James Lawton: How Dyke opened floodgates to tide of greed engulfing the 'Theatre of Dreams'

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The Independent Online

Greg Dyke's fears about the future of a Manchester United under the control of the quite legitimately demonised American tycoon Malcolm Glazer are cogently expressed, as befits a former BBC director-general and member of the Old Trafford board. But they do lack a certain philosophical underpinning. This is, after all, the man who takes great pride in the fact he personally engineered, conspired, inspired, say it how you like, the age of football greed.

Greg Dyke's fears about the future of a Manchester United under the control of the quite legitimately demonised American tycoon Malcolm Glazer are cogently expressed, as befits a former BBC director-general and member of the Old Trafford board. But they do lack a certain philosophical underpinning. This is, after all, the man who takes great pride in the fact he personally engineered, conspired, inspired, say it how you like, the age of football greed.

Of course he doesn't put it like that. No, indeed not. Rather, he sees himself as the mover and shaker who created one of the great football leagues of the world, the dazzling Premiership.

Forgive the sarcasm, but heaven knows it is hard earned. Dazzling Premiership or a monument to the time-honoured principle that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?

Consider the reality. Only since the arrival of Roman Abramovich's roubles at Chelsea has the league which was supposed to secure the future of English football, and provide a superb support system for the England team, been able to foster serious competition beyond two clubs, Manchester United and Arsenal. Now of the Big Three - there was a Big Five when Dyke, as the top man at ITV, invited an élitist grab for the new, big TV money - United are desperately vulnerable to the profit motive of a man who made his money in what might be described as the American trash culture, then saw there were infinitely richer pickings in big-time sport than trailer parks.

This does not represent stunning achievement for the Premiership, whose record in the Champions' League has been so negligible, and it is a fact which may have caused Dyke's reflection: "Perhaps what we are learning from this experience is that football clubs are not suited to being public companies in the first place."

Yes, you might say that; you might have said it at any time in the life of the Premiership, but one moment more appropriate than most others would have been when one of Dyke's gang of five, United's Martin Edwards, finally sold up his stake in Old Trafford and trousered the nice little earner of £93m on a family investment of £1m.

Maybe what we need here is a bit of context and history. When Dyke offered a lunch invitation to the Big Five - Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton - English football supposedly had a common urge to reinvent itself and secure its future with the help of a giant subsidy from a new television deal.

The Taylor Report said the game was living in a great slum, with filthy and fatally dangerous grounds, as everyone had seen at Hillsborough. But salvation was at hand. The Football League, shamed into action, issued a working document which pointed to another kind of future. It was entitledOne game, one team, one voice. Wrong, the vision of Dyke and his friends was two games - one for the haves, the others for the have-nots. We all know how it turned out.

In 1985 the United chief executive Edwards, who would a little later fail, despite strenuous efforts, to sell the club to the under-financed but highly perceptive maverick Michael Knighton for around £12m was reported to have said (and it has never been denied): "The smaller clubs are bleeding the game dry ... for the good of the game, they should be put to sleep."

The Big Five meeting in a room overlooking the Thames went extremely well. Why should all the new wealth be shared among the weak when the strong could put it to that much better use?

Noel White of Liverpool and David Dein were deputed to sell the idea of a Super League, split from the dead wood of the old Football League, to the Football Association, and, quite adroitly, all the right buttons were pressed.

Greed won, easing up, but of course that is not how it came over in a glossy FA brochure. Everyone was going to benefit. The rewards would trickle down. The big league was going to be slimmed to 18, lean, thoroughbreds and the England coach would not be browbeaten by the top club managers when it came time to call up their talent. There would be time and resources to develop the skills of homegrown players.

Now Greg Dyke warns against the Glazer plan - and questions the role of plc business in football. But how was it that English football rushed into the arms of the City of London? Would it have happened without his seduction of the Big Five? Would the lust for profit, at the cost of independence, become so inflamed?

There is no role for plc business in football other than rewarding the shareholders - no more than cartels of a few super rich clubs and the TV companies who are prepared to underwrite the top end of the game only so long as the numbers make commercial sense.

These are the self-evident realities upon which Dyke intruded this week - and which make the battle cries of rebel supporters poignantly futile. Passions, principles, tradition, they mean nothing in the hands of the market.

Glazer is a menace to English football's most romantic club, and he needs to be knocked down. But there is no legal way to do it - and if he fails another will come. It is what happens when your dream becomes somebody else's business.

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