The new format of the EFL Trophy has captured supporter’s attention in recent weeks, but creeping up behind it has been the far more threatening Whole Game Solution (WGS).
The WGS is a proposal for a significant reshape of the national game, so as supporters, surely you are a major part of the consultation process?
The answer to that is open to some debate itself, albeit organisations such as Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation have been insisting that the fans are consulted very little has been done by the EFL to open those lines of communication.
You may have read a number of articles quoting Mark Catlin detailing why Pompey are against the majority of the proposals. I’m in constant contact with Mark and the PST board are very much aligned with Mark's views. In my mind the claimed benefits for the WGS do not appear to match up with the proposed changes, but I’ll try to give you the best overview that I can.
The key elements of the WGS are as follows:-
• Move from 4 to 5 Divisions, each consisting of 20 teams, therefore 8 new teams need to be added to the EFL
• Move some rounds of the FA Cup to midweek fixtures
• Stop FA Cup replays in some, possibly all rounds
• Add a winter break (definitely for the PL and possibly for the EFL)
• Future of Community shield
So what are the objectives of the above changes? This appears to differ depending on the football authority questioned but to give you an idea:-
• Reduce midweek fixtures & reduce scheduling conflicts
• Increase club success in Europe • Increase success of England’s National teams
• Retain the status of the FA Cup
Let’s dismiss the last one of those immediately as I have no idea how moving FA Cup games from Saturdays and removing replays will help retain the status, surely it does quite the opposite. Success in Europe seems to me to be of interest to only a few clubs at the top of our football pyramid, I’m fairly sure that very few Pompey fans would sacrifice anything to help Chelsea win the Champions League. Although in reality, how are these changes going to help those top clubs anyway?
Lack of success of our national team has been a frustration for 50 years, although we never quite seem to get used to it. This item is likely to receive more sympathy from Pompey fans and other supporters around the country, albeit perhaps not as much as it would have a few years back. The argument is that England would be assisted by the winter break as it would enable them to meet up as a team and if this were supported by the PL teams then I am sure it would help, but with no England players in the EFL there seems little point in it being applied across all leagues.
I actually believe the England problem is a much larger one, driven directly by the success of the PL and indirectly by the EPPP regulations. The PL is of huge global interest, the amounts of money flowing through it involve additional zeros that most sports clubs could only dream of and as such it can attract top global talent, which in turn restricts the number of English players appearing regularly in the first teams.
We would probably benefit if more of our own players were to seek careers abroad, yet we hear of reserve and youth players staying put and still earning huge salaries with only rare, if any, appearances for the first team.
The EPPP is the set of regulations governing the movement of young players in England and although there is clearly some benefit to player development it has also damaged the lower leagues belief and dependence on the academy system. The big clubs are not only able to pick and choose talent from further afield but they can also poach it from the smaller clubs, having only to pay fees calculated on a published system. This is why we see very few significant transfer fees of young, locally developed players who have come through the ranks in the lower leagues, proved their worth and are suddenly transferred to a big club.
Basically much of the top talent is filtered out before they are 18, and the PL clubs have so much money they can take a risk on numerous young players. The EPPP conundrum is not a straightforward one, but if we really wish to develop English talent then I do believe the game must find a way to help better support the academy system in the lower leagues. This leaves the whole question of the league restructure and reduction of midweek fixtures, of all the proposals this is the one that we oppose most strongly.
Firstly why would we wish to reduce fixtures, we’d immediately lose the income of four home games which is key to our sustainability. We are told we would not lose out financially, but with the benefits of those four games varying tremendously between clubs how on earth would each be compensated accordingly? It seems fairly clear that Pompey would lose out.
Also, as fans do you really wish to have less games each season? We know some people struggle to make midweek games, but there are also many others who prefer them. Consider the fact there will only be 20 teams in each league, this will of course make the Championship much tougher to reach. Why would we wish to make our climb up the pyramid more difficult than it already is?
Finally we have the question of the eight new teams, and where they would come from. The EFL has stated it would not be B teams, albeit many remain sceptical of this claim. If we accept it then it leaves teams from the Conference plus the possibility of adding the top Scottish teams. Strangely the benefits supposedly include less fixtures and smaller squads.
How does this equate to developing more English players? In reality too many fixtures and congestion is not a concern for us, if it really is for others in the lower leagues then the obvious starting point would be to drop the EFL Trophy or at least play it in a format that reduces games.
If the PL wants to take a winter break that sounds OK, but there is no benefit for the EFL joining in, and let’s stop messing with the FA Cup it’s the most fantastic and romantic competition of them all.
Feel free to contact the PST with your views and raise your concerns directly to the FA and EFL.