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Mind The Gap ! Saints V City Highlights The Huge Difference Between Premier League Have And Have Not
Friday, 21st Jan 2022 09:59

When both clubs played their opening Premier League fixtures of 2022 a few weeks back the difference between the clubs could not have been more amply illustrated, does football in England have a future ?

In 2021 we yet again repelled a bid from the top clubs in England to join a European Super league and it seemed that this was knocking them back with their tails between their legs.

Personally I felt that we had not won a battle, but had lost the chance to win a war, these clubs wanted to have their cakes and eat them, they didn't just want to join a European Super League, they wanted to stay in the Premier League and also rake in the riches from that as well.

That would have enabled them to build two squads, one for the domestic competitions and one that competed in the ESL, both would have been interchangeable.

The rest of us would have been even more cast adrift than we already are now, we missed our chance, we should have cast them out and made the top flight in English football competitive again.

I do feel sorry for some of the fans of these clubs, Liverpool & Manchester United for instance both have fans that have been there before the Premier League, many of these hate what their clubs have become, they have been priced out of the stadiums and seen their places taken by a transient fan base that differs from week to week as their global supporters clamour to see their idols in the flesh.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Spurs & Arsenal also have fans that have been their since year dot, but they have not been forced out by the high prices, "your grounds too big for you" is a common chant in football, but in these four clubs it could be applied, aside from Chelsea, the other three constantly have empty seats in their stadium and for most games don't sell out or perhaps in Arsenal's case bother to turn up even if they have a ticket.

I generally find that these four club's supporters have a hard core of long term fans who clamour for European Super League glory, sadly I think you will be able to add Newcastle United fans to this number judging by the comments I have seen.

The Premier League has changed greatly over the past decade, clubs like Saints used to cling to the fact that although the chance of winning the Premier League was virtually nil, that we could be competitive in the cups, think again !

Leicester won it last season, but go back 24 years before that and aside from Wigan in 2013 & Pompey in 2008 the winners have come from exclusively from Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea & the Two Manchester clubs, five clubs have carved that pie, occasionally they let one of the minions into the final to make us think we stand a chance, but that is becoming less and less.

The League cup is just as bad, Manchester City have won 5 out of the last 6 finals with only our defeat against Manchester United in 2017 breaking that run up, indeed since 2004, only Swansea in 2013, Birmingham in 2011 and Spurs in 2008 have broken that monopoly by those 5 clubs who dominate the FA cup and this season that continues with the Liverpool V Chelsea final.

So the League cup offers just as little hope than the FA cup and with Newcastle looking to spend billions, the chance of sneaking into Europe in 7th place in the Premier League is going to fade fast in the next couple of years.

The stark fact is that by 2025, we will all be also rans, 13 clubs will make up the Premier League numbers, that is assuming that the likes of City don't get their way and get the Premier League numbers reduced down to 18 or even less.

For the unlucky 13 every season will offer nothing but struggling to stay in the Premier League, the remote hope of reaching a cup final being long gone and the chances of Europe through the League virtually nil.

The likes of Everton & Aston Villa harbour hopes of breaking into the top echelons, but the truth is unless their are two Saudi Arabian community funds they have no chance under the current ownerships.

So when Saints take on Manchester City this weekend, I don't look at this as a chance to have a warm glow because we have got a rare win against a big club, indeed within a few years as the song goes "this really will be our cup final" unless they start offering the last European spot to the bottom 13 club who takes the most points off the big 7, this League will really become meaningless.

The gap could perhaps be highlighted by the recent sale of Southampton Football Club, the reported cost of £100 million can be put in perspective by the fact that is the same price Manchester City paid for Jack Grealish a player who is far from a regular started in City's side.

Indeed if we take a look at the City team who took on Arsenal in the first Premier league fixture of the New Year, the sub's bench alone including Grealish had a combined transfer value of around 220 million.

That is just in the fees paid alone and bear in mind this is just the subs bench, I don't have a calculator big enough to add up the value of the starting XI.

The Saints team that took on Brentford in our first Premier League game of the year including 7 substitutes, had a combined transfer spend of £115 million.

To put all this into perspective Manchester City had paid out more for their substitutes than not only we had paid for our entire 18 players against Brentford, but also how much our new owners had paid for the club.

This highlights the massive differences between not only Saints and City, but also the entire Premier League, Everton have been the club who are trying to get into the big time, yet City's bench was worth two season's transfer spend by the Toffee's.

This is the gulf that we are all facing, we just cannot compete anymore.

