Game 39 Dead in the Water? Not So Fast

Think that the outrage caused by the Premier League’s proposed international round of games means the whole concept has been shelved and the league might start listening to fans? Think again. Pitch Invasion has received notes from a supporters’ representative who, along with others in the Football Supporters Federation, recently met with Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore. Below is the entire text. Of particular note is Scudamore’s willingness to trade off traditional fans for new ones, as if they were consumers of cornflakes.

Consultation meeting between Mr. Peter Scudamore, Premier League
Chief Exec, and representatives of the Football supporters’
Federation, the FSF.

Wednesday February 27th 10.30-12.00

FSF representatives were the chairman Malcolm Clarke, together with
one grass-roots member each from the previous week’s FSF regional NO
TO GAMŁ 39 campaign meetings (clubs whose fan bodies were directly
represented were Aston Villa, Chelsea, Liverpool, Portsmouth and
Sunderland).

3 of Mr. Scudamore’s staff, including Cathy Long, were also present
but said very little during the meeting.

FSF chairman Malcolm Clarke began by asking Mr. Scudamore what was
the current status of the proposal to play a 39th round of PL matches
overseas.

Before he answered the question that had actually been asked, Mr.
Scudamore embarked on a 10- minute explanation of why the proposal
had to be made out-of-the-blue at the meeting of PL chairmen on
February 7th, how the proposal was leaked some hours before the PL
had called a press conference, and how frustrating this inauspicious
start was to him personally.

He then continued his monologue by spending a further 10 minutes
dismissing some of the objections which had been already been put
forward by the FSF in their written submission, and by many other
voices. Only then did Mr. Scudamore finally answer the original
question, telling us that the proposal was very much ongoing, and
that `we sit before you in the middle of a consultation process which
has had an interesting start’

`There was unanimous agreement between the 20 clubs in principle –
there was not a dissenter. The clubs have agreed there is enough
merit in the idea to move it forward [a few moments later he
strengthened this to `so much merit in the idea that it's got to be
considered']

`FORMAT is the issue clubs want to get their heads round most (and
this will be discussed and probably won’t be settled until
June/July), and if they’re unhappy with the format, it won’t happen’.

`It’s currently only a proposal, and will only become reality’ he
said, subject to
- consultation
- calendar fit
- sanction of host associations
- club rules

`But we have had to accept from the start that it won’t be perfect,
there can be no symmetry.’ Mr Scudamore then went on to imply that we
should be grateful that the PL had not proposed to take one of the
existing 38 fixtures out of the calendar and play it overseas. Never
for a moment did he consider that the fact that it won’t be perfect
and that there can be no symmetry’ means that this Game 39 should not
happen.

`I refute the suggestion that this is all about money – it’s about a
whole load of things before it’s about money. We do have an
international following and by serving it in this way we can control
the wealth redistribution down the league. We have a responsibility
to our fans on a global basis, and we’ll do it before the big 4 go
off and do it themselves.’

`It’s not me that will decide and certainly not Mr. Blatter – if 14
people stick their hands up that’s it’

Emphasising the strength of feeling on the issue and the level of
protest, unprecedented in recent years, Malcolm Clarke called this
a `Rubicon moment’, and all the FSF representatives backed this up,
stating that this proposal could mark the beginning of the end of
their personal support of a Premiership football club.

In response, Mr. Scudamore stated that `we will have to weigh up
those we lose against those we gain’. He implied that he felt a lot
of the recent furore had been merely `initial resistance and
reaction,’ and much of it would not be long-term.

[contradicting his earlier statement that] `you can’t weigh up one
kind of supporter against another and judge whose support is better’

`Part of the calculation the clubs have to make is to ask `is it
going to cost us? For how many people is it going to be the tipping
point ?’ ‘

`For 16 years we have been losing various segments of our supporter
base – we have lost some, but we have gained a lot more. Part of our
assessment of this project will be those we’ll lose and those we’ll
gain…we’ll weigh that up in the `is this worth it?’ column.’

`We know where the balance of the noise is [in the media and grass-
roots furore over this proposal] our difficulty is working out the
weight of that. We know the feelings of those who are making the
noise.’

`We’ve only got 330,000 attending fans – we have to weigh that in the
balance against other stakeholders.’

However, Mr. Scudamore did state that `if they [the dissenters]
fight above their weight it might put people off .’ So, in spite of
his patronising tone, this does seem to offer apparent encouragement
to the protest campaign.

One interesting phrase he used, when allusions were made to calls
from certain quarters for his resignation (not something the FSF
itself has suggested at all) was that `I am fairly committed to this
proposal,’ suggesting that he does not see it as something he wishes
to stand and fall by, going on to say that `I wouldn’t be supporting
it if it was more than one extra game, and that if that proposal is
made, say ten years down the line, I won’t be here anyway.’

Going back to what he had said earlier in the meeting he told us that
the playing field is far from level already, with huge imbalances
between the financial power of premiership clubs, so `it’s already
about distortion – my job is to overcome huge imbalances.’

This is not about the premier league brand, he said [contradicting
his clear statements of 3 weeks earlier], `it’s about 20 brands,
giving Reading, Bolton and the like the chance to ride on the big 4-6
and promote their brands.’

He re-iterated that the decision to host the matches was not up to
FIFA or reginal associations, but to the individual national Football
Federations. `Read my lips’, he had said earlier in the meeting, `if
the local football federation do not think this is a good idea for
football development in their country, we will not do it.’

`We believe that where we are successful, football around us is
successful. Since 1992 we (the Football league, the FA & the PL) have
all grown together.’

At the beginning of the meeting he had said that fundamental to the
rationale of the whole proposal was `keeping the PL collective
together against substantial threats from the bigger clubs (that they
didn’t want to have to play in the League Cup, FAC replays, etc, that
they wanted to parcel off their own TV rights individually, etc).’
Throughout the meeting Mr. Scudamore’s arguments were fundamentally
reliant on such spurious linkages and underlying threats that without
him and new proposals like this, English football would all fall
apart.

Needless to say, we made our total opposition clear and stated our
determined intention to keep campaigning against this in whatever
ways it would take to defeat it.

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