What lies in store for the future of the Football League?
At some point last year, the legion of doom, in their subterranean Preston lair, decided the football league needed an overhaul. They believed the league to be out of touch with the modern game and needed to keep it’s relevance in the ‘global sports market.’ As a result, we have been treated to the expansion of league trophy, a full league rebrand to the ‘EFL’ (English Football League) and proposals for a new fifth tier. Unsurprisingly, these plans have been met with about as much enthusiasm as a Rolf Harris comeback gig.
It is understandable why the football league want a new image and a recognisable brand in this day and age. You just have to look at the money that’s in football to comprehend their motives. Manchester United have just spent almost the same amount on a single player, as the EFL receive in a year from Sky. The wealth of the Premier League is mind boggling and those in charge at the football league are desperate to emulate their success. The problem is Shaun Harvey and his gaggle of dickheads don’t seem to have a clue of how to achieve this.
This season Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest, Derby, Leeds United, Aston Villa, Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday are competing in the Championship. That’s an impressive list of former champions, European giants, cup winners and Sheffield Wednesday. You’d have thought the EFL would just tap into this massive marketing power before wasting millions on a rebranding exercise no one gives a shit about, like a strip club printing leaflets about what crisps they stock behind the bar.
This erroneous logic seems to run through all of the football league’s grand plans for reinvention. Rather than at looking at strategies to ensure the league’s long term prospects and development, they’ve gone for cheap gimmicks for media exposure and a quick ratings boost. Inviting Premier League youth teams into the league trophy, is an excellent example. The EFL claim it will help English youth development and boost crowds and revenue for the competition. Though frankly, it just looks like a crass attempt to borrow some the top flight’s razzamatazz, like Katie Price photobombing an Oscars party.
Needless to say, the whole thing has been a colossal balls up, with many of the top flight teams declining the invitation. Along with that lower league sides have complained that the new format massively reduces their chances of reaching Wembley. Also the invitation to Premier League teams has raised question about the EFL’s plans for expanding the leagues. So in one genius move, the football league have completely devalued the league trophy and undermined their plans for a new fifth tier as well. Well done there lads, slow clap.
These worries over the introduction of a fifth tier may be premature but they aren’t unfounded. Back in 2014, former FA chairman, Greg Dyke wanted the football league to form another division and adopt a continental style B-team system. The EFL claim it’s plans are different and strictly for the benefit of the lower leagues. Fewer teams in each division will lead to less fixture congestion, less travelling for fans and more money to share round. This all sounds good but the introduction of youth teams to the league trophy is seen by many as testing the water for larger scale involvement. Those in charge of the EFL are seen to have been blinded by the Premier League, its glamour, wealth and worldwide appeal and wanting some of the action.
What the EFL fails to acknowledge here is why the Premier League has such a draw to international and neutral fans. It’s the promise of the best players, coaches and football in the world. The football league can’t make such promises, the league’s appeal is and has always been to the fans of the clubs already there. Adopting the branding of a far right washing machine detergent and shoehorning top flight reverses into the mix, isn’t going to change that. No random chap in Indonesia is switching on Barnet against Chelsea U-21s and getting excited. If the EFL really wants to improve itself then the focus needs to switch to the fans and away from chasing the Premier League.
There are half empty stadia throughout the three football league divisions and it’s not because the architects got the dimensions wrong. Thousands of fans have walked away from the sport in recent years and the EFL need to start addressing that. Rather than spending money on rebranding, perhaps the league should be working with clubs to introduce a cap on ticket prices or subsidizing transport for away fans or even help with policing costs for games. There is so much the EFL could do to improve lower league football, if they could just drop this fixation with the Premier League.
The EFL can’t catch the Premier League, nor can it realistically claim to be an alternative. Fans in the lower division will never truly be happy there and always want to leave it behind, this will never change. The EFL need to try and make life outside the top flight fun, inclusive and a glimpse of what English football used to be. You can’t stop fans dreaming of the Premier League but the EFL could at least help make it a pleasurable experience while they wait for that dream to come true.
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