So for me English football and the Premier League is at a crossroads, if we all close our eyes and kid ourselves that we have the best league in the World and it is competitive then eventually we will follow the path of the Scottish Premier League, where the rest of the teams other than Rangers & Celtic will virtually die, those clubs can barely raise a crowd of 7,000, they have grown bored with just being cannon fodder and we are heading that way, yes perhaps it won't be a two club monopoly, but it won't be far off, even the likes of Arsenal & Tottenham have fallen way behind the other 4 and will likely be overtaken by Newcastle.

So yes I will cheer on Saints and hope we beat Manchester City, yes if we do actually do so I will get a warm glow, but I will also have the feeling that it is our cup final and that is sad.

We missed the chance a year ago to make English football competitive again, when the chance comes again and it will, then we should not let it pass, we should grasp it with both hands and reclaim the game !

Ask any supporter of a club outside those that harbour European Super League glory, if their club clubs were playing in the FA Cup final, would they really worry of care that some would say that the competition had been devalued due to United, Liverpool etc not taking part ?

I think the answer for us is in the numbers that attended the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final in 2010, football supporters want to see their sides have a chance of winning things, we don't go to games just to see the world's top players tear us apart .

Photo: Action Images

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halftimeorange added 10:30 - Jan 21
Everything you say is true but, what can we do? There are only three options to my way of thinking. We can go and support a smaller local club, say Eastleigh and adjust our mindset of being amongst the big boys but, see competitive matches and enjoy a pre-game lunch, the best seat in the house and a few beers afterwards and still have change from what we pay now to watch the Saints. Or we can boycott all games home and away against the monied few however, this would need a national movement to have any effect. The most likely is that we continue to live off scraps occasionally tossed our way by one of the big six having an off day. It's not just the clubs themselves, it's the entire circus that we're up against - the media, world-wide tv rights, even (dare I say it) officials and league and cup organisers - all of whom are frightened of the power of the top clubs. Can you imagine the effect of Man City banning some of the British press from reporting anything about them. No, change is not going to happen. During lockdown watching games on TV played in empty stadiums was hailed as a lifeline for us homebound fans of the game. We've helped make our beds and now, sadly we have to lie in them.

PaleRider added 10:56 - Jan 21
Sensible article, Nick - very realistic. However, I think we can still be reasonably optimistic about Saints' future as a competitive member of the PL. I'm not convinced about Newcastle - don't know why?

Half time - again, absolutely sensible. It's not just the clubs - it's the whole circus.

The solution is therefore probably a European Super League as a stepping stone to a Global League. On the bright side, some of the "big" clubs will get shafted by this process and Newcastle may be too late even now as it will take many years for them to be an English super power, let alone a European super power. Finally they will all get shafted as owners lose interest or conflicts of interest rise..

saint901 added 11:08 - Jan 21
A very good, if slightly depressing, summary.

The EPL is already three leagues. There are the big clubs who have huge budgets and can essentially buy players just to keep them away from other clubs. There are those who make up the numbers. There are those who yo-yo between Champ and EPL and who are doomed to eventually falling out of that position without substantial investment.

The suggestion that the big clubs should be excluded from the EPL would have sent the TV networks in nightmares. TV audiences are made up of more than the partisan followers of the clubs featured. They all pay a subscription and if they can't see City v Liverpool with their glittering array of good players, they won't pay.

Personally I think a European league will eventually arise. We already see that in the European Champions League now being expanded to include teams who are very definitely not "Champions". The bigger clubs want this but playing 38 league games, perhaps 4 or more domestic cup games, Euro group matches and knock out matches sees the better clubs in the UK playing 60 games in 9 months - just over 1.5 games a week.

Reducing the league to 18 removes 4 games. Not competing in the domestic cups, perhaps 4 games. I can also see the teams in the top 2/3 of their leagues being introduced to the European Championship only after the smaller teams have played what is a qualifying competition. (Who wants to see Liverpool play Sporting Minnow of Malta?).

The clubs and the TV companies are looking at audience numbers. They know that 4 games of top v top will bring in more ad revenue than 8 games of top v nobody heard of them.

And because money now runs the game, they are the most powerful voice. With the big clubs, the money is pushing on an open door. And the big clubs and the money are not sharing. The clubs below the top 4 or 6 have no chance of breaking through without a sovereign fund behind them or some mega rich egomaniac.

Within a decade I can really see a Euro league with play offs etc; EPL of 18 or even 16 teams; perhaps some teams in the Championship and below being designated feeder teams.

I can see all attempts to level the playing field by wage caps, financial fair play (joke), distribution of TV money (still warped in favour of big clubs), fail on the grounds that the money men have absolutely no interest in any club who will be watched in numbers sufficient to make those paying for ads, sit up and notice.

Fans? Bottom of the pile when it comes to this equation. Their opinion is not needed or wanted. One of the effects of Covid is that matches played behind closed doors were wtill played - and watched. Despite the lack of atmosphere in the grounds, the money machine kept turning. I'm sure the TV companies have noted that.

