Let me first declare an interest. My son, a neighbour and I have
stand seats at Crystal Palace which we have supported since I kissed
good-bye to Halifax Town, Alastair Campbell’s Burnley and Rugby League
and came to the effete south in 1965. Plans are afoot for my grandson to
be inducted into Selhurst Park’s rituals. I therefore have views on the
Football League’s ’new PR offensive’, as this newspaper calls it.
The FL seems to be going about it the right way. It has commissioned a
management consultancy report on its modernisation before engaging a
new, or more accurately, another PR company to sell it. I would be
happier if I knew what Deloitte Touche had come up with and if there
were fewer PR fingers in the FL pie. England’s football industry seems
to be marinated in PROs, which hints at a lack of confidence.
It has much to be worried about. Mercifully - but no thanks to soccer
itself - it is now relatively free of hooliganism. This has migrated to
the pitch where referees allow fracas, utter pettinesss and intimidation
and gross abuse of themselves to go unpunished. My faith in soccer
management will be restored only when, as in rugby, the captain alone is
allowed (politely) to speak to the referee. So, firmer refs and more
player discipline, please.
It would also help if players were less prone to dally with Max
Clifford’s shameless, gold digging hussies, to populate night clubs
until dawn and have so much trouble with these establishments’ other
Whether we like it or not, one of soccer’s problems is the players’
image - trendy, overpaid, self-indulgent louts. This is grossly unfair
to many professionals but Gazza, like George Best before him, has much
to answer for.
A good employer would protect players from themselves by insisting on
certain standards, the safe investment of a large proportion of their
fabulous earnings and their proper education and training for a job
outside football. You can tinker with the rules, structure, facilities
and grounds as much as you like, but any self-respecting PRO must tell
the football authorities that unless they get the player and the fan
bits right they might as well save their money. They are currently
wrong. Fans are being ripped off.
English soccer is also destroying its seed corn as the top clubs, awash
with TV gold, distance themselves from the nation’s soccer
infrastructure - does anyone understand how the myriad of leagues relate
to each other?
- and import expensive foreign players wholesale. Is soccer run by a
bunch of short-term spivs or are they secretly facing up to the logic of
this mobile age - British, European and ultimately World Leagues? In
short, the FL’s two PR worries are image and vision - or should be.