BLOG – Alternatives to B Teams

At the end of my previous blog post, I promised to come up with some alternative solutions for England’s woes. So, here they are…

The Aim

The FA wanted to address “the lack of available quality English players appearing regularly at the top end of English football, [the Commission] was attempting to address an issue often raised, occasionally debated, but rarely confronted by the game.”

In other words, try to come up with ways to increase the amount of English players playing in the PL/comparable leagues in Europe. I’ll try to do the same, without breaking the pyramid system and handing all the power in English football to the big clubs.

Proposal 1 – Keep the Homegrown Player Requirements and Non-EU Work Visa changes

Though these aren’t fully sketched out in the FA’s report, they do point in the right direction. The Homegrown Player Requirement will basically see the quota allowed for non-homegrown players decrease, whilst the quota required for homegrown players increases. This will naturally focus the PL club’s on their youth development.

The Non-EU Visa change is basically making it harder for foreign players who are not outstanding to be allowed into our leagues. It smacks a little bit of a UKIP policy, but, strangely, it does make sense. Similar restrictions are in place in other countries (some within the EU, so we won’t fall foul of any laws there if it’s done properly), and means that importing average players from abroad to play ahead of average players from the UK will become less common.

If our aim is to improve the England team, it makes sense to start with changing the makeup of squads at the highest level in England.

Proposal 2 – Reform EPPP

The Elite Player Performance Plan is basically a way to allow A standard academies (basically PL clubs) to sign players from other academies on the cheap. Whilst distasteful, this doesn’t need major change, rather a reform.

Currently players can be signed by another club with little notice to the other club up to the age of 16. I would change this to 14. This will mean that big clubs only come in for players when they are really sure they want them (so helps to stop hording), and allows smaller clubs to be guaranteed players will stay with them for longer periods of time, encouraging them to invest in their development.

I would also allow academies that are not A standard to acquire other academies players in the same way that A standard academies currently can. This would allow clubs to develop youth policy based on philosophies and systems, rather than whoever they can get to flog on.

Proposal 3 – More Equitable Distribution of Wealth

Currently the top clubs squander huge amounts of money on player’s wages and the like, for little discernible benefit. I would give a greater proportion of the money the PL brings in to lower league clubs, including the Conference. This money would be much better spent keeping hand-to-mouth clubs afloat, serving the local community of the football clubs and keeping our rich and varied collection of teams safe from future threat.

Proposal 4 – Create a Professional Licence for all Professional Clubs

The purpose of this is to make sure that all professional teams in England adhere to a minimum set of standards. These will include (but are not limited to): Supporter representation on the board, Transparency with regard to ownership and accounting issues, Companies that control clubs to be based in the area the club resides in (not off-shore) etc.

Proposal 5 – Lobby for Safe Standing

Because, well, everyone stands in seated areas already. Might as well make it official and safe.

Proposal 6 – Rejig the Pyramid

The pyramid is not a sacred cow. With some tweaking it could be made to really genuinely work for the benefit of the England side. I’ll outline the tweaks, the reasons for which will become apparent later.

For this there is one theme, but with two alternatives. I want all teams below the PL to play less league games, and more cup games. So, currently from the PL to the Conference North and South there are seven divisions of 160 teams, one of 20 teams, four of 24 teams and two of 22 teams. I propose to cut down the size of all of these divisions to 20 teams, and create a new division while I’m at it. There are two ways to do this.

Option 1: PL 20 teams, Championship 20 teams, League 1 20 teams, League 2 North 2o teams, League 2 South 20 teams, Conference North 20 teams, Conference Midlands 20 teams, Conference South 20 teams.

Option 2: PL 20 teams, Championship 20 teams, League 1 20 teams, League 2 2o teams, Conference 20 teams, Conference North 20 teams, Conference Midlands 20 teams, Conference South 20 teams.

Personally I prefer Option 1, but we’d be democratic and have a vote I think.