True fans will turn up to Saints v City one week and Saints v Accrington Stanley the next. However I'm guessing that at least a third would claim that they cannot attend the Accrington game because of lack of resource, lack of interest or priority in other areas of their lives. For those who are not Saints fans but "football fans" I suspect 90% will not want to watch the Accrington match. We know this and so do the social scientists who populate the marketing companies selling ad space.

The big clubs, the EPL, the FA, the Gov't UEFA, FIFA have no interest in stopping the march of money into the game. If that means each country having 4 to 6 clubs play in European (or global) leagues, cherry picking the best playing talent from across the world, distributing crumbs to domestic leagues, it will happen.

It is a sad reflection on our society.

Hamnottingham added 11:09 - Jan 21
We have been 'also-rans' for many years now, along with the likes of Palace, West Ham and Burnley. As you say nick, we need to cast off the big 6/7 and start again with a new PL. Trouble is, that will see a load of owners/'investors' pull out of clubs and the Sky etc money will fall off a cliff. Then some of the also rans will go out of business...........not what the fans wished for.

ElijahK added 11:42 - Jan 21
It’s the gaps like this that are the main reason I didn’t mind having that stupid super league or such. As every season now, you can basically predict where at least half or so of the teams will roughly finish, as every two years basically all of Borwich, Fulham and West Brom all get promoted and all get relegated, as well as basically every single season (other then when Leicester won the league and we came 6th) the top 7 have all of Man City, Man U, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool in it.
The only variation we get whatsoever is who finishes where in the top 7/bottom 3 out of those teams as well as that middle section of like 18th to 8th. As in the past you always had favourites to go down/win the league, but it was never as cemented as it is today.

This is just simply down to money though, all those sad ass glory hunters and the fact that loyalty means very little to any players whatsoever. As most of the teams outside the “top 6” have all had some amazing players, but have almost always lost them to one of those “top 6” teams due to them offering the player a ridiculous wage and making them want to leave as loyalty means bugger all to them!
As at the end of the day, until something is done about the money/gap issue in football then none of this will be changing as it looks like Newcastle will be the next to enter that “top 6” but unless everyone gets a billionaire owner, then it’s just gonna be one shit ride for the rest of us!

SonicBoom added 12:21 - Jan 21
Unless a revamped PL has fixed spending allowed by all the remaining teams then it would only be a matter of time before the league resembles what it is now. The likes of Everton and West Ham and Villa at the top and the rest of us below that.

Centurion added 12:24 - Jan 21
A good post.
I know people who have abandoned top flight football and now support their local non league clubs. This part of football is seeing a revival, it is competitive and way more 'honest' than the Premier League.
I suppose for some the Championship is a better league.
I still think it is exciting supporting Saints and their is something to be said for the achievement of just remaining in the league and giving the big boys an occasional bloody nose.

PaleRider added 13:19 - Jan 21
Interesting 901 - I'm not a season ticket holder and I tend to avoid the big 6, mainly because of their fans being helmets. I will watch City, but not this weekend (because their fans are pretty good) and I will watch Spurs (because I hate them with a passion!). However, I will go to cup games etc. and really enjoyed the Brentford game, am looking forward to Norwich etc. It's not the winning but I feel an affinity with the fans of most other clubs. I would also rather watch us play Accrington or Pompey any day of the week.

Sonic - not sure I agree because the mass of plastic Asian & armchair fans will flock to a super league. I think a re-vamped PL would be more competitive. Interesting question though, is if you were Leicester's owners what would you do?

SanMarco added 14:59 - Jan 22
Good article - the point about missing the chance to reform after the super-league fiasco is an interesting one but I think clubs like Villa, Everton, Newcastle, Wolves, Leeds, Wet Spam and sometimes us are too prone to a 'just one more push and we can join the elite' mentality. I remember all those years ago when (I think we were still at the Dell) Woopert signed up as one of the 'big 12' in some breakaway talk or other. The thing with talk of 'aspiration' is that it applies to all those who will never get anywhere as much as those that might do.

Second thing (I don't think it has been mentioned yet) is the loan system. The very biggest clubs are allowed to farm talented players. They then send them out on loan and cherry pick those they want to keep. A simple change of rules would stop this. We would then, say, buy Broja before Chelsea got him and then make a healthy profit by selling to Chelsea if he worked out. At least then 'selling clubs' (and let's face it most clubs are) would at least make decent money.

For all their uber-capitalist commercial attitudes the Americans have a more democratic big sport system than we do. I know there are complications in that comparison but it does in part recognise that spreading glory around a bit is a good idea.

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