Football: Libero: In sickness and in wealth

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The Independent Online
Football is supposed to be the new rock and roll but each day now the ticker tapes out of the City tell that it is more to do with money than music, more kerching than kerrang.

Float, they yell, at clubs such as Aston Villa where that used to be the stuff handed over to the turnstile operator at the start of the afternoon. West Ham fans meanwhile are seduced by talk of rich men on the sidelines where once they talked of home-grown talent and coaching know-how.

Further down, the financial plights of Millwall, Brighton and Bournemouth highlight the widening gap in financial status within the English game. Anyone else out there finding it baffling trying to keep pace with the daily financial bulletins and complex accounting now involved in this simple game?

It is naive to expect English football to remain in some golden age when all was supposedly simple and well. It certainly never was. Cash crises have always been with us and several clubs have gone to the wall. Tastes and financial positions - and demands - change.

It is surely not naive, however, to think that the game can pull together to preserve its own. The example of Millwall proves that flotation, with clubs at the mercy of shareholders and investors such as pension funds which can withdraw their backing, is not necessarily the panacea. Better, surely, that wealth is distributed properly by the game itself.

Much maligned Rupert Murdoch and Sky may be, but they have a lot to do with increasing the English game's status. The problem is football's internal bickering over how the money is apportioned.

Bournemouth's condition may not now be so serious had the League a year ago accepted the Premiership's offer of 20 per cent of Sky money, some pounds 42.5m a season, instead of negotiating their own deal, worth pounds 25m. "Now the League want the pounds 17.5m anyway, which sounds to some of our clubs like betting after the end of the race," says Rick Parry, chief executive of the Premier League.

It is all very well Bournemouth asking for pounds 20,000 from each Premiership club - on other occasions the big, bad wolves - as a donation. One hopes they receive the money they need to survive. If the Premiership clubs do help, though, it is likely to strengthen their hand for a nursery club system, as well as for the shameful proposal that only two of their clubs be relegated.

Bournemouth will also have strings-attached support from this quarter. Dean Court was the first League ground to which I was taken as a child. It seemed huge and the cherry-red shirts made the then Hampshire team seem so professional and fearsome as they battered my non-League team in an FA Cup tie (we held on for 0-0, mind). When Charlie Crickmore took a corner just in front of me, he looked like Superman to an eight-year- old.

In return for the memory, I am sending a donation to the fighting fund - perhaps all those former players who have gone on to lucrative careers might also chip in - but with a covering letter attached. It will urge Bournemouth to make sure this mess doesn't happen again and their League to eschew politics and power for progress and profit.

RICK PARRY is likely to be much missed when he departs the Premier League to become chief executive of Liverpool at the end of this season (and what a pity that the speculation that the flamboyant Michael Grade would be his successor lasted only 24 hours).

The good news is that Parry insists his bungs inquiry, which last went public two years ago this month, leading to George Graham's ban, will not be forgotten amid the move and he expects to report by the end of the season. "It is not just going to be a general report. It will focus on specific cases, such as the Teddy Sheringham transfer," he says. Breath here is duly bated.

YOU had to admire the audacity of the young lad, if nothing else, but when Manchester United's 19-year-old Michael Clegg clattered Vinnie Jones from behind during last week's FA Cup tie against Wimbledon, you couldn't help wondering what the reaction would have been had the roles been reversed. Clegg went unpunished by the unusually restrained referee Graham Poll and Old Trafford was amused. Sometimes it does seem that there are two laws...

As a rule: Give attackers benefit of the doubt

At first, I thought it was old habits dying hard with linesmen seeming so reluctant to give the benefit of doubt to attackers in offside decisions, despite instructions and the introduction of the level- being-onside edict.

Perhaps, though, in the speed of the modern game the skill in timing of pass and run is simply too much for their naked eyes to take in. Nicky Barmby's disallowed goal for Everton against Arsenal recently seemed a case in point.

Before we go down the third-eye, video-replay route, perhaps we could try two other remedies. One, that groundsmen are urged to mow pitches crossways, turning at five-yard intervals and so, in the cut of the grass, setting lines as visual aids to the "assistant referees". Two, an errant flagman is suspended for one match if he or she disallows three goals incorrectly during a season.

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