Written by Adam Hinchliff-Walz |
With the failed attempt to sell Wembley stadium and now the proposed £5 million payouts to the departing executive chairman of the Premier League, it looks like grassroots football is being pushed further and further down the pecking order as the rich get richer.
The need for investment into grassroots football can be seen from the FA’s own statement that “150,000 matches were called off last season due to poor facilities” and that these cancelled matches “account for the equivalent of 5,000,000 playing opportunities lost this year because of poor facilities”. To counteract these figures, the FA proposed that they would accept an unsolicited offer of £600 million submitted by Fulham F.C. owner Shahid Khan for the sale of Wembley Stadium.
The decision to sell Wembley needed to be approved by five separate entities; the FA Board, the FA Council, Sports England, the Mayor of London’s office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The FA board had been on board since the conception of the sale, Sport England, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the DCMS were also on board, with the caveat that the money would be invested back into grassroots football and that any public money that had been allocated to the building of Wembley would be reimbursed.
The final hurdle for the sale was the 127-member FA council. At a non-voting meeting, the FA council voiced their opinions on the sale, whilst most were positive, there was a section that held negative views.
On the 17th of October, a week after this meeting, Shahid Khan decided to withdraw his offer. The FA statement cited the divisive nature of the deal as the prime reason for Khan’s withdrawal. So why was the sale of Wembley such a contentious issue, given the obvious need for investment and this potential goldmine being offered?
“An argument against the sale was a sentimental one”
An argument against the sale was a sentimental one – that Wembley is ‘the home of football’ and a national treasure. The second, and perhaps more convincing, argument was that the money gained would not be managed in the correct way. The most notable advocate for this position was Gary Neville. When giving evidence to a parliamentary DCMS hearing he berated the FA’s insistence that the money raised would be helpful in expanding and enhancing the grassroots game by playing down the £70 – £100 million per year that the FA said they would be able to invest as a result of the sale. Neville stated that “They are talking about an extra £70m a year for 20 years – that’s a pittance in football, it’s a pittance in government, it’s the price of a full-back”.
Furthering this point, he argued that there were other ways to earn the money, namely in the form of agent’s fees. By implementing these fees, Neville argued that the FA could earn a similar amount each year to put back into grassroots football. On top of this, he suggested taking a small cut from each club’s pay-out from the Premier League TV rights deal, £3.5 million to be exact, which would also raise £70 million a year.
These ideas are all valid and could help the grassroots game, but why not implement them as well as selling Wembley? The stadium became FA property for the first time only 19 years ago in 1999, before the rebuilding of it in 2007, sometime after the illustrious Pele said that “Wembley is the cathedral of football”, so the sentimental argument doesn’t hold water. On top of this, there are no recent World Cup-winning FAs own their own stadiums.
The sale of the stadium would not be a loss of national identity but rather an opportunity to fix pitches and fund the future England players development. As such, the FA has failed in its proposed plans and as a result grassroots football is once again not being supported. The sale can be seen to be a missed opportunity rather than a concerted effort not to support the foundations of the game, what happened next, however, is unwarrantable.
Richard Scudamore, the departing executive chairman of the Premier League, will receive a £5 million payout after all 20 clubs approved the decision. Scudamore was the significant factor in the TV rights deal becoming as lucrative as it is. When he came into the role the rights were being sold for around £670 million – they have recently been sold for £5.14 billion. That’s an increase of nearly 770%. As a result, the £5 million, made up by a donation of £250,000 from each Premier League club, looks like a small price to pay for the millions that Scudamore has given to the English game. The problem arises when looking at where that money has gone. It comes from the top and it’s stayed at the top.
There is no clearer example of this than parachute payments to ex-Premier League clubs (who have been relegated). As such, the idea that any of this money will get to grassroots football when it rarely gets past the second tier of English football – the exception being Sunderland due to their meteoric demise – is fanciful. The Football Supporters’ federation released this statement regarding payment, “Premier League clubs have always told fan groups that budgets are planned in advance and there’s not a surplus of cash lying around from their extremely lucrative TV deal.”
“…loyal football supporters continue to be inconvenienced by fixture changes”
In the meantime, loyal football supporters continue to be inconvenienced by fixture changes to fit TV schedules, often losing out on travel costs or struggling to get to and from games in the first place. Now it appears clubs can stick their hands down the back of the sofa and find £250,000 at a moment’s notice. Fans strongly oppose the ‘golden handshake’ and we urge clubs not to make a decision which is hugely unpopular with supporters.”
This sentiment reflects on grassroots investment as well. If the Premier League clubs can come up with £5 million on the spot, then they can surely put some of their money into making pitches playable for the millions affected in grassroots football.