Fans say no to League 3

England flickr cc ben terret2

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you’re probably aware that FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s England Commission Report was released last week with the intention of improving England's future prospects at international level.

The FA initially wanted to hear from “anyone involved or interested in the game” and encouraged submissions to focus on everything from youth development and grassroots to the professional game and international set up.

The FA Chairman’s England Commission clocks in at 84 pages and there are some laudable aims in there such as increasing the proportion of home-grown players at the top of the game.

Dyke’s report also identifies that England “lags behind in the quantity and quality of affordable grassroots facilities. This is particularly true in the area of all-weather pitches”. No argument there.

It is, however, the proposal to insert a new “League 3” - made up of Premier League “B teams” - inbetween League 2 and the Conference which has prompted a backlash from fans.

FSF submission to FA

The FSF submission in December 2013 focused on a number of key areas such as investment and participation levels, best practice in player development, international exchanges of youth coaches, and quota systems.

However, one thing we made abundantly clear at the time was our opposition to “feeder clubs”. Our submission didn’t tackle League 3 as there was no word of it at that time although we’ve always been very clear that we oppose anything which destabilises the pyramid system and clubs at its base.

Every few years it seems that someone in English football looks at Spain, puts two and two together and comes up with five. Yes, Spain has had B teams for decades. Yes, Spain are the current World Champions. But where is the evidence that those two facts are linked?

Until their recent period of dominance Spain were renowned as Europe’s basket case on the international stage. Despite the success of their clubs in continental competition the national team had, until 2010, never been to a World Cup final.

If B teams are a magic bullet for success, why did Spain fail to qualify for the 1970 or 1974 World Cup? Why did they lose at home to Northern Ireland in 1982 and crash out in Round 2? Why has Spain failed to qualify for more World Cups than England?

Brazil, the most successful team in World Cup history, has two simultaneous and independent football pyramids but, thankfully, we don’t hear anyone proposing that as a solution to England’s woes. Germany didn’t even have a professional second tier until 1974. Where is the proof that league structure determines international success?

England’s pyramid has its own unique history and tradition which shouldn’t be jeopardised. No other country on the planet that we know of draws such big crowds, right down to levels 4, 5, 6 and beyond. Measured by attendance the Championship is the fourth biggest league in Europe while Leagues 1 and 2 are in the top 15.

Fan consultation

While we’ve always opposed the insertion of feeder clubs into the league system we felt it was important to give our members an opportunity to comment on the latest, specific set of proposals which the FA Commission put forward.

Our poll asking “Do you back 'League 3' plan?” currently shows that 9 out of 10 fans oppose League 3. This is a similar proportion to the 86% who opposed Andre Villas-Boas’ feeder clubs idea in January 2012.

Many fans emailed us with their thoughts and you can read the best of those below and on our Facebook page. The vast majority of emails, tweets and Facebook messages received, focused on League 3 and/or B teams. The FA Commission’s other proposals were almost entirely ignored, such is the anger and dismay at the idea of League 3.

Fan after fan argued that elite clubs are already able to hoard the top youngsters and the need for a B squad can only exacerbate this. Supporters clearly don’t feel that it’s worth destabilising the football pyramid, and risking the future of so many clubs, on a proposal which may or may not marginally increase England’s chances at a future World Cup.

Supporters also criticised the assumption that only “elite” clubs can produce players who go on to great things. It’s a fair point given England’s latest squad consists of players who made their debuts at Shrewsbury Town (Joe Hart), Maidstone United (Chris Smalling), and Blackpool (Ricky Lambert).

The last time England reached a World Cup semi-final their team featured players who’d made their debuts at Wealdstone (Stuart Pearce), Tow Law Town (Chris Waddle), Carlisle United (Peter Beardsley), and Crewe Alexandra (David Platt). Would they have been better served learning their trade at a Premier League B team in League 3?

A whole array of campaigns opposing the plans (such as Against League 3) have already popped up and we'd encourage any others out there to get in touch with us. Fans must speak with a co-ordinated voice on this one and it will be on the agenda at the 2014 Supporters Summit which will be held jointly with Supporters Direct in July.

The Telegraph’s Henry Winter reports that, “Senior figures at the Premier League and Football League have promised to strangle at birth any attempt to insert a new division into the football pyramid, citing the damage to the integrity of the league structure.”

From our soundings that's something that fans from all leagues would welcome.

What do fans think? Submit your views to info@fsf.org.uk or via the FSF’s Facebook pageSee below for the best emails we've received from fans on the FA’s proposals:

  • "No other country in the world has clubs in the third, fourth and fifth tiers that can attract four and five figure gates. Surely that is something worth defending at all costs? What they do have though are excellent grass roots pitches, changing facilities and coaches - maybe that's why they are more successful on the international stage...."
  • "The only beneficiaries of the proposals are the big clubs who would be en-powered to hoard top young talent to an even greater extent than they already do. "
  • "Has anyone actually consulted any clubs from lower down the pyramid? Has anyone taken note of fans views as to whether they would want to watch their sides playing a reserve side from the Prem or Championship? Somehow, I very much doubt it."
  • "The introduction of B teams will have an effect on local teams in towns across the country and it may be worth while writing to the secretary of state for communities Eric Pickles and Sajid Javid secretary of state for culture, media and sport… I believe the more attention this proposal receives the less likely it will go ahead and getting politicians involved will only help the course. "
  • "It’s a crashing sledge hammer to lower league football – as a Tranmere fan myself I can see it being the death of my club as it would strip it of all ambition. This isn’t just a footballing manner if a club like Tranmere went to the wall then it would have a huge impact on the immediate community. Shops & pubs depend on match day revenue, Tranmere employ upwards of 30+ and give lads in the local community who aren’t good enough for the premiership a chance at a decent livelihood."
  • "I am instinctively angered by the apparent arrogance of the commission in… the assumption that only players at the 'elite' clubs can develop into quality footballers. The commission provides no compelling evidence that the young players are better served in the 'elite' academies than on the lower league pitches. The unwritten belief of the commission in the power of the 'elite' academies means that the stockpiling of young players by the big teams is not addressed, or even discussed as a potential problematic cause."
  • "This could be the last straw that forces smaller clubs to close, will ruin the pyramid system and the world's most famous league. I cannot see how it will benefit the England team."
  • "This is not about “not liking change”. Plenty of change is good. But it needs to be the right change. Better coaching, less money at the top, more incentives for young players to play abroad are all ideas with evidence behind them that people can support. The FA should be the guardians of the game, sticking up for the little guy and not screwing them over to pander to the desires of their richest members. This idea should be kicked into grass so thick and so remote that no one will ever unearth it."
  • "If we had more English players being given a chance in the EPL we might get some players who actually make the grade. 23% of players English qualified in the premier league. That's where the problem is and it won't be solved by disrupting the football league and the football conference."
  • "Hopefully the powers that be will wake up to the fact that if there is one thing English football excels at, is that it has an incredibly well supported, vibrant football culture throughout its footballing pyramid. To interfere with it would prove the death knell of English football as a game that belongs to its fans."
  • "I sincerely hope that you and other organisations such as Supporters Direct will unequivocally denounce this utter joke of an idea. The problem with English football (playing-wise) is the short-termism of the game in general, and the top flight in particular. This leads to English and British youngsters that do show a bit of promise, despite the lack of real top quality coaching, not being given a chance as they are seen to be too raw and risky – so clubs go out and buy a ready-made, 26-year-old African or Central/Eastern European and loan out the 18-year-old who then, often, loses his way."

Thanks to Ben Terrett for the image reproduced under CC license.