Tag Archives: UEFA

Women’s football needs a Kerry Packer. Unfortunately it won’t get one 

With women’s football it sometimes seems like a case of one step forward then one step back. Two months after a fantastic EURO 2017 two of the four Semi Finalists, England and Denmark are in turmoil. Both are involved in dreadful situations and neither countries FA comes out of it with credit. 

First England. Since EURO 2017 the English FA has been involved in a racism scandal. It started with dropped striker Eni Aluko accusing manager Mark Sampson of making racist comments to her. Two independent enquiries cleared Sampson yet Aluko was offered £80000 “hush money” to cover up the allegations.

Then last month the story got worse when another player – Chelsea’s mixed race Drew Spence – accused Sampson of racism – saying he had asked her how many times she had been arrested. Another enquiry was announced but in a bizzare twist Sampson got sacked for an unrelated story – that he behaved inappropriately with young players at his former club Bristol Academy. The ridiculous thing being that the FA had the report into Sampson’s conduct at Bristol Academy two years ago but they did not read it until someone encouraged the FA to do so. Why Sampson wasn’t fully investigated either when he was appointed in 2013 or when the report into his conduct at Bristol appeared two years ago only the FA will know. 

And then last week the affair got even worse when the FA revealed that Sampson had been found guilty of racist remarks to Aluko and Spence. Aluko was totally vindicated and FA Chairman Greg Clarke and Chief Executive Martin Glenn totally humiliated. Both men squirmed through an embarrassingly inept performance in front of the All Party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee last Wednesday with Clarke claiming allegations of institutional racism at the FA were “fluff”. NOT the FA’s finest hour (to put it mildly). MPs – notably Ian Lucas and Jo Stevens – were not impressed and could you blame them? The FA came across as racist, sexist and determined to protect Sampson at all costs – not a good look. 

But the FA are not the only FA that is not having a good time with its women’s team. EURO 2017 finalists Denmark are also in turmoil. Their World Cup qualifer against Sweden on Friday was cancelled when the players boycotted the game and the second best team in Europe are in danger of being kicked out of the World Cup by FIFA. How did this happen? 

The problem in Denmark is more common in the women’s game than the racism in England – namely pay. The Danish FA and the players have been negotiating since November but with no success. A EURO 2017 Final rematch with Holland last month was cancelled but a temporary agreement allowed their first World Cup qualifer in Hungary to be played (and won 6-1). But negotiations broke down yet again and the game against Sweden was cancelled. Another temporary agreement has allowed tomorrow’s qualifer in Croatia to go ahead but Denmark are at the mercy of UEFA and FIFA. Sweden’s players (to their credit) want the game to be rearranged but shamefully the Swedish FA want to take the forfeit victory.

Denmark is not the first case of a women’s national football team being in dispute with its FA over pay and/or conditions. Australia, the US. Argentina, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are other countries where this has happened. But none of them reached the stage of the team being in danger of being thrown out of the World Cup. But it is clear that women footballers more and more are getting fed up with low or non existent pay and poor or non existent facilities. The problem for the women players is that there is nowhere for them to go but competitions ran by UEFA and FIFA who have a monopoly on football. There is no alternative for them than to try and pressure sexist, intransigent FAs to change. 

Women’s football in 2017 increasingly reminds me of professional cricket in 1977. Again the players were in dispute with the authorities over pay and conditions. For example Dennis Lillee then the best fast bowler in the world earned more money from his window cleaning business than from playing cricket despite the Australian Cricket Board making hundreds of thousands of dollars in gate receipts from the team’s matches. 

The difference here is that the Australian (and world) cricketers had somewhere else to go. A rich entrapenuer Kerry Packer had fallen out with the Australian Cricket Board for totally different reasons (he wanted exclusive Test rights for his TV station Channel 9 which the board wouldn’t grant). He had the idea to stage his own Test matches and the money to lure discontented cricketers to play in his games. To cut a very long story short (I’ll be writing about the Packer Affair soon) the Australian Cricket Board without the country’s best players ended up drowning in red ink and had to capitulate both to Packer – giving him the TV rights he wanted – and to the Australian players – giving them the higher pay they wanted. Other cricket countries learning the lesson had to increase the pay of their players to protect against another Packer.

