illustration: Natalie Owen
Meteorologists have long been puzzled by the peculiar micro-climate which exists around Meadow Lane, where it is not uncommon to see winter coats before the kids go back to school. Yet at the present time it is the winds of change which are chilling supporters to the bone.
The Football League Trophy is a long derided competition, an unwanted distraction teams in the bottom two divisions are obligated to participate in, yielding derisory attendances right up until the final Wembley showpiece. This year however the tournament has taken an altogether more sinister turn, with the introduction of a number of under-23 development sides from Premier League clubs, very much the thin end of an ominous wedge.
Hot on the heels of Notts’ incredible Great Escape away at Oldham a couple of years ago, the then Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke initially floated the idea of a ‘League 3’. This FA mandated appetite for competitive B-Team football stems from the vast amounts of wealth in the upper echelons of the game, allowing clubs to stockpile and hoard talent. This financial clout has led to bulbous squads of over-paid, under-worked young men at the highest level, with little chance of ever threatening first teams which are typically comprised of established internationals.
Today it seems that to lead the ‘baller lifestyle, much coveted by the Sky generation, youngsters only need to show enough flashes of talent to hint there is the potential to become a decent player. At this point the chequebook is usually waved from above, in a perverse form of risk management to mitigate rival teams benefitting should this seed eventually bloom. Ultimately it matters not if the young player then succeeds, so long as he does not excel for others.
As such talented youngsters, who should be playing competitively week in / week out further down the pyramid, are left to stagnate in the Premier League bubble. In this artificial environment of live-in barbers and emerald encrusted hover-boards, the country’s top youngsters face only other development sides, similarly formed of young millionaires with questionable hunger and a footballing naivety; one stemming from a lack of exposure to seasoned professionals in competitive action.
Thus the League 3 movement seeks to tip the balance even further to the benefit of the top clubs. Having had their pick of the best youngsters, they now need something to do with them; in an age where they cannot simply be tasked with cleaning boots or painting the tea-bar, such is their absurd financial status and associated morally-bankrupt lifestyle. The vast majority of these young men, who represent the pick of the nation’s age-group talent, will never succeed in the game, as quite simply they don’t need to. This is a key point as it is how proposed changes to the league structure, such as the ironically titled ‘Whole Game Solution’ (a re-branding of League 3) will be sold, under the thinly-veiled guise of benefitting our hapless national team.
Introducing B-Team football benefits no-one except the richest clubs, who hold the sword of Damocles over the rest of the league with the threat of depriving them of the meagre crumbs which fall from the top table. This financial pressure backs boards up and down the country into a corner, forcing turkeys to vote for Christmas by accepting changes to the Football League Trophy, as they did previously with the Elite Player Performance Programme and will be leveraged to do so again in the future with League 3.
The threat posed to clubs like Notts by re-ordering the football pyramid in favour of the elite cannot be overstressed. At a time when gates are already dwindling to below 4000 on a Saturday afternoon, the prospect of playing against Stoke City B in a few years’ time, in what would be effectively a glorified reserve league would likely represent the final nail. This danger is especially pronounced in a two-club city like Nottingham, where it is already a considerable challenge to indoctrinate young minds ahead of our once illustrious neighbours across the river.
The Premier League is undoubtedly one of the UK’s primary commercial success stories, regardless of how good the product actually is. Resistance in the face of such overwhelming financial superiority may yet prove to be futile, however credit to Notts for inviting input from fans on the insipid ‘Whole Game Solution’ via the official website. Bravo also to those who made the decision to stay away from our meaningless midweek game with Hartlepool United in what used to be known as the JPT, part of a nationwide fan effort to express dissatisfaction with the modern game and the oblivion for clubs like ours that the custodians of the sport are seemingly intent on bringing about.
Some other stuff did happen this month though. Ray Trew finally emerged from his room and conceded to Colin Slater that he was, in fact, still Chairman of Notts County. One of the pitfalls with dreams is that they are uncontrollable. You can be merrily skipping along in an imaginary world of lollypop trees and candy floss clouds, rubbing shoulders with hedge fund managers and Danish billionaires, only for Cuba Gooding Jr to surprisingly materialise in your path and shout ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY’, jolting you back into grim reality. The less than enthusiastic manner in which, what some have termed #Fakeover, was put to bed suggests the club remains very much up for grabs, should someone wish to stump up the readies for an expensive headache.
On the pitch our inconsistent run of results are heavily portentous of a mid-table season, something we have been denied for many years aboard the black and white big dipper. A welcome 3-1 victory at Crawley Town in the league was followed by an entertaining 2-2 draw at home to Grimsby Town, before a dreadful 0-2 reverse to bogie side Accrington Stanley. A thrilling 3-2 win at Cheltenham Town then further underlined the box of chocolates nature we can expect from this season.
Far from only singing when they’re fishing, the raucous cacophony generated at Meadow Lane by the 2500 or so travelling Mariners demonstrated pointedly why the game we all love (even if we sometimes deny it) cannot be allowed to die out at this level. For here it is much more than badge v badge, it is town v town; a tribal bond which those sat at home watching development football on LFCTV, probably in full replica kit, could never begin to understand.
But let them have their hollowed-out version of the game, so long as they don’t interfere with proper football they can do as they please. Should the jack-boot of the evil empire seek to encroach on our shores however, we must fight them on the beaches.
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