The ‘traditional nine’
The day after the story broke Liverpool appeared to accept the plan they have co-conceived will need some refinement. They are understood to be prepared for a robust debate on the proposals, bracing themselves in particular for a battle around the plan for nine clubs to receive preferential voting rights. There is an expectation at Anfield that the leaked blueprint for football’s future will not be the final version; whether that is enough to dampen the anger of other clubs in the division, and beyond, and get everyone amicably around the table remains to be seen. Manchester United are understood by sources closely involved in the proposal to have a similar outlook to Liverpool.
Reactions among the lesser clubs in the “traditional nine” have ranged from disgust to caution. West Ham, who would, as things stand, benefit alongside the half dozen self-appointed grandees are understood to be appalled by the proposals. Another pointed out that they had only read about Project Big Picture in media reports and were yet to be presented with any substance, making it impossible to form a coherent stance.
The tone elsewhere is one of similar circumspection. Both Arsenal and Spurs have expressed a preference to sit on the fence until more information is known. Arsenal are believed to be open-minded but undecided, with some elements of the proposals appealing to them and others less favoured. Their north London rivals think more discussion is required before they can know whether to back the idea.
Four of the nine clubs are yet to offer a view on the plans. An openness to conversations about football’s future is a common theme but, even within the proposed ruling elite, the prospects of automatic consensus seem vanishingly slim.
The remaining 11 Premier League clubs
Beneath the gilded corridors of the chosen nine, knives are being sharpened. One club expressed its fury with Rick Parry, Liverpool and Manchester United for cooking up the plan. They stated their vehement opposition and suspected it would quickly become dead in the water. The possibility of an elite band making key decisions was, as predicted by Liverpool, a particular sticking point and they also voiced fears about the long-term predictability of the Premier League.
Another club with European ambitions was similarly doubtful about the plan’s prospects of seeing daylight, wondering what would be in it for all bar a limited number of the league’s participants. However, they stopped short of rejecting it out of hand, and other clubs voiced concerns while emphasising they needed a better grasp of the detail.
But anyone seeking crumbs of positivity from the league’s lower reaches would have to stop there. While some offered no immediate comments, another club stated its flat-out rejection and there was a sense from one of their rivals that other plans are brewing. The club in question suggested those not directly involved in the scheme are mobilising to oppose it and that other offers of financial help have been put to the EFL. They added their voice to those who give it no chance of coming to fruition and queried whether Rick Parry’s position was tenable now that the plans have been revealed.
The overall feeling is one of scepticism and, in some cases, incredulity. It is difficult to see how the proposals could, in their current form, bring enough top-flight clubs onside to change the face of English football in the manner intended.
Premier League promotion hopefuls
Many clubs are still unpicking the document but the general mood is scepticism. Several are uneasy about the governance of such a project, in particular the collapse of a currently sacrosanct voting structure. Some clubs acknowledge there could be a short-term gain but are dubious about the long-term consequences, with one club arguing there are “opportunistic elements” to the proposal and another outlining their opposition to having their voice diluted upon promotion. Others believe the eradication of parachute payments would level the playing field and reduce overspending.
There are a mixed bag of views by the clubs but Stoke’s joint chairman John Coates stressed there is a need to narrow the gulf to the top flight. “We have long believed that the major long-term issue facing English football is the cliff edge between the Premier League and Championship finances and we are in support of developing any discussions where this is firmly on the agenda,” he said.
The redistribution of television money is also widely regarded as “long overdue” and the EFL Cup, which could be scrapped under such plans along with the Community Shield, is seen as “problematic for a lot of clubs” with promotion at heart, but such a multi-faceted plan has also been met with fierce opposition. One play-off chasing club argued such a proposal would make staying in the Premier League a lot harder “overnight” and there is concern such a move would further “ring-fence” the division. The biggest sticking point surrounds the prospect of “super votes”. As one executive put it, if weighted voting was an option in the second tier, they would object.
Some Championship clubs, meanwhile, are relaxed the proposal will not take off because too many big top-flight clubs will reject it.
The rest of the clubs in the EFL
The proposal is music to the ears of smaller Championship clubs with modest resources, as well as the majority of those in League One and League Two. The consensus is that the planned revamp is welcome news at a time when most have been crippled by the coronavirus crisis, with the EFL set to hold discussions with clubs on Tuesday. Given that no Premier League rescue package has been forthcoming, many League One and League Two clubs regard the proposal as a win-win scenario given the proposed £250m bailout will provide financial support in the short term and the redistribution of the television money, in conjunction with the respective £2.5m and £1.5m salary caps introduced in August, should improve clubs’ long-term health. One League One chairman argued there are “no downsides” and stressed such a proposal could triple club revenues and remove the reliance on owner funding.
Naturally, there is some scepticism around the implications of handing a select group of Premier League clubs extra power but equally, as one source puts it, “beggars can’t be choosers”. “It is about saving the game from oblivion,” says one owner. The Forest Green chairman, Dale Vince, said the proposal would help solve “systemic issues” and be a “good thing for most of the EFL”. He added: “The disparity in funding and parachute payments have distorted competition grossly at the top of the Championship, but that ultimately works its way through the EFL and down into non-league, too.”
The financial state of clubs is so perilous and the reality is such a bailout would cover lost ticket revenue not only last season but this season as well. Another source argues top-flight advocates of the proposal are “opportunistic” and preying on lower-league clubs’ desperation. Clubs are keen to harvest more detail of the plans but one League Two owner summarised the thinking in the lower leagues. “Most of us are saying: ‘How do I survive tomorrow?’ But this would be a game-changer.” There is an acceptance that money talks but the Peterborough chairman, Darragh MacAnthony, emphasised clubs starved of income amid the ongoing absence of supporters “don’t have time for this to happen”. “We need £250m for the EFL and we needed it yesterday,” he said.