One of the lessons to be learned from the current Pandemic is the importance of fans to the professional game in this country. Premier League clubs in particular need to understand that the domestic and overseas broadcasters pay huge sums for TV rights partly because of the passionate atmosphere at matches created by supporters.
These are the same fans who are facing further lockdowns with the resulting loss of income and in some cases their livelihoods. Many have bought season tickets for the clubs they support but are not allowed to attend matches. Some fans can go to a stadium where matches are being played and sit in a lounge and watch the match on a screen just metres from where a match is being played. That simply doesn’t add up.
Against this background, only the Premier League could agree to charge fans £14.95 to watch matches on a pay per view basis, and at the same time refuse to support lower league clubs financially whilst continuing to sign players for multi million pound transfer fees and wages!
I fully understand that if a Championship, League One or League Two club has secured significant transfer fees over the past couple of months then there is no case for a bail out from Premier League clubs. That is not typical however of lower league clubs in general and without fans in the stadium and the loss of income that goes with that many will not survive if they do not get help. Surely the Premier League clubs should be able to administer a bail-out fund and establish a set of criteria that clubs must meet to be eligible for support from the fund. To simply tar everyone with the same brush is morally wrong.
The analogy used of supermarkets not bailing out corner shops as a reason for the haves not supporting the have nots is spurious. This is our national sport with an infrastructure of 92 clubs that allows clubs to rise from the bottom of League Two to the Premier League and we lose it at our peril.
The community schemes at the 92 clubs have been doing some invaluable work in the past seven months to support vulnerable families and if those schemes were to fold along with the clubs to which they are attached hundreds of thousands of people would suffer. I set up the Charlton Athletic Community Trust in 2004 and was its Executive Vice Chairman for five years. I have just committed my future to the Millwall Community Trust for the next four years, so I know what valuable work these community trusts do in so many areas of concern – obesity, knife crime, poverty to name just three. In recent months at Millwall we have been supplying 200 children a day with a hot lunch and breakfast goodie bag. I spoke to many parents and it was clear that the children wouldn’t be eating during the day without that support. I also witnessed some children sharing the meal with mum or dad. It was a very humbling experience.
Unlike with football, support for the work of trusts should transcend traditional club rivalries. Thank god for people like Marcus Rashford who fully deserved the MBE he received in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. No child should go hungry in this country and he pricked the national conscience and reversed a quite appalling Government decision.
We must not lose our football pyramid, and this is a time for the haves to support the have nots. That is what a family does, and football should be viewed as one big family.
Peter Varney – Chairman, Integral Sports Management
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