The FA chairman Greg Dyke is no stranger to controversy. In December 2013, there were calls for him to resign after he madea cut-throat gesture in response to England’s ‘challenging’ World Cup draw. The England Commission’s proposals would constitute the biggest shake-up of the English game since the war. Its aim is to increase the percentage of English players playing regularly in the premier league from 32% to 45% by 2022 and to improve development of players between the ages of 18-21, dubbed the “black hole” stage of development between academies and the first teams.
To do so Dyke’s commission has recommended the establishment of a League 3, between League 2 and the Conference, which would initially include 10 ‘B’ teams from Premier League clubs. The B teams would have to meet a certain criteria: there would have to be 19 players under 21, 20 would have to be home-grown and there would be a ban on non-EU players. Dyke warned that failure to adopt his plans would leave a “bleak future” for English football. Unsurprisingly the scheme has gained support from Premier League clubs such as Manchester City, Liverpool, and Tottenham. The recommendations replicate the way in which Spain and Germany organise their leagues.
The proposals stem from a perceived failure in the development of the next generation of English players. Although players like Daniel Sturridge and Ross Barkley have been performing well for their clubs, neither are playing competitive European football yet, nor making the same global impact as their predecessors – the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
The aim is laudable then, however, by having B teams playing up to the Championship there is likely to only be an adverse effect on lower league teams. Currently, the English league system is unique in the world insofar as attendances far exceed anything experienced in lower European leagues. In League 2 this season the highest attendance exceeded 16,000, and the average is 4,274. This is only 2,500 less than the Spanish Segunda’s (second tier) average, despite being two leagues lower. Luton Town, in the Conference, still get an average attendance of 7,387, despite being in the 5th tier and not even being in a professional league.
Potentially, Dyke’s proposals would have an adverse effect on the popularity of lower-league football. The reason lower league football is so popular is because it inspires community spirit, with supporters following their local club for generations. Allowing B teams would upset this tradition by making the leagues uncompetitive. A Chelsea reserve side, for example, would be barred from being promoted past League 1, have a high turnover of players, and would be made up of young novices uninterested in remaining in the reserve side. They would also be unlikely to attract large crowds as currently reserve football receives negligible attendances. In such an environment, is it really fair on lower league fans to force them to watch reserve sides week in week out?
There is also a question mark as to whether this really would benefit English football or if these would just benefit the top Premier League sides. The current system allows young players to play on loan in the lower leagues anyway.
Dyke’s proposals allow the big sides to monopolise young talent, whilst there is no guarantee the players will be English (they have to be home grown – not English nationals). Also, Spanish B teams are able to play in the second tier, whilst 18-21 year olds in the UK would be playing against Conference teams, so the two systems are barely comparable. Furthermore, having more English players playing in the Premier League is by no means a guarantee of the England team’s success.
The lack of young English talent is undoubtedly a cause for concern, but the current proposals will benefit wealthy clubs, will harm the football league, and are unlikely to provide a solution.