There was some talk among us Luton fans over the past few months as to whether it was time to move on. Maybe the FA had changed since they knowingly shoved us into non-league obscurity 6 years ago. The faces certainly have. Instead the FA’s announcement of a plan to sacrifice the football pyramid as we know it for the good of the Premier League and their “Team England” reinforced everything we thought we knew about their grubby clique.
Remember the old football clubs? Football clubs with over a hundred years of history, with families thousands-strong extending far beyond the bonds of blood that pit their local pride against men and women from other towns; a gallery of a thousand identities expressed through mud and song and trophies and stories and tattoos?
The old football clubs aren’t all in the lower leagues, but most of them are, especially the smaller ones. Their part in the story of English football is intrinsic to all the grand narratives of the England team (as we used to call it), the mythical but similarly “old” Top Four, the Premier League and the Football Association itself. Those shiny 4 or 5 marketing channels for multinationals at the top of the Premier League derive all of their power and meaning from the tradition and history, however grand, of the hundreds of other old football clubs that comprise the pyramid beneath it.
While the Premier League holds its weekly big brand conferences on Super Grand Slam Mega Sundays, in the Football League and below the rest of the old football clubs stage their own contests, watched by thousands and dripping with equal passion and tradition. A beautiful game exists here too, no less valuable unless you’re blinkered enough to measure beauty in purely financial terms.
An obvious assumption to make, perhaps, would be that The FA exists purely for the good of the game as a whole. An honest, if uninteresting, administrative body ensuring there are rules and fair play and level playing fields and jumpers in case anyone needs goal posts, that type of thing.
Instead, with Dyke et al.’s proposals for reform, it seems they have now fully morphed into an organisation with a newly focussed and exclusive mission: an England team that can win a World Cup.
I say “it seems” because the screaming subtext from its newly ruthless plan contains benefits also, as usual, for the members of the seemingly completely autonomous Premier League. A successful Premier League and the England team: bedfellows which proved about as comfortable as Glenn Hoddle and casual clothing in Rio this summer.
Back in Olde England the children of pseudo feeder clubs are, it is proposed, to be parachuted-in to the tradition of the old football clubs; to pit their Opta stats and performance enhancing haircuts against them.
Not to win, or to climb the ladder like the rest of us. Instead, rinsed of all identity and ambition, the feeder clubs aspire to pick-up game time for their players who wink to their agent suitors in the sparse crowd. They’ll make a mockery of the competition, like the player at a poker table gambling with daddy’s superfluous trust fund.
Just as David Cameron attempts to twist the plight of your empty wallet in order to create political distractions for the wealthy to plunder what’s ours; the NHS, the education system, the Welfare State: Dyke uses our lust for gold stars above the three lions to pull our bobble hats and goggled-hoods over our eyes while Oligarchies and franchise fetishists keep more and more of our game for themselves.
People used to care about the England team. It used to represent players that had made it to the top of a pyramid of football in England. But the summit of that pyramid only had value because of the knowledge of the hundreds of old football clubs in weird old towns beneath, with their weird old English stories, playing on week after thankless week in the hope of climbing it.
If the success of the England team becomes the only item on the FA’s surreal spreadsheet of priorities it might want to consider whether, if by some miracle their plan were to succeed, and if the purpose of the old football clubs below was ripped away, would anyone even care anymore?