The Premier League chairmen held their first meeting since the resignation of Adam Crozier yesterday, but there was little sign of remorse at London's Landmark Hotel. Publicly, the league issued another statement claiming they had no designs on the Football Association's funding of the grass roots but, privately, the verdict on Crozier's exit was illustrated by the chairman who described it as "a good start".
The meeting was held in camera but The Independent has learned that Mohamed al-Fayed, the chairman of Fulham, delivered a 2,500-word submission which encapsulated the "every man for himself" mood induced by the twin demons of rising wages and falling television fees.
He told his fellow chairmen: "We must put our own interests and those of our clubs first. There are many who try to dictate to us how we should behave, who seem to think profit and financial success is a dirty concept, and that we should be guided by some higher cause. Rubbish! The best contribution we can make to the good of football is ensuring a highly successful Premier League, and highly successful clubs within it. It is that which will attract people to the sport, an increasing worldwide audience and greater investment into the game."
This appears a significant departure from last April when Fayed told The Independent that he was a spokesman for the small clubs. The FA, he said then, "are kidnapped by the strong clubs. They have all the money and don't care about the other clubs. They need a revolution to help the clubs which are suffering." The FA have since had a revolution but it is not one likely to help the smaller clubs.
It would seem Fulham's continued haemorrhaging of cash has persuaded Fayed that charity begins at home. In the 12 months to June 2001 Fulham posted losses of £22.3m, a British football club record, which would concentrate anyone's mind.
However, unlike some of his peers he does have sympathy for the smaller clubs – last year he donated all Fulham's share of the take from their FA Cup tie at York to the Third Division club's supporters' fighting fund. Speaking later at a book launch* Fayed said that he still cared about the smaller clubs. "The game needs revolution," he said. "Otherwise clubs will go into receivership one after another. Still people can't see the light, see what is happening to the lower three divisions. We should support those clubs."
His solution appears based not on hand-outs but Thatcherite top-down economics. To an extent this is true, lower division income has gone up, but the increased expenses have also filtered down. Fayed's submission did contain some shrewd suggestions. He threw his weight behind the Premier League establishing the framework of their own television channel to provide competition for Sky when the next television deal is negotiated. He also highlighted the need to develop and exploit overseas interest both through branded goods and television sales. Last time the overseas rights went for just £150m – small reward for programming which reaches 72.7m viewers in 161 territories. Closer to home, he suggested that the league should collectively agree to pay agents "a maximum of five per cent of transfer fees across the board".
The old chestnut about national assocations paying for using players was given another airing together with the imaginative suggestion that, should a player be injured on international duty, the transfer window should be opened on a case-by-case basis to sign or loan a replacement.
*Fulham: The Premiership Diary (Orion £16.99) by Harry Harris & Danny Fullbrook.