Women’s football could really do with its own Kerry Packer to give the players another option and drive pay up. The difference here is that there isn’t a Packer lurking in the background nor will they ever be. Because of ingrained sexism it is highly unlikely that an entrapenuer will be unhappy that his TV station is not covering women’s football and thus be willing to combine with the discontented female players to set up an alternative tournament like Packer did in cricket (nor tolerate the start up losses that Packer did because he knew he would – and did – make money long term). 

The fact is as Jean Williams has pointed out in her books “A Game For Rough Girls” and “A Beautiful Game” is that FIFA, UEFA and most national FAs do not care about women’s football and only run it to maintain their monopoly over the game. They will pay the women as little as they can get away with – just like the Australian Cricket Board in the 1970s. 

The courage of Eni Aluko, Pernille Harder and the rest of the Danish women’s team is admirable and change is happening and will continue to happen. But to speed it up women’s football really needs its own Kerry Packer to break the FIFA monopoly pay women players what they are worth and force the FAs to do likewise to get the players back. But since the media, TV and big business are as sexist towards women’s football as the football establishment women’s football won’t get its Kerry Packer. Which means that the progress towards fair treatment of female footballers will be a lot slower than it should be…

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Don’t play games behind closed doors. Price out the thugs.

West Ham United’s move to the London Stadium (the stadium that hosted the ceremonies and the athletics at the 2012 Olympics) has not exactly started well. Until they won successive home games this week against Sunderland and Chelsea the club had struggled to make the stadium feel like home. Now they are not the first club nor will they be last to struggle at a new home – Southampton when they moved to St Mary’s in 2001 being a classic example – but there is something more sinister here. 

In most of West Ham’s home games since the move to the London Stadium there has been crowd trouble – even against the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and Middlesborough which are not usually fixtures that are associated with crowd trouble. So when West Ham were drawn against London rivals Chelsea in the EFL (League) Cup fourth round it was feared that there would be crowd trouble. The fears were justified. 

Seats, coins and bottles were thrown during ugly clashes between West Ham and Chelsea fans on Wednesday. One Chelsea fan had blood pouring from his head after allegedly getting hit by a coin while eight year old children were among those who were struck. There was also a leaflet distributed before the game about Chelsea player John Terry which encouraged homophobic chants. All in all it was as if we had hurtled back 40 years in time to the 1970s when this nonsense was common. 

To no one’s surprise an investigation has been launched (it’s what we Brits do best!). Also typically SIX different organisations – West Ham, Chelsea, the Football League (FL), the Football Association (FA), the Metropolitan Police and the stadium operators -are joining in this enquiry. And also typically two Conservative MPs – Mark Field and Damian Collins – have chipped in saying that if the bad behaviour continues West Ham should be made to play home games behind closed doors if bad behaviour continues. But they are wrong. 

First of all why close the ground when it is clear that the pond life that is causing this nonsense is a tiny minority of West Ham fans? Then factor in the fact that the fans of whatever team West Ham might be playing in any future behind closed door games are innocent. They haven’t taken part in any trouble why should they be punished? Remember UEFA did that to innocent Manchester City fans in the 2014-15 Champions League while punishing CSKA Moscow for racist behaviour. Punishing innocent fans is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is unnecessary. 

I’ve got two solutions. One uncontroversial one  controversial. Try punishing the guilty not the innocent. There is CCTV at the London Stadium as there is at other grounds. The authorities should identify the cretins who misbehaved on Wednesday and ban them from every ground in the UK for life. No if not buts no second chances. If the law does not allow that the Government should change it. If Field and Collins want to do something useful they can pressurise the Government to make this change if the law does not allow life bans.

My second plan won’t be popular. Because the London Stadium has a capacity of 60,010 far more than their old ground Upton Park (35,016) West Ham cut their ticket prices. Now that makes sense – except I reckon it is the cutting of prices that has caused the hooliganism. Popular opinion thinks that the behaviour of fans has improved since the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s. But I don’t. I suspect that the hooligans were always there -it is just that the move to all seater stadiums and the rise in prices that caused priced the hooligans out of the game and now that prices at West Ham have gone down the yobs have returned. To back me up I don’t recall trouble inside Upton Park last season (the Manchester United team bus was pelted with bottles and coins at West Ham’s last ever game at Upton Park but that was outside the ground). Maybe it is a coincidence that trouble at West Ham has gone up when prices have gone down but it is an awfully big coincidence.

