Football League clubs at their summer meeting in Portugal have this week rejected Greg Dyke’s plan
The proposal includes implementing an extra division between League 2 and The Conference where Premier League B teams could compete. They also rejected the idea of “strategic loan partnerships” which would have allowed clubs from the top two divisions to loan up to eight players to a lower division partner team.
The aim of the proposals was to create opportunities for young English qualified players to gain competitive game time instead of sitting on the bench at their host clubs. Few have been convinced however that competing at Conference level would provide our young starlets with the opportunity to improve their skills to an extent which would benefit the national team. The point was made by Bradford chairman Mark Lawn who used Tom Cleverley as an example. “He started at Bradford, went to Manchester United when he was 12, went out on loan to Leicester, Watford and Wigan then went back to United and ended up playing for England. If they are going to end up playing for England they need to be playing at least at Championship level.”
More important however is the detrimental effect that such a proposal would have on some of the values most cherished by The Supporters Trust movement – those of community, localism and tradition. There would have to be limitations on how far a B Team could be promoted in the pyramid and this would seriously undermine the integrity of the divisional system that has existed, pretty well unchanged, for the last century. Furthermore, the B Teams would inevitably exclude long-established clubs from opportunities to rise and develop. These are typically clubs with very strong roots in their local community (Fleetwood is a current example) and some of them are owned or part-owned by their Supporters Trust. These clubs would be expected to make way for the artificial entity which is a premier league B Team which would have very minimal away support. Attendances and atmosphere would suffer and traditional local derbies would be lost to the football calendar. Accrington Stanley FC were particularly scathing in their response, turning to Twitter to announce: “In 2016/17 we can achieve our dream... We'll finally be able to play Stoke City Reserves in the Football League...” and “To increase the number of English players in the top flight we're going to launch a B team & apply to join the Premier League”
Part of the thinking behind the idea was that B Teams exist in the Spanish and German leagues. Spain and Germany do well in international tournaments so therefore B Teams must be a good idea to improve the England team. This woolly thinking can’t be entirely ascribed to the presence of Danny Mills on Greg Dyke’s commission. Maybe more thought could have gone into the issue of coaching – for example the number and quality of coaches available to young players here and the cost of gaining a coaching qualification.
We welcome the rejection of these proposals and the threat they pose to the identity and autonomy of English lower league clubs. Danny Mills claims that “The majority of Premier League clubs want B teams. That is their favoured option” but Premier league Chief Executive Richard Scudamore was highly sceptical when the proposal was first announced. It remains to be seen whether the idea will disappear in ridicule like the infamous “39th game” idea of 2008 or whether Premier League clubs will support the idea with cash bribes to sweeten the pill.