If you had never thought of Tracey Crouch and Mao Tse-Tung as ideological bedfellows before, then the Premier League invite you to think again.
The impression the eager Premier League hit squad conveyed was that even though Crouch might look and act like a highly competent, widely respected, unusually principled MP and former sports minister who had just released a set of cogent proposals arising from a fan-led review into English football, she was, in fact, a secret agent of the Comintern, the spawn of Satan and an existential threat to life on earth.
Christian Purslow, the chief executive of Aston Villa, wagged his finger and bade us beware the plans for an independent regulator, a golden share for fans and a transfer tax. Baroness Brady, the chief executive of West Ham United, said of the proposals: ‘The last time I looked we did not live in Russia, China or North Korea.’
The Premier League sent their attack dogs out to oppose regulation (pictured: Aston Villa chief Christian Purslow)
And it was Angus Kinnear, the chief executive of Leeds United, who won First Prize for Stupid by likening the planned reforms to the agrarian policies of Mao, which killed tens of millions. A half-baked TED Talk about Chinese history from an over-excitable marketing man whose expertise lies in flogging cans of Coke seemed like a curious way for the Premier League to make their case.
All that these interventions achieved was a hardening of the position against the Premier League. Put all this clumsy, laughable, pathetic propaganda together and we are looking at a textbook example of what the writer Martin Amis once called ‘species fear’.
They are afraid because regulation, and a transfer tax, promise a more equitable share of broadcasting revenue between the Premier League and the Football League. They are afraid because regulation would stop clubs betraying their fans by, say, joining a European Super League or moving to a new stadium without supporter consent or changing the club crest. They are afraid because there will be more stringent tests for ownership. They are afraid because, for the first time, limits will be imposed on their greed.
West Ham chief Karren Brady (above) compared regulation to living in North Korea or Russia
Leeds chief Angus Kinnear (left) likened the plans to the policies of Mao Tse-Tung (right)
That fear was exposed again at the Premier League’s emergency meeting on Friday when the clubs vowed to resist the proposed reforms. Crouch’s proposals were described as ‘emotional’, apparently, which was meant to be patronising and undermining. But I’m glad there is emotion in the proposals. The attempt to save English football from club owners who care only about enriching themselves is worth getting emotional about.
Forget the idea, trotted out by Purslow et al, that no sports league in the world gives more away than the Premier League. That is sophistry. It ignores the fact that highly successful American leagues like the NFL are based on a level of revenue sharing and talent sharing, through the draft system, that would mark them out to people like Brady and Kinnear as de facto disciples of Kim Jong-un. Heaven forbid we ever mention the idea of a salary cap to them.
The Premier League are trying to maintain they are better qualified to run the top flight than a regulatory board and if they had not spent much of the last two years trying to concentrate power in the hands of the Big Six, kill the rest of English football by joining the European Super League, drag their heels when the lower leagues begged for help during the pandemic, and if they had not been bathing their hands in Saudi blood money, I might have more sympathy for their argument. As they are, I have none.
The Premier League are pushing back hard against Tracey Crouch’s proposals for reform
There will be no apology here for the emotive language, by the way. I watched BBC sports editor Dan Roan’s excellent interview with Premier League chief executive Richard Masters last week and heard him ask Masters if he was ‘comfortable’ with one of his clubs — Newcastle United — being owned by a fund chaired by a crown prince who, according to western intelligence agencies, ordered the killing of a journalist. ‘I have to be ultimately comfortable with it,’ said Masters. Which was nice.
We can add that to the things we must not forget. Don’t forget the owners of our leading clubs tried to destroy English football once with Project Big Picture. Then they tried to do it again by joining the European Super League. They begged for forgiveness the first time and said it would never happen again. Then they begged for forgiveness the second time and said it would never happen again. And now they seem surprised by the idea that no one trusts them any more and no one believes them any more.
