On Thursday I attended a Palace For Life event with Patrick Vieira, celebrating our club’s Foundation, whose remarkable work makes a tangible difference to the community and young people in south London.
It was less than 24 hours after publication of a fan-led review into football, chaired by Tracey Crouch MP. Throughout our event, I tried to reconcile what I’ve seen and lived every day for 11 years as Crystal Palace Chairman with Tracey’s opening salvo that the English game “lurches from crisis to crisis”.
By Tracey’s admission, “there is so much to celebrate about English football. The Premier League is the leading football league in the world… the Championship is by far the biggest ‘second division’ in football… the work of clubs in their communities has always been incredible…” and yet within a few paragraphs her report begins outlining the game as facing some Armageddon.
It cites three rather disparate calamities – the demise of Bury, failed European Super League breakaway, and COVID pandemic – as basis to argue the government must urgently implement some 47 drastic and irrevocable changes.
There are elements we agree on: heritage, stadiums need protecting, and we need some financial controls. The latter is especially true in the EFL, where real-time reporting of finances might stop clubs falling off the same cliff as Derby County.
Tracey has consulted a lot of people and put in a lot of work in but just because people have been consulted it doesn’t mean the output reflects a consensus.
The Premier League, FA, PFA and EFL don’t believe football needs a government regulator, yet Tracey proposes one and powerful, popularist voices like Gary Neville endorse that view. Gary is a great guy, fantastic broadcaster and his role in dismantling the Super League was commendable — but I find it hard to fathom his logic that we need to hand the running of football to a government he regularly berates.
Taking each crisis in turn, let’s start with Bury. Football clubs are among the most resilient businesses ever created. Bury (who I firmly believe will re-emerge in some guise) are one of a tiny number of professional clubs that have ceased to operate in the past 100 years.
No other industry can claim such longevity of its companies and it’s a myth that only the Premier League can make money. The Championship has the sixth highest revenue of any league in Europe. League One revenues are broadly similar to the Scottish Premiership.