Football: Lower divisions ready to assert rights

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The Independent Online
LOWER DIVISION chairmen are determined to block radical proposals that would give First Division clubs more autonomy - laying bare the widening split between rich and poor within the Football League.

The chairmen of clubs in the Second and Third Divisions will formulate their own compromise plan over the next couple of weeks, which they hope the leading sides will agree to. But if it comes to it they will vote down the First Division clubs' existing proposals and are likely to take legal action if they try to form a breakaway group before the current television deal runs out in three years' time.

Representatives of the 24 teams in the First Division outlined their proposals at a meeting of their lower division counterparts in London on Monday. They want the power to negotiate the League's next TV deal, build bridges with the Premier League, have control over marketing and commercial activities such as finding a sponsor for the division, and virtually govern their own affairs - while staying within the League structure.

Any extra money they raise would be shared out between all 72 League clubs, but the top sides want an increasingly greater share as the pot expands because they are worried about the huge gulf which exists between the Premier League and the Football League. Not surprisingly the Second and Third Division clubs have huge reservations about the financial implications of the proposals, with some clubs warning that they could lead to smaller outfits going out of business.

They have even greater concerns about handing over power on issues such as promotion and relegation, with the proposals giving top clubs the authority to decide how many teams there should be in the First Division and how many sides are promoted to the Premiership each season.

John Reames, the chairman of Lincoln City, who has been appointed as spokesman for the lower division clubs, said: "No one is prepared to accept the proposals as they currently stand - but we need to be pro-active and come up with a solution ourselves. We tend to be rather suspicious of their motives. If they achieve the financial rewards they believe are possible, then with the distributions they are putting forward the very gap they want to close between the First Division and the Premier League would open up between the First Division and the Second Division."

A committee set up by the Second and Third Division clubs is to meet tomorrow to start considering their formal response, and the matter will come to a head either at the League's extraordinary general meeting on 16 April or its annual general meeting on 6 June.