After enduring a tough start to the season, Watford find themselves, perhaps not unexpectedly, struggling at the wrong end of the Championship, and as us Hornets fans look back up the table towards our rivals, we could be forgiven for feeling that the Premier League has never been further from reach.
As we well know, The Championship has long been regarded as one of the toughest divisions to gain promotion from. A huge amount of financial clout and no little luck is required to secure passage into the top flight and stay there. In reality it’s nothing more than a dream for the majority of Football League football fans. Of course, whilst there is hope, no matter how feint, the dream remains, but recent developments in the world of football look like extinguishing not only the dream, but also the basic viability of those football clubs outside the elite.
It’s a little disputed fact that the big teams wield all the power. Manchester United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool et al are the big draw and they earn the big bucks. Fair enough you may say, they are the best - they deserve the trappings of success. Well, that would be fine, but evidently this isn’t enough. They want more. And more.
The money paid by Sky and the other broadcasters is split between those competing in the top division, helping them at least attempt to stay afloat as they pay 6 figure weekly wages to their players. Sounds like a fair deal doesn’t it? Liverpool disagree. In short, they say they are bigger and therefore deserve more of the TV cash. They want their own deal. In announcing their own self importance and worth, Liverpool seem to be forgetting that football matches need two teams to take place. Whilst Fulham, Bolton and Wigan may not sell as many shirts in Thailand as their illustrious counterparts, they are equally important to the league – who would Liverpool play if it weren’t for these teams? Liverpool need opposition to exist and as such, fellow teams should be treated with the respect and the financial rewards they deserve.
Some clubs, like Watford, realised a long time ago that they are never going to generate enough commercial income to compete (perhaps even exist) and so set about making alternative plans. The obvious income source is player sales, and as well as picking up and selling on ‘rough diamonds’ like Danny Graham, Watford recognised that by setting up and investing in an Academy they could create and nurture their own stars who could come through the ranks, learn their trade at Watford, before being sold to “bigger clubs”. The player progresses, whilst Watford are financially rewarded. For smaller clubs like ours, this is a lifeline. Or at least it was.
By threatening to hold back payments to lower league clubs, the Premier League has forced the Football League to vote in favour of the Elite Player Performance Programme. Whilst it may sound fancy, in reality it could prove fatal. The main causes for concern are the changes to the way in which compensation will be paid should a young player leave for a bigger club. As it stands, the two clubs would negotiate a fee. Under the new plans, a set fee would apply, with a portion of money payable for each year the player has been at the selling club. To put this into perspective, Milton Keynes Dons have just agreed a settlement of £1.5million with Chelsea after an Academy graduate left for Stamford Bridge. Under the new arrangement, the Dons would receive something in the region of £50,000. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the impact this could have on Watford. Our main source of income virtually obliterated in order to make young talent, OUR young talent, available to Premiership teams at a vastly reduced cost.
Whilst we enjoy watching the best in the business in action in the Premier League, the top clubs clubs and the people in charge of our game need to remember that the sole purpose of teams outside the top four isn’t to make sure the big clubs get bigger and more successful. Macclesfield are just as important to the fabric of football as Manchester United or City. Lincoln just as precious as Liverpool.
Everyone wants to keep football alive, but to do so, the dream must be kept alive too. It’s precariously close to disappearing for good.
PLUG: We talk to Ross Wilson (Watford FC Head of Football Business) about EPPP and how it could effect the development of future Hornets - Download it via iTunes.