That doesn’t mean prices should go up for everybody. We know it is young men who mainly cause trouble at football matches. So keep cheap admission prices for children, families and pensioners. But prices for adults going on their own and for groups of young men should go up. It would be unfair and in the ideal world should not need to happen. But until men learn to behave themselves at football that is a price they will have to pay. Sure West Ham might not fill their stadium if they do that. But if they don’t and trouble continues at the London Stadium the football authorities might – despite my opinion – force West Ham to play in front of no fans at all. And that will be far far worse for them….
  

Put the League Cup out of its misery

People in English football are getting concerned about the diminished status of the FA Cup. This was shown last Sunday when Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini fielded a very weakened team in the fifth round – against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Not surprisingly his team of youngsters got hammered 5-1 much to the disappointed of the BBC TV audience. Pellegrini picked this team because he wanted to prioritise the Champions League tie against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday and the League Cup Final against Liverpool tomorrow. People have suggested scrapping replays, offering the winner of the Cup a place in the Champions League (whether or not UEFA would allow that is highly debatable) or “rigging” the draw so that if a lower division club drew a Premier League team it would automatically have home advantage). But there is a simple solution staring every one in the face – scrap the League Cup.

The League Cup has existed for 55 years which is a long time for a bad idea to last even by the standards of UK sport. The competition was called “Hardaker’s folly” after the man who proposed it Football League Secretary Alan Hardaker. Hardaker was anti Europe* –  in 1955 he browbeat English Champions Chelsea into snubbing the first European Cup – and saw the new competition as an alternative to European Football. But the Times Newspaper (May 30th 1960) called the League Cup “useless”.  At the start the League Cup was not popular. Plenty of First Division clubs refused to enter and in its first season the Cup’s average attendance was 10,556 barely more than the average third division attendance.

The League Cup might have died a death but two events saved it. In 1967 the League Cup Final was moved to Wembley and UEFA inexplicably offered the winners a place in the UEFA Cup. Only then did all 92 Football League clubs enter the competition but it was never as highly regarded as the FA Cup or European competitions. Examples : No third division club has ever even reached the FA Cup Final. Two third division clubs have won the League Cup (QPR 1967, Swindon 1969) and two Fourth tier clubs have reached the Final (Rochdale 1962, Bradford as recently as 2013). No fourth tier team has even reached the FA Cup Semi Finals. In 1974-75 not one top division club reached even the Semi Finals. Admittedly (see earlier post) 1974-75 was a bit of a “silly season” and two of the Semi Finalists were Manchester United and Aston Villa who are usually top division clubs while another of the quartet Norwich City are a current Premier League club. Only fourth division Chester were real minnows. But still it doesn’t say much for the competition that there was a season where no top division club got to the Semi Finals.

The ridiculous thing about the Football League Cup is that the Premier League clubs are not members of the Football League so they really should not be in it. The big clubs have been fielding reserve teams since at least 1994 where Manchester United fielded young unkowns like Beckham, Neville, Butt and Scholes at Port Vale. Port Vale fans were so angry they wrote to the local paper saying that United should refund fan’s admission money and MP Joan Walley even got involved! United had the last laugh – they won the game 2-1 and the four players mentioned became superstars – but it showed how little the competition was regarded.

Getting rid of the League Cup would have the advantage of freeing up five midweeks. The three rounds of midweek games played in January, February and March could be moved to September, October and November. That would free up five midweeks for FA Cup Replays, rest or even to allow England manager Roy Hodgson to hold a couple of midweek training camps. Incidentally if UEFA staged the last sixteen of the Champions League over two weeks instead of four that would free up another couple of weeks. Hopefully if UEFA get a new President he has the sense to do it.

I suspect if the League Cup did not exist it would not be invented now. Of all the countries in Europe outside the UK only France has a League Cup. Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Holland somehow survive without one. Besides the Football League should go too. Most sports in the UK only have one governing body. Football has the FA, the Football League and the Premier League who spend as much of their time arguing with each other as running football. A single governing body for football would make sense but unfortunately too many nonentities would lose their jobs which makes it a non runner. After all it’s not just in FIFA that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!

The common sense thing to do to cut down fixture congestion is to put the League Cup out of its misery. For most of its history the big clubs have not taken it seriously. To be honest – like the not dissimilar Benson and Hedges Cup in cricket which was one competition too many – once it is gone it will soon be forgotten. To quote Peter Cook who played a deranged army big-wig “The time has come Perkins for a useless sacrifice”. To cut down fixture congestion and help the FA Cup it is time to sacrifice the League Cup. Let’s put it out of its misery.

