Hoping To Take Back Our Beautiful Game
A very famous football pundit once said that football was a funny old game. I don’t think he realised when he said it just how many twists and turns the game would take over the years. We keep hearing about this past season being a season like no other. Nobody could dispute that it really has been an odd and unique year for the sport
With no fans allowed into grounds, revenues dramatically cut, many clubs on the brink of collapse, the game was rocked when the so called ‘Big 6’ decided they wanted to be part of the formation of a new European Super League (ESL).
The ESL was made up of 12 of Europe’s elite clubs with the promise of billions more in revenues. There was no real competition to it with no relegation and more of a round robin of games aimed at the Asian and Middle Eastern TV audiences. And at the heart of this new organisation was Joel Glazer, co-chairman of Manchester United.
The Glazer family are no strangers to controversy within the game and have come up against strong opposition from Manchester United fans since they first took over the club. Most notably the formation of FC United in 2005 by a group of fans disillusioned by the running of the club.
FC United is now the largest fan owned club in the UK, they have their own ground and are playing in the Northern Premier League. As a members’ association every fan has the right to vote on the running of the club and control the direction it goes in. The fans have taken it back to basics and grassroots level. FC United, along with their first team, now also operate a youth academy and women’s team.
Many fans of other clubs are disillusioned about the way their clubs are being run. With the ever-increasing tv monies, the amounts paid for and to players and ticket prices that exclude many families from attending games, has football become over commercialised and forgotten its basic grassroots history?
Some fans blame foreign ownership for the current state of the game. This was evident at the recent protests outside Old Trafford before the home clubs clash with rivals Liverpool, that resulted in fans breaking their way in to the ground, spilling on to the pitch and the game being postponed. Protests by supporters at other clubs led to the swift demise of the ESL with all six English clubs pulling out. But the blame cannot solely lie with foreign ownership when you look at the scenes at Wembley following the FA Cup Final win by Leicester City. The owner is clearly integral to the club’s success and loved by fans, players and management alike.
But what about locally? The likes of AFC Fylde are a far cry from the dizzy heights of being asked to join the ESL. Clubs like Fylde rely heavily on their fans and local community and their move to the Mill Farm complex in 2016 showed a significant investment into the club by its owner. They have since established a women’s team and youth academy.
Blackpool FC are also no strangers to controversy when it comes to the club’s ownership with many fans boycotting attending games to show their frustrations in previous seasons.
Founder members of the football league, Preston North End, are still wholly owned by local businessman Trevor Hemmings. How long local ownership will continue is anyone’s guess or will the club be lured into foreign investment to reach the holy grail of the Premier League? In the last month four youth academy players have signed professional ter ms with the club. We look forward to seeing some home-grown talent gracing the pitch at Deepdale very soon.
But there is still hope for the grassroots level of the game away from the commercialisation and wrangling over ownership, in the form of the women’s game.
Only a handful of clubs and players are on professional terms and many women are joining clubs to play simply for the love of the game. Blackburn Rovers have a well-established team, with great successes over the last few years and now playing in the FA Women’s Championship with home games played at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium in Bamber Bridge.
Preston North End have just announced a fresh start for their women’s team and are on the lookout for new players in their bid to emulate the success of the Dick Kerr Ladies FC, the earliest known women’s association football team in England founded in Preston in 1917.
Do you fancy being involved at the very start, at grassroots level? Preston North End Ladies manager, Andy Lyons is hosting trials for new players in June. Could you be the next female Tom Finney or Preston’s version of Fran Kirby?
Trials will be held on the 3G pitch at Penwortham Priory Academy on 2nd, 9th and 16th June, 8pm-10pm. For further details email Andy on firstname.lastname@example.org.
When football does return next season, hopefully, it will be with fans back in the grounds. Will clubs take on board suggestions of more fan ownership and representation at board level? Will we see more investment and development at grassroots level? The effect of the events of the last 12 months will eventually unfold and lessons will be learnt from this season like no other. But it does show us that football really is a funny old game.