Alan Biggs at Large: Coronavirus crisis offers football an opportunity to change

As problems go, what we’re facing is huge and unprecedented - but then, in football terms, so is the opportunity.

Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 10:18 am
Updated Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 2:59 pm
Sheffield United fans

It’s a chance to press the re-set button. To correct those many things we all know are wrong and which get swept aside by fervour and self-interest.

Firstly, beside a global health crisis, football is getting to see itself for what it is - as mentioned here last week, “the most important of the unimportant things in life.”

This city being the home of football, we have a chance to be at the centre of some of this new perspective.

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Even without being parochial, you’d have to say that the Sheffield United model, as fashioned by Chris Wilder, is a worthy trendsetter for the way aspiring clubs should be developed. Of which more later.

Sheffield Wednesday have arguably set an example of how not to do it. Here’s a thing, though - I think this hiatus should be used to scrap threatened points deductions and start again with a new, more binding mechanism for holding clubs to account.

Why? Let’s look at the origins of excess. Here’s where we need to start the re-set.

What are the stars of “the most important of the unimportant things in life” really worth? Can they really be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds a week?

Market forces aside, it is morally unjustifiable; yes, obscene.

The quest for success, which stuffs ever more money into players’ bulging pockets from TV money, tempting clubs to the point of bankruptcy, has to be stopped somehow.

Maybe the spectre of playing out the rest of this season, when it finally resumes, behind closed doors is part of the remedy.

There is nothing like seeing vast acres of empty seats, hearing the echoes of players’ shouts and registering the entire loss of spectacle, for recognising who the most important people in the game really are.

The most undermined, the most put out, the most taken for granted.

Matches without crowds don’t buy satellite dishes or streaming subscriptions. As entertainment, they are next to nothing.

Let’s put the fans back at the forefront where they should be. Stop over-charging them, stop buggering about with their social calendar, stop fleecing them for replica shirts that change every season.

And let’s scale back a club’s expectations more in line with support. All very idealistic, but before you argue that rich owners can level and tilt that playing field, as they can, and deliver dreams to long-suffering followers, consider this.

That way leads to another form of imbalance; the one profitability and sustainability rules (originally financial fair play) were brought in to flatten. And rightly so, in my opinion.

Curbs are correct and good for the game, regardless of legal battles being fought by clubs including Wednesday with the EFL.

So why spare the Owls, among others? Simply that the current lines are badly drawn and blurred by the transfer between one EFL regime that was lax and a new one that wants to crack down.

The only way to get agreement on this divisive issue is to start again. Remove the threats, lay down the criteria and remove an appeals process. That way, with the clock at zero, all clubs might vote for it.

Then it’s about getting them to consider a simple truth. Money doesn’t guarantee success; it can even be achieved without it. With good management and recruitment.

Going back, take Nottingham Forest’s sensational (to this day) double European Cup triumph under Brian Clough. Take Leicester City’s astounding Premier League title.

Currently, take Sheffield United’s meteoric progression from League One to the brink of European status.

Why has it been so good for the game and a pointer to the way it should go? Prudent choice of signings with relatively little money expended. A raft of signings, including Jack O’Connell and John Fleck, from lower down the scale.

Good coaching to maximise those players abilities and haul them to undreamt of heights. A team ethic bonding them, devoid of any big time Charlies.

Tell me none of this is an example of the way football needs to go!

But above all, a chance now to keep football in proportion in our lives.

It’s a passion for millions, but is there anything that happens on a football field that can justify the hurling of abuse?

With that thought, it’s over and out from me here pending a return, hopefully, to normality at some stage.

Thank you so much for being there - for so long! Stay safe.

*Billy Sharp, the Sheffield United skipper, has sent a classy message of support to everyone isolating at home through the current coronavirus crisis.

Prime minister Boris Johnson introduced extraordinary measures designed to limit the spread of Covid-19 on Monday night.

Sharp - who, like the rest of his United teammates, is training at home for the foreseeable future - said on Tuesday: "It's day one of a three-week lockdown and hopefully that's all it's going to be.

"Make sure we stay at home, keep washing our hands, keep our social distance. Keep smiling. Keep the mind and body healthy.

"People with kids, keep them busy and with a smile on their face and they'll get you through it.

"People at home with loved ones; look after them.

"Stay home, help the NHS, and save lives."