*A joke of mine is that Hardaker would be kicked out of UKIP for being too anti European!

Time for TV freedom for football

There were two big Scottish Cup replays this week. Kilmarnock v Rangers and the Edinburgh Derby between Hibs and Hearts. Both as it turned out resulted in victories for the Championship teams Rangers and Hibs. Either – or both – would have been excellent matches for live TV coverage but neither were shown. More to the point neither were allowed to be shown. That is because there were Champions League matches being played on the same nights (the 16th and 17th) and in a pathetic example of protectionism UEFA do not allow any country to show domestic matches at the same time as Champions League matches. Which begs the question : Why? The Champions League is the globe’s most popular club competition. It does not need protection. Scotland does not even have a team in the Champions League. How on earth would Scottish Cup ties threaten the Champions League’s superiority? And in any case shouldn’t viewers have a choice of what they want to watch? It’s called competition. Every other industry believes in it. The rule is probably illegal anyway. UEFA used to have the opposite rule saying that FAs could ban matches from other countries if domestic matches were on – the infamous Article 14. This rule was eventually declared illegal in court. Sky TV should take UEFA to court to get this rule abolished. It is highly likely they would win.

But this lack of support for consumer choice does not just apply to UEFA. There is a rule in the UK that Premier League matches that kick off at 3pm UK time cannot be shown live on TV (in fact any match that kicks off at 3pm cannot be shown so if say Real Madrid or Barcelona match kicks off at 3pm Sky can’t show that match either). More ridiculously the ban lasts until 5.15pm so that if Real Madrid v Barcelona kicks off at 5pm on Saturday as it did in 2014 Sky cannot show the first fifteen minutes. Pathetic.

What annoys me is that this only applies to the UK. Fans abroad can see the 3pm kick offs live. Even in the Republic of Ireland they get a 3pm kick off live on Setanta Sport. Why should foreign fans get extra games live?

Why football is allowed to get away with this antiquated protectionism is a mystery. Even other sports don’t have blackouts. For example during the cricket season England’s Test and One Day International matches are shown live on Sky but County matches are played during the Tests. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) don’t black out Test matches to protect County cricket so why should football be allowed to protect the lower divisions? Lower division matches are played on Champions League nights when games are shown live so why not on Saturdays?

If I were in charge every Premier League match would be live on TV. With one caveat. In the US every Major League Baseball (MLB) game is shown live on line. But the matches are not shown live in the home team’s market unless the home team agrees.  A UK equivalent would mean that Liverpool and Everton could stop their home matches being shown in Merseyside, the Manchester clubs could do likewise in Greater Manchester and the London clubs could do the same in Greater London.

The Premier League is missing a trick here. Baseball has an internet site – MLB.TV – and a mobile /tablet app – At Bat (the latter I use and it is excellent).  For a yearly subscription you get every MLB game which is not subject to blackout regulations. Why the Premier League does not have a website or an app to stream it’s games is a mystery. An MLB.TV subscription costs up to $129.99 a year. I’m sure there are a lot of fans – especially abroad – who would be willing to pay to see Premier League games on their computer, mobile or tablet and it would be a useful revenue stream for the Premier League. And if the example of baseball is anything to go buy it will not effect TV rights. An example : The LA Dodgers’ current TV deal is worth $8.35 BILLION (yes Billion!) over 25 years. That equates to $334 MILLION a year for one franchise. Puts the money in the Premier League into perspective. But it shows that the existence of MLB.TV and At Bat has not affected the sport’s TV revenue.

But surely the public should have the right to watch the games they want on TV. In society protectionism is dead and free trade is the principle. What has football got to be scared of by enhancing free trade? In fact they should be forced to. The Government should make both UEFA’s rule and the Premier League blackout illegal. Time to get in line with society.

Don’t ban Russia from the Olympics. Ban all countries.

So Russia has been suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after the shocking report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which accused Russia of state sponsored doping and also deliberately destroying 1,417 doping samples. Equally sinisterly it suggested that any Russian athlete who did not agree to take drugs would not be considered part of the national team – in effect told to cheat or they would not be selected. There is now a danger that Russian athletes will be banned from competing in the Rio Olympics next year. I suspect that will not happen – the rest of the world won’t want to offend Vladimir Putin – but in any case it is not only Russia that should be banned from the Olympics – it is all countries that should be banned from the Olympics – both in 2016 and forever. It is the very existence of national teams that makes the drugs problem worse.