Without regulation, sooner or later, greed will compel the owners of Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea to have another go at taking all the money for themselves and abandoning the rest of the English game. Without regulation, they will be drawn back to the model the American owners, in particular, trust most, which is a closed-shop league with no relegation. With regulation, they will not be able to do that. Greed is built in to these club owners. They need to be saved from themselves.
Richard Masters’ insistence that he is ‘comfortable’ with Newcastle’s ownership is another thing we cannot forget about those in charge of the Premier League
They might even be right when they warn that no one knows exactly what the make-up of a regulatory board would look like. But what they don’t understand is that most people think it couldn’t look any worse than the status quo. What we have at the moment is a system that twice took English football to the brink of disaster. Is it really any wonder that some checks and balances seem like a good thing?
Purslow is an able administrator and communicator but when he talked about how we must be careful not to kill the ‘golden goose’, he might have been talking about exactly what the Premier League have been risking with English football.
They have built a fantastic league. It is hugely financially successful. It provides fantastic entertainment. It features many of the best players in the world. And yet for United, Liverpool and some of the rest, that is not enough. It is never enough.
Daniel Levy (L) and John Henry (R) were not wheeled out to defend the top flight as they are the enemies of English football
Maybe that is why, when the Premier League sent out the attack dogs last week, there was no sign of Ed Woodward, John W Henry, Daniel Levy, Josh Kroenke or any of the other architects of the plans to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few clubs.
These people are the enemies of English football, not Tracey Crouch. Crouch and the proposals emanating from her review represent the way forward for our game and the attacks on her have so far only served to expose the emptiness of Premier League thinking. Amid all their riches, they are bankrupt.
Let us leave them to posture about Mao Tse-Tung and North Korea and let others get on with the task of protecting the Premier League and the rest of the pyramid from the predators within. Now is the time to adopt Crouch’s key proposals, before it is too late.
NO SYMPATHY FOR DE GEA AFTER ARSENAL GAFFE
If David de Gea had been badly hurt when he was inadvertently stamped upon by Fred in the build-up to Arsenal’s first goal against Manchester United on Thursday, if he had subsequently been carried off on a stretcher, there might have been a case for Arsenal allowing United to score at the other end before the game progressed.
But De Gea was not badly hurt. He was able to continue soon after the incident and he completed the game. So there was no controversy about Emile Smith Rowe’s goal. Justice was served. Next time, maybe De Gea will try harder to make a save.
There can be no sympathy for David de Gea after the goalkeeper’s howler against Arsenal
TIME TO KEEP THE FAITH IN ARTETA
Every defeat at every club seems to result in calls for a manager to be fired but there is particular vacuity in the simmering campaign against Mikel Arteta at Arsenal.
Yes, Arsenal lost to Manchester United on Thursday night when they might have won, but there are undeniable signs of progress and optimism at a club who have been denied them for too long. Things are going in the right direction at last at the Emirates. Now is not the time to lose faith.
STARS NEED TO FOLLOW HAMILTON’S LEAD ON SPORTSWASHING
Credit to Lewis Hamilton for condemning Saudi Arabia’s ‘terrifying’ laws governing the country’s LGBTQ community and for saying he felt ‘uncomfortable’ competing in the inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix.
The more people like him speak out, the more footballers speak out about similarly repressive measures in Qatar before next year’s World Cup, the more light it will shine on the regimes that have settled on sportswashing as their way forward.
Hamilton has led the way on challenging sportswashing, now more stars must do the same
BRAVE BRYONY A NEW AMBASSADOR FOR JUMP RACING
Fiercely talented, articulate, dynamic and charismatic, Bryony Frost was the kind of brave new ambassador for jump racing that the sport had dreamed of.
Now, as she stands at the centre of allegations she was bullied by a fellow jockey and says she has been ostracised by colleagues because she has breached the weighing room’s omerta, she has become a symbol of embarrassment for a sport that seems resistant to change.