MARTIN SAMUEL: Protect The Clubs... Without Them The Game Is Dead

From Knights of Ivalice

Mark E Smith was the singer, frontman and a legendary, uncompromising driving force behind the rock group, The Fall.
He was a brilliant lyricist, a sharp, smart and entirely wilful artist and burned through band members at an almost comical rate.
Once, the story goes, after sacking, re-instating, and then sacking the entire group before a gig in Belfast, he attempted to recruit a middle-aged, one-eyed local poet as his lone on-stage accomplice.

Understandably, the promoter was worried about a crowd who expected to see actual musicians.
'Listen, son,' it is said Smith growled. 'If it's me and your granny on bongos, it's a Fall gig.' And that's what Gordon Taylor, his allies and advocates don't understand.
They think football is all about players. It's not. It's about clubs. 
Gordon Taylor and his allies don't understand that football is really about clubs and not players
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The clubs are Mark E Smith. The players are your granny on bongos. We love the players.

The players are important, yes. But people don't support players. They support clubs. 
So they loved Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United. They revelled in his greatness, sang songs in his honour, took his side when the country was against him after the 2006 World Cup and Wayne Rooney's dismissal. 
But when Ronaldo left for Real Madrid in 2009, he did not take a single genuine Manchester United fan with him.

They got behind his replacement, Luis Antonio Valencia, instead. 
He signed from Wigan Athletic and scored 25 goals in 10 seasons at Manchester United — one less than Ronaldo in his final campaign for the club. Valencia was such a successful wide forward he ended up playing at right back.
No matter. Valencia was United's man, meaning if United was your club, he was your man, too. The fans were with whoever pulled on the red shirt, even an obviously inferior talent.
It's the same anywhere. Manchester United fans will always love Ronaldo, or Eric Cantona, or Ryan Giggs, but they love United more.

If one club goes under because the players refused to compromise, the profession and its union will not be forgiven. 
Manchester United fans were with whoever pulled on the red shirt, including inferior talents
Without players there would be no game, we are told, but that isn't entirely true, either. 
Football is a team sport, players are individuals.

No player, on his own, has a game. When, as a kid, you went over the park with a ball, you didn't have a game. You were looking for some others, to get a game. To join their team, or get them on yours. 
So it is the clubs that make the game; they bring the people together and give that confluence meaning.
The only enduring unit in team sport is a club. Not a league, certainly not a player. Take the club away and we're back to jumpers for goalposts. And nobody watches games like that. So there is no money in it.
That is what this stand-off is about, as always.

Money. The Professional Footballers' Association think the clubs are swimming in it, certainly in the Premier League, and are informing their members of this fact.
Strangely, the union does not understand the economics of modern football.

In Europe's leading leagues, UEFA competitions have helped create an elite. These super-clubs have thriving commercial arms and wealthy owners and command the most consistently lucrative positions.
Below them, the remainder of the clubs try desperately to keep pace, or attempt to survive in this rarefied atmosphere.

Below that is another league, in which clubs strive for promotion. So with the exception of those at the very top, those clubs live, effectively, a hand-to-mouth existence. Their bid to compete, to stay up, or improve their circumstances, takes all their funds. And now that tap is being turned off.
When an economic crisis like this arrives, they do not have spare reserves. This is why Burnley claim their money will run out in August — and others calculate an ever more imminent deadline.
When an economic crisis of this magnitude arrives, some clubs do not have spare reserves
Even the wealthiest are not immune.

Liverpool's most recent profit amounts to £42million, their monthly wage bill to £22m. Just two months without income would swallow all of last season's net earnings. 
Not that this creates an excuse for furloughing the lowest paid.
The Premier League should have crushed that plan in its infancy. That the PFA have felt able to paint the club owners as greedy and untrustworthy relies entirely on a handful of clubs paying their non-playing staff with Government money. 
Liverpool's decision was the most startling and was just as swiftly reversed, given the widespread negative reaction — but no Premier League member, even Bournemouth or Norwich, should have required this. 
It has been entirely counterproductive, too, forging the image of owners working the system, selling out their employees and lining their own pockets.

It has created an atmosphere of suspicion and cynicism. It is more than simply a PR misstep. It has soured the whole negotiation. 
And it was unnecessary. Player wages are the issue. At one club, in the bottom half of the Premier League, the non-playing monthly wage bill is roughly £500,000.
That includes everyone, from the chief executive to the workers at the training ground canteen. Then the bill for the players comes in — and that's £6.5m. So furloughing non-playing staff solves very little. Addressing player wages changes the entire economic picture.
It's a mystery why Taylor, PFA chairman, has promoted an air of mistrust during this wage crisis
Quite why this is proving so hard to understand is a mystery.

Quite why Taylor, PFA chairman, has promoted this air of mistrust is a mystery, too. Perhaps he wants his members to feel grateful for their fortune. If they are, it should not be to him. The PFA's £27m cut of the latest Premier League deal isn't what pays their vast salaries.
Indeed, given the PFA's abysmal torpor over the investigation into football-related brain injuries, it is hard to imagine what it does pay for.
Yet the players have ended up at loggerheads and seemingly resentful of an industry in which the average salary in the top division exceeds £3m annually.

