Football: Left-wingers fail to tackle reality: Mike Rowbottom on a football blueprint the FA and League ignored

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The Independent Online
ENGLISH football needs a single, strong person in charge of it; the Premiership should be cut from 22 teams to 18; transfers should be banned during the season.

Haven't we heard this before? We have. Many times. But the report on our troubled national game released yesterday by the Institute for Public Policy Research - a left-wing think-tank - presents the calls again as part of an analysis which blames unbridled free-market forces for football's ills.

Without regulation, they argue, the next few years will see 'increased domination by the top teams, the emergence of European leagues with a downgrading of the domestic game, a massive increase in satellite and pay-TV deals, increasing exodus of top British players, domination by advertising and more problems for the England team in assembling a fit and injury-free team'. Their proposals involve sacrifices from the more powerful for the greater good. But if this is the voice of the sport's conscience, who is likely to heed it? Both the Football Association and the Football League were invited to attend the launch. Neither did.

As the report acknowledges, the FA itself attempted to reduce the size of the Premier League to 18 clubs two years ago in an effort to assist the national team's preparations, and was thwarted by club chairmen concerned with the prospect of lost revenue. If the FA can't swing it, how can the IPPR hope to make any impression on the Ken Bateses and David Deins of this world?

One of the few new ideas put forward was an investigation to see whether a draft system could operate in this country as it does with basketball, baseball and American football in the United States. But there was no clear sense of how such a policy could work in an era when the lower reaches of the game - ideally a stable, learning environment for prospective draftees - are in financial crisis.

The draft system in American baseball was set up in the mid-Sixties at the instigation of club owners fed up with having to meet the growing financial demands made by the draftees. Sadly, it is a similar self-interest which shapes our national game. And it will require wily manipulation, rather than well-intentioned theorising, to ameliorate its most damaging effects.

A Game Without Vision by Dan Corry and Paul Williamson, pounds 4.95 (inc p&p) from IPPR, 30-32 Southampton Street, London WC2E 7RA.

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