Events over the past few weeks have proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that Sheffield United followers and other supporters who actually turn out to watch their clubs are totally disregarded by the men and women running professional football in this country. The next time you’re force-fed one of those sugary marketing campaigns, proclaiming how those at the top know they’d be nothing without the folk who regularly file through the turnstiles week in and week out, treat it with the contempt it deserves.
Because, yes, they would be sweet FA if you pardon the pun. It’s just that really, despite hiring some PR spiv to try and convince you otherwise, these guys and girls actually don’t give a stuff about the paying punters. The ones who, whenever the faeces hits the fan, are the first to start fundraising and campaigning in order to clear up the mess caused by these great business brains.
I could mention the ridiculous decision to stage an FA Cup semi-final between Manchester City and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on a weekend when, thanks to our wonderful rail network, train travel from those two destinations into London is virtually impossible. Or even at less than a month’s notice, the decision to switch Sheffield Wednesday’s vital League One game against MK Dons from Good Friday to Saturday. But I won’t. Seeing as this is a column all about United, I’ll stick to their forthcoming meetings with Bristol City and Queens Park Rangers instead. The crux of the argument is still the same.
United’s visit to Ashton Gate on Easter Monday was supposed to kick-off at 3pm. Now, after being selected for TV broadcast, it starts in the evening. You can still get back. Just. Well, at least I think you can, because apparently the journey planning systems might not reflect the revised timetables. And, as a pal of mine has discovered on numerous occasions this term, unless you’re fortunate enough to have Rosemary Altea booking your tickets, the chances are you’ll have pre-booked a seat on an earlier service which will probably cost a few quid to switch.
Any hint of an apology when this rescheduling was announced? No, of course there wasn’t. Because the great and not so good care more about their own wallets than they do you.
The same lack of genuine contrition was also apparent when United’s away match against Rangers was brought forward 24 hours. Well, just over 19 to be exact, from 3pm on April 30th to 7.45pm on the 29th. Enough to wreck probably hundreds of weekend breaks in the capital. Some probably purchased on cheaper non-refundable tariffs.
The channel showing the match will be the subject of derogatory chanting from the away end at Loftus Road. But their responsibility is to their viewers and also their shareholders. Whereas the teams and governing bodies who signed-up to this ‘rights’ contract are supposedly, according to the sickly gumpf they pump out whenever it suits, looking out for you and me. They are also complicit in this whole sorry mess. Except they’ll never actually admit it. Because it suits for SKY to cop the flak.
This was supposed to have been sorted a year ago. It hasn’t because those tasked with running the game and also many of its clubs only really care about themselves. You and I, because when I’m not working I pay for tickets too, only come into their thinking when it suits. In other words, when they think they can squeeze some dosh out of our pockets.
It won’t be easy. It will take time and probably cause a degree of pain. But the situation can change.
In this instance, the English Football League should be petitioned to ensure any future agreements with television companies either prohibits fixtures from being rescheduled at, say, less than a month’s notice. Every single member team involved in the discussions must come under pressure to reveal what their stance on the issue is and what they are doing to try and alter the status quo. If a majority vote in favour, then the legalese of the deal must explicitly state as much.
Naturally, this would make it less attractive and almost certainly not as lucrative as previous arrangements. So be it.
Oh, and while I’m on the subject, losses shouldn’t be recouped by making casual or low paid workers redundant. They can be retrieved through director dividends - they tell us how much they love the sport so I’m sure they won’t mind - and also by other means, such as imposing wage restraints on players at the top end of the pyramid and ensuring a greater slice of the financial pie for clubs further down, whilst simultaneously abolishing parachute payments. Or at least ensuring the money is used to protect jobs rather than funding multi-million pound transfer sprees.
The push by Chelsea supporters for prospective buyers to grant them a golden share needs to be rolled-out across the country. Long-standing rivalries must be put aside as fans mobilise. Because as we saw with the European Super League proposal, which will soon be refashioned as something else, late alterations to the calendar are a symptom of something else.
Ordinarily, the Government should be encouraged to get involved too. But, as events of the past few days have shown, this bunch of chancers are only interested in saving their own skins rather than helping others.
I don’t purport to have all the answers. What I do know, though, is that the People’s Game has never felt more divorced from the people. Unless they happen to be sitting inside well-appointed boardrooms or work for multinational corporations.