Proposal 7 – Rebrand U21 Teams and Give them Competition

The U21s would be re-branded as the Reserves, though similar rules would apply to them as they do in the current U21 league. The U21 league would continue to run, but with some changes. To give them the competition the big clubs so crave, there would be a major reform of cup competitions in England.

First off, the FA Cup, would stay pretty much the same (though there may have to be tweaks with regard as to where teams come in to it, due to the new league structure). The only change is that the winners of the County Cup competitions would be given a bye to Round 2. Why this happens will become apparent later.

The League Cup, Paint Trophy and FA Trophy would all stay the same. Remember that under either of the new league structures either the Paint Trophy is expanded, or the FA Trophy is expanded.

However, the various County Cups would undergo a massive overall. Across Britain all clubs from the PL down to the new regional Conference divisions would be placed in a County Cup depending on their location. For many teams this would be the same as the one they currently enter (Chester in the Cheshire Senior Cup, Colchester in the Essex Senior Cup etc.), but there would be an equal amount of large teams entering each County Cup. These competitions would, of course, include teams from lower down the pyramid, but the following rules would apply:

– All professional sides, in keeping with the terms of their license, must enter a side into one, and only one, County Cup.

– All teams may choose whether to enter their First or Reserve team into the competition. Once this has been decided on they may not change their minds and must provide the county FA with a squad list (this will be stricter for Reserve sides than first teams, for obvious reasons – youth player development!).

– The competitions will consist of a preliminary stage, group stage and knockout stage. The ideal size of the group stage will be 36 teams, with eight 4 team groups. Arrange the preliminary stage to sort this out, all Reserve sides from the PL, Championship and League 1 receive a bye to the group stage. There will be a maximum of one Reserve side per group.

– The winners of the competition would be given a bye to Round 2 of the FA Cup (obviously as long as it isn’t a Reserve side).

Proposal 8 – Reform the U21 League 

Part of the problem with the U21 league is that you’re always playing U21 teams. With the reduced amount of league fixtures for teams from the Championship down to the regional Conference level, the opportunity is there for U21 teams to play games against first teams of other clubs. There would now be scope for first teams of lower division clubs to compete in the U21 leagues alongside them. To encourage teams to do this, various financial incentives could be offered.

Proposal 9 – Change the Loan System

Short term loans are undesirable due to the fact that they are a slightly desperate measure. These would be abolished. All loans would either be a half season, or full season long loan. The parent club would be obliged to pay the majority of the player’s wages and would not be allowed to be recalled during the loan. Emergency loans would also be abolished.

Proposal 10 – Investment in Grassroots

The FA and other partners would massively increase investment towards amateur football. Especially facilities and coaching. This area can be further looked at upon the publication of the FA’s report on this area, due in the autumn.

Summary

Ok, parts of this aren’t perfect, but it’s a good demonstration that there are real alternatives to the Commission’s proposals that don’t ruin the integrity of the current competitions and still provide youth players with the opportunities they need. This set of suggestions would see lower league clubs gain stable finances, an opportunity to possess excellent, promising players of their own and encourage longer term thinking from clubs higher up the pyramid with regard to their players. This way the whole of the pyramid benefits, and that is what will ultimately push standards up, not concentrating power in the hands of the selfish few at the top. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than the crap the FA came up with, and it’s been written by one bloke over a three hour period. Makes you think eh?

Richard Bellis

About Richard Bellis

Richard is a masters student at UCL who studies the History and Philosophy of Science. He graduated in Philosophy from the University of Leeds. His first Chester game was the promotion winning match against Scarborough in 2004, which he watched on top of a van outside the stadium. He has written for various websites including When Saturday Comes, In Bed With Maradona and The Two Unfortunates.

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  1. Why Manchester City Deserve To Be Champions | Dispatches From A Football Sofa - May 12, 2014

    […] abomination the Premier League floated a few years ago) and many decent writers have suggested well-considered and measured alternatives to the FA’s plan. We all know there’s something seriously wrong with the game in England and […]

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