People will say that I am mad but the fact is sport and nationalism is an utterly toxic mix. One suspects that the reason the Russian doping programme existed was as a propaganda tool – they wanted to gain victories for mother Russia and prove Russia’s superiority over the West. This is not the first time a rotten regime has done this. Every dictator in history –  from Mussolini to Hitler to Stalin to East Germany to Putin among others – has used sport – especially the (male) football World Cup and the Olympics – for propaganda purposes. And why? Because the competitors are representing their countries. Time for a change.

If I were in charge of the Olympics all countries would be banned. Athletes would compete merely as individuals. Only individual sports would be allowed. Team sports like football, hockey, basketball, handball and volleyball would be out. Even team events in individual sports (like the relays in athletics) would not be allowed. In tennis doubles teams where the players are from two different countries – for example the current best women’s doubles team of Swiss Martina Hingis and Indian Sania Mirza – would be allowed to play together. Teams would compete under the Olympic flag and medalists would hear the Olympic anthem instead of their own*. TV, radio and newspapers would be banned from even mentioning the competitors’  nationality which should be totally irrelevant.** The Olympics should also be hosted permanently in Athens to stop a bidding war between would be host cities.

Banning national teams would not stop doping – plenty of individuals do it from all countries – but it might stop state sponsored doping as the Olympics would not be a propaganda tool for dictatorships anymore. But there is another reason why nationality should be taken out of sport. In my opinion we cannot get racism out of sport as long as it is based on national teams because by definition national teams are racist. Not only that but sport has been used by racists for their own ends. The classic example being ex Conservative minister Norman Tebbit who said immigrants to the UK should support England at cricket to prove their loyalty to the UK (this became known as the “cricket test”). But surely individuals should be free to support whoever they want?

And in individual sports – and in global sports like the Premier League in the UK – people do support whoever they want to. The big football clubs in the UK and Europe have fans all over the world. So do tennis stars like Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. And that is the way it should be.

And yet another reason why national teams should be got rid of is that they are out of date. They worked perfectly well when people stayed in the same country all their lives and married people from the same country. Neither happens now so you get dual nationals – people who either have parents from two different countries or were born in one country but moved to another country when they were young. These people can play for more than one country but get vilified whatever choice they make. People who were not born in the UK but have a parent who was and thus are able to play for the UK and choose to do so are called “Plastic Brits” – a horrible phrase – while footballer Sydney le Roux gets stick for choosing the US over Canada and would have got stick had she made the opposite choice.

Frankly sport needs to wean itself off national teams. In the ideal world individual sports and club teams should dominate and the latter should be able to field anyone they want. In fact any club that restricts  itself to signing players from its own country – or even bans players from its own country like Athletic Bilbao with its evil basque only policy – should be banned. For ever. End of story.

People say politics should be kept out of sport. That is impossible as politics are part of society and so is sport. People who think that confuse politics with nationalism. Which needs to be taken out of sport as soon as possible. And a useful side effect of getting national teams out of sport would be no World Cup and no European Championship in football – which means no need for ghastly FIFA or UEFA as the clubs could – and should – run the Champions League themselves. A world without FIFA? Now that is a good idea…

*As happened at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow when athletes from some countries (including the UK) competed in defiance of requests by their governments to boycott them. These countries were not allowed to use their own flag or national anthem.

**This should also apply to TV radio and newspaper coverage of domestic football leagues like the Premier League. Most fans don’t give a toss about a  player’s nationality – I know I don’t – and the media should reflect this.

Scrap the window – and transfer fees

So today is the bi annual farce that is Transfer Deadline Day – the last day this side of 2016 that clubs in the UK can buy or sell players (the deadline was yesterday in Europe but is today in the UK  – presumably because yesterday was a bank holiday in England). Personally I hate this day – and not only because you have to suffer the annoying Jim White on the useless Sky Sports News (as I wrote in an earlier post the name of that channel is an oxymoron) but because the day shouldn’t exist at all.

In fact in the UK we didn’t have one for years. It wasn’t brought in until 2002 when FIFA insisted on it. Until then clubs in the UK could buy/sell players right up until March. FIFA probably insisted on it because European countries had a window for years but so what? Shouldn’t each country be allowed to run its own affairs the way they want to. FIFA should only control transfers between countries not within them. Transfers between UK clubs should not be affected unless we in the UK decide it for ourselves.

