely to be welcomed on board again. And, like their share prices, clubs can go down as well as up. Would, say, Birmingham City be arguing for change so vociferously were they down on their luck as they have been in the recent past?

There is much bluffing and blustering going on and probably will be when the issue is discussed again on Thursday at an extraordinary meeting of the League in London. It bears repeating that the smaller clubs are crucial to their communities - as has been shown by Brighton and Doncaster - and deserve and need subsidy.

It used to be that the health of a society could be judged on how it treated its most vulnerable and football ought to be judged by the same yardstick - particularly when it was the one being wielded only six years ago by the same clubs now poking the other end of it at their even smaller brethren.

Let us hope that the spirit of compromise shown elsewhere in Britain on far more important issues over this Easter Weekend can spill into this week and into a sometimes maddeningly selfish and intransigent sport.

IT SEEMS it's not all money, though. Admirably the Arsenal players, Libero understands, have decided against establishing a "pool" for the FA Cup final. This is the system whereby newspapers, radio and TV stations either pay into a fund or they are denied access to interviews before the big day. It dates back to when it was a perk for underpaid players, but has in recent years been just a sign of greed now that Premiership players are so well paid.

Arsenal have decided that the money it generates is not worth the trouble, which indicates that they agree that they get enough anyway these days. Mind you, just to keep the one or two of the lesser-paid players happy, I'm told that if any publication does want to fork out for an exclusive on "My Groin Strain Nightmare", they are still welcome...

THE new coach of the England women's football team is, for the first time, a woman. Hope Powell is also a current playing international and, at 31, is by some distance the youngest ever coach. She also happens to be black. "In terms of sweeping away all the old prejudices about us, it's the full Monty," says an FA spokesperson. Well, not quite. Hope springs from Croydon, not Sheffield.

IT barely went reported but as a response to the Football Task Force's first report, on racism, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has said there will be a change in the law. The Football Spectators Act will be amended so that whereas two or more people had to be issuing racist abuse for there to be any arrest, in future, single miscreants can be apprehended.

As a result of the report, which recommended that players and managers be liable for disciplinary action should they indulge in racist abuse off the field, that red cards be issued for it on the field, and that park teams be banned for proven racism, the Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, has written to all the relevant football and local authorities to ask if there are any reasons why the recommendations should not be implemented. Watch this column, which aims to monitor the work of the FTF.

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