Who exactly are they fighting? Who is the enemy here? 
In all likelihood, football has a short-term financial problem, a temporary issue for which a temporary solution is required. If the season starts again behind closed doors, much of the missing money will be repaid.
If the season is curtailed and a new one begins later in the year, the hit will have lasted a matter of months.
There are many industries that will take far longer to return to normality and can never get back the missing revenue. 
When McDonald's throws open its doors again, consumers are not going to buy four months of burgers to make up for what was lost March through June. 
Yet football can cut deals.

Lay on extra televised games, beef up future packages. For many, while the transfer market will almost certainly be deflated, while matchday revenue may suffer, there is a path through. 
Football can cut deals and lay on extra television games in order to get back missing revenue
It will not be as lucrative but it exists.

Unless clubs go to the wall. That is what is being risked in these rounds of brinkmanship. There is a very real chance, as time wastes, that clubs will be lost. And when that starts to happen, forgiveness will be thin on the ground. 
When the national identity of towns and cities tumbles, nobody will have the appetite for the PFA's self-serving rationalisations on taxation and the NHS.
They will just wonder why nothing was done sooner. The death of Bury Football Club was not just a little tragedy for the people who supported them. There will still be a club, albeit playing many leagues below its previous station. And whoever wears the shirt, even if it is the local plumber's mate, will still represent Bury FC. 
The wider tragedy, then, affects the town. What put Bury on the map, bar football?

There are many conurbations like this. Many whose existence is defined by that weekly namecheck, the odd FA Cup appearance. Club associations at that level are, if anything, stronger because there is so little stardust. These are the clubs that must be protected. 
The death of Bury Football Club was not just a little tragedy for the people who supported them
For what will football's economic landscape look like, even when this is over?

Undoubtedly margins will be tighter. This country could have three million unemployed again by the end of May. 
The going rate, from admission prices to sponsorships, will change. The pressure on budgets will become greater. It is ludicrous to think we flick a switch and the age of coronavirus is over.
So cuts, deferrals, realignments will continue to be part of the language. 
It cannot be that every attempt to survive is met with the resistance that is being felt now. Football is about clubs. 
Protect the clubs.

Without them, it might as well just be your granny on bongos. 
Perhaps the greatest irony of the fallout between the clubs and the Professional Footballers' Association is Gordon Taylor's demand that owners open their books for inspection, so his union have proof of financial difficulty.

This is an organisation whose accounts and accountability are currently being investigated by the Sports Resolutions arbitration service and the Charity Commission. 
Moving at glacial speed, Sports Resolutions announced their review 17 months ago, but only published its formal terms of reference last month.
Maybe the clubs should tell Taylor they'll show him theirs, if he shows them his. 
Troy Deeney, Watford captain, defended the actions of Aston Villa's Jack Grealish, who caused a storm last week by ignoring instructions to stay in lockdown. 'What's he going to do,' asked Deeney.

'Sit in the yard on his own?' Yes, that's exactly what he's supposed to do. 
He isn't being conscripted. He isn't being sent to fight in Burma. It really shouldn't be that hard. And, on Youtube, the National Theatre has placed James Corden's sterling turn in One Man, Two Guv'nors.
Even if you're not a theatregoer, it's worth staying in for. Keep safe. 
It shouldn't be hard for Jack Grealish to stay in during lockdown, he isn't being conscripted
The football season in Belgium is over.

Why? Because it can be. When matches were curtailed at the start of March with one game to play, Club Brugge were 15 points clear and had already been declared regular season champions. What would then have happened is the points totals of the top six clubs would have been halved, rounded up, and they would have played the post-season championship to decide the winner. 
Wisely, the organisers of the Jupiler Pro League decided this was unnecessary.

They gave Brugge the title and awarded the European spots to the teams in places two to five. Waasland-Beveren, bottom club by two points, were relegated. 
Belgium's unique logistics gave them a way out of lockdown — one that cannot be as simply replicated elsewhere.

It helped that every club had played the same number of games, 29, and that a title had already been awarded. 
Predictably, the dull minds of UEFA then got involved, warning that unfinished leagues might not have their teams admitted into European competitions next season. Yet, for the most part, a fair pecking order was established in Belgium. 
At the top, only Charleroi — who trailed Gent by one point and might have swapped a Europa League place for a berth in the Champions League third qualifying round — could feel aggrieved.

Likewise, relegated Waasland-Beveren might have caught Oostende on the final day. So it wasn't perfect, but it was a reasoned solution. 
Equally, even if football reconvenes this summer, it will be hard for the EFL to get through the play-off stages as well as the regular season in time for the 2020-21 campaign. Similar logic could be applied. 
Those promoted automatically go up, those in the play-off places stay down. It would be harsh but relatively resistant to legal challenge because it would be difficult for any club to prove in court it would have won promotion through play-offs which are historically so unpredictable. 
Talking to a friend, a medical professional, several weeks ago, the conversation turned to the public resistance to social distancing.

'Pretty soon, everyone is going to understand what we're saying,' she said. 'Because everyone's going to know someone who's dead.' 
She didn't necessarily mean a member of your family will die but you'll be acquainted with someone who has lost, maybe a friend, maybe a relative.
And although people do not know Pep Guardiola personally, they think they do. 
He's on our televisions, he's in our lives, we are familiar with his Catalan background, where he's from, where's he at. The terrible human tragedy that has befallen his family, with the passing of his mother, Dolors Sala Carrio, may give more people pause for thought than a hundred Government warnings.
The tragedy that has befallen Pep Guardiola's family may make more people pause for thought
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