I’m amazed the system has survived for thirteen years but I suspect it won’t survive for ever. The system goes against the principles of free trade that most countries believe in. Football of course thinks it is above the law but as Grahame Wright wrote in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 1988 (page 50) “it is common practice for an employee to move on to a new employer once he has gained training and experience”. In any other industry there would be no restrictions on free movement so why should football get away with it?

Of course arrogant football wants freedom reduced not increased. Everton manager Roberto Martinez wants the window shut when the season starts because he fears losing star player John Stones (and yet he said on TV he wanted to sign more players. Hypocrite, You can’t complain about someone trying to sign one of your players while you want to sign players yourself. Practice what you preach. You don’t have to sign players once the season starts) . Not only is Martinez’s idea even more restricting on free trade its impossible to do with one transfer window for everybody because seasons start at different times (and in the US, Sweden and Norway to name but three examples the season is going on right through the window).Just proves how stupid a universial rule is. To enforce Martinez’s plan you’d either have to have all the seasons of every league in the world played at the same time –  a practical and climatic impossibility – or have separate transfer systems for different countries – which is where we were back in 2002!

The case that has really annoyed me in football this year is David de Gea. Manchester United’s goalkeeper wanted to join Real Madrid because his girlfriend Edurne Garcia wants him in Madrid and he wants to keep her happy. Now I suspect in every other industry he would have been sent on his way with his employer’s best wishes – surely employee happiness is the most important thing – but this is arrogant football. United played hardball first wanting Madrid player Sergio Ramos and then when that fell through insisted on a big transfer fee and then froze the poor guy out of the first team. Finally they saw sense and agreed a deal yesterday – only for the Spanish FA to receive the papers a minute late thus scuppering the deal. I also suspect their might be an undercurrent of sexism here (with football that would not surprise me) in that United probably think that Garcia should just be a nice little girl and go where her man goes. An attitude that is woefully out of date and is stuck in the 1970s.

If I were de Gea I’d take FIFA to court. Why should his girlfriend suffer because two big clubs mucked up trying to beat an artificial deadline? It is true the clubs are partly to blame for leaving it so late but it is human nature to leave things to the last minute as anyone who has ever gone to the shops on Christmas Eve will testify. The transfer window is a restraint of trade and I suspect if someone challenged it in court FIFA would get a sharp lesson that football is not (and should not) be above the law. Just like UEFA learned in the Bosman case (1995) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) learned in 1977 when it tried to ban players for the hideous crime of signing for another employer and the High Court in London told them it was a restraint of trade and they couldn’t ban the players football might have to learn the same lesson again.

One reason I suspect United played hardball over de Gea was the fact they could get a transfer fee.To my mind transfer fees are an abuse of human rights and must go. Football is the only industry where human beings can be bought and sold in a market like animals. Even other sports like cricket and baseball don’t have transfer fees for heaven’s sake. Needless to say the world outside sport doesn’t have them. There is no reason for football to have them. Football moans that clubs would go out of business but cricket and baseball clubs seem to survive perfectly well without them. in fact if you had no transfer fees it is at least possible players might move less. Some agents I suspect encourage players to move because they get a cut of the transfer fee. If their cut was 5 % of nothing there would be less reason for them to encourage their players to move. Also I think clubs might sign more UK players than they do now. A lot of clubs buy foreign players because they are cheaper (£49 MILLION for Raheem Sterling. I rest my case). I suspect if the players were equally priced at zero most clubs would go for the UK player. Not for racist nationalist reasons but because someone who speaks the language and knows the league is less of a risk than those who don’t and since they are the same price the cheapness argument in favour of gambling on a foreigner would go.

There is no reason – except for football’s arrogance – that these ideas of free trade and no transfer fees can’t be implemented. Football’s argument that it would be ruined is nonsense. How on earth then does every other industry survive without transfer windows and transfer fees then? It is time – as with so many other issues  – to tell football that to be a part of society you have to play by the rules of society. Every rule. And that includes free trade and no transfer fees.

Financial Unfair Play?

The best baseball World Series I’ve ever seen was the 2001 World Series which went to the final game seven and was won by the Arizona Diamondbacks thanks to that rarest of rare things a Mariano Rivera blown save. What made that series memorable was two fairytales were up against each other. A Yankees World Series win is not usually a fairytale but two months after the trauma of 9/11 it would have been (2001 is the one time I wanted the evil empire (as the Yanks are called!) to win the World Series). But to me the Diamondbacks were the real fairytale.

