IT’S BEEN there for a while now. Bubbling away just below the surface; a debate reignited and dampened but always reforming and returning. When he was Chelsea manager, Andre Villas Boas lit the match once again.
AVB said youth development in England was uncompetitive and called for reserve teams of big clubs to be allowed to compete in the Football League. Rafa Benitez was an advocate of change back in 2007, championing the Spanish model, where second strings compete in lower leagues. It happens in Germany, France and Holland, too.
The suggestion returned with FA Chairman Greg Dyke said to be considering the idea. And Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward further fuelled the fire by telling United We Stand fanzine: “If we could have a B team playing then it would solve a lot of issues. The reserves do deliver some of the objectives, the system just isn’t as good as it could be.”
In February 2014, the national press reported that a ‘Premier League 2’ was being discussed. According to The Times, discussions were said to include the possibility of admitting PL2 teams into the Capital One Cup. Another alternative mooted was the establishment of a new cup which would see PL2 sides take on clubs from the lower divisions. Televising PL2 matches was also thought to be on the table, with Sky and BT Sport included in discussions.
Next it was League Three — a league for Premier League B teams slotted in below League Two, but above non-League.
For fans of Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal or Chelsea, such proposals may result in little more than a shrug of the shoulders.
But how do supporters of lower league clubs feel about the idea of B-teams, new leagues, clubs being parachuted into cup competitions and the rest? We asked IAIN MACINSTOSH — Southend United fan, @ football writer and the top man at @ — to tell us back when we were running a digital magazine which is now sleeping (perhaps for good…).
With news today that Liverpool and Everton are among clubs invited to enter a ‘B-side’ into a revamped Football League Trophy (previously the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) next season we thought his piece was worth revisiting.
The one season trial for 2016/17 will include 64 teams made up of League One and Two clubs plus 16 ‘Category One’ Premier League academy/Under-21 sides.
AS a neutral and objective football writer, I can see a few reasons why clubs like yours, the larger clubs, would want to enter your B teams into the lower reaches of the Football League, or even in a new league altogether. After all, some of you have so many footballers on your books, that it’s impossible to keep them all fit, let alone develop them properly, am I right? And wouldn’t it be awesome to drop a load of them in League Two and play regularly against the likes of Rochdale and Morecambe?
But I’m not writing this as a neutral and objective football writer. I’m writing this as a Southend United fan, albeit a rubbish one whose location, occupation and family commitments mean that he hardly ever gets to see his team play. But even though I spend far more time at White Hart Lane and the Emirates than I do at Roots Hall, as a Southend fan, I can only see this plan as one thing: Another chance to stamp the soil down over the heads of the small teams.
And so, while I stress again that I am not addressing Liverpool exclusively, this is a short message to all supporters of all big teams who would have their reserves parachuted into League Two.
Seriously. Just fuck off.
You can’t just drop a load of new teams into our league. Not without serious consequences. We already play a 46-game league season. What do you think will happen with another, say, eight teams? A 62-game season? Or do you think that eight League Two clubs will be made to bleed out on an altar to your greed? Yes, that’s what I think too.
Everything that you do, you do for yourselves. You took our shared attendance money in 1983. You made your own super league and took the TV money in 1992. You blackmailed us into signing legislation that would allow you to take our youngsters in 2011. Now you want our place in the league as well? Is there ever going to come a point when you have enough?
You tell us with straight faces that these things will be good for the national team. As if any of you care about the national team. The only time you care is when your players, many of whom earn in a month a sum that could keep one of our clubs going for a year, are at risk of injury.
You tell us that we must accept the reality of free market forces, failing to mention that when free market forces made our young players too expensive for you, you brought in legislation to protect yourselves, you shifty, morally bankrupt bastards.
You forget that football clubs were not established in order to maximise revenue streams, stockpile talent or even to win trophies. They were set up to represent local communities and you would rob these communities of their club just to secure some exercise for your youth team.
If you can’t find a place for dozens of young footballers, perhaps you shouldn’t have bought dozens of young footballers. I could buy 40 pairs of shoes, but I don’t because I couldn’t wear them all. This is greed, pure and simple. Besides, you and I both know that a huge majority of these youngsters will never make it. You’ve been industrial fishing. You’ve been beam-trawling. You’ve been dragging your nets across the seabed and ripping up everything, whether it’s useful or not. And now you want us out the way so that you can feel better about it.
If your U21 league isn’t taken seriously, then start taking it more seriously. If you’re incapable of motivating your youngsters for a fixture they are contractually obliged to take seriously, then get some more professional youngsters. If you really can’t sort this out within the existing framework, then make a new one. Don’t kill us for an easy solution.
Why not create a squadron of ‘sparring squads’ filled up with some of the many hundreds of out-of-work footballers? You can fund it between yourselves. God knows, you have enough money. Sign a load of hungry, unemployed players on £1,000 a week. They get a shop window, you get experienced, mature opposition for your youngsters. There you go. You can have that idea for free.
We don’t care about your young players, we care that you keep stealing ours. We don’t care about small crowds in your U21 league, we care about small crowds at our stadiums because your games are on TV all the time. But we are still here. We are still fighting. We few. We miserable, impoverished few. And we will not lie down and die to make your lives easier.
Sort out your own fucking problems. We’re sick of you and everything you do to us.
But hey, good luck for the rest of the season.