The fact is the Diamondbacks did not exist in 1901. Or 1951. Or even in 1996 when the Yankees started their four World Series in five year dominance that the 2001 Diamondbacks ended. The Diamondbacks did not exist until the Major Leagues expanded in 1998. In just four seasons the Diamondbacks won it all. Some people might complain that the team was all imported but there is no way a new team could compete so quickly otherwise. But in the US they believe in giving everyone a chance to keep the League competitive.

The funny thing is that something similar had been done in European football the team would have been hated. In 1995 UK football had its nearest equivalent of the 2001 Diamondbacks when Blackburn Rovers – bankrolled by millionaire (and life long fan) Jack Walker) won the League title in England for the first time since 1914. Of course the UK being the UK they were derided rather than celebrated on the basis that they had no history and that they owed their success to Walker’s money. Well so what? Shouldn’t every team have the right to dream of winning titles?

Well not according to European football’s governing body UEFA who have introduced Financial Fair Play regulations. Now in theory Financial Fair Play is a good idea as it limits teams to spending what they earn and is meant to stop teams getting into debt. The problem is that it stops people from spending their own money. As far as I’m concerned anybody has the right into spend their money the way they want to (once they have paid tax of course). The likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) have been punished for no better reason than they have owners who want to spend their own money and for daring to have ambition. Another example is Wolfsburg of Germany who might fall foul of the regulations because they are owned by Volkswagen who want to spend their profits on the club. And why shouldn’t they?

The most damming criticism of Financial Fair Play is it is an oxymoron. Limiting teams to spending what they earn is fair if they all earn the same. But in European football that is not the case. Because the revenue in European football is unequally earned Financial Fair Play actually preserves the dominance of a clique of big clubs. The French, German and Italian Leagues have clear favourites in PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus respectively. Spain has two favourites in Real Madrid and Barcelona. Only the Premier League in England has four or five teams that might win it because of the investment by billionaires in Manchester City and Chelsea – which the football establishment hate but has made the league more competitive and earned it more TV money which has strengthened the other teams. Financial Fair Play in its current form should be called Financial Unfair Play.

Now I am not against proper Financial Fair Play but you won’t get it in European football. You have to look at the US. They don’t grumble about billionaire investors in the US. In fact US sport is full of them. The prime example is the Guggenheim group who paid $2.15 BILLION just to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers from ex owner Frank McCourt. In 2013 the Guggenheim group’s first full season in charge the franchise’s payroll was $214 million. In 2014 their payroll was $236.1 million. And what have they achieved in those two seasons? ONE post season series victory. Which might – or might not – change this year. My favourite baseball story of big spending gone wrong is the 2009 New York Mets who had a $ 153.5 million payroll – second only to the Yankees – but while the Yankees won the 2009 World Series the Mets won 70 games – only the Indians, Nationals, Orioles, Pirates and Royals won fewer games than the Mets that year. Why?

While part of it is due to the draft system which means the worst teams get the best young talent the fact is that in US sport the income the sport is made is distributed more fairly. Admittedly baseball is not the best example of this in since each franchise negotiates its own TV deals. And when I started following baseball in the 1990s it was like football in Europe is today. To win a World Series in the mid 1990s/early 2000s you had to beat the Yankees, Braves or both. But baseball did not make the same mistake with the internet. The parity in baseball today is probably due to one man – Jerry Reinsdorf the owner of the Chicago White Sox. He came up with the idea of sharing the internet income equally between all 30 franchises which has happened since Major League Baseball Advanced Media (BAM) was set up in 2000. Now baseball got lucky in that few people knew how much – if any – money the internet would make back in 2000. But BAM long ago exceeded its annual revenue target of $660 million. It is this internet revenue sharing that is in my opinion the main reason that every MLB franchise bar one has had a post season appearance in a year beginning with “2” (and the one franchise that has not the Blue Jays  – last post season appearance 1993 – has a great chance of making it this year).

And if I were running football we would have  proper Financial Fair Play. All revenue would be split equally between the 20 teams in the big European Leagues (18 teams in Germany) and also between the 32 teams that play in the Champions League. That doses not happen now. Revenue sharing would level out the playing field without banning billionaire investors. Just like what happens in America. And that is real Financial Fair Play.