The Football League has been in the spotlight this week. Not only has the structure been a central point of discussion in the FA Commission’s report which ran to nearly 600 pages, but many lower league clubs have decided which players they want to keep,
and which ones they want to let go.

It’s a sobering time of the year for those out of contract, and as each year goes by it doesn’t get any easier.

So far, in League 1 and League 2 alone, nearly 200 players have been told they will either not be
re-engaged or, and this only applies in a small number of cases, their current employers have made them available for transfer.

In other words, get your agent to find you another club and you can leave. For those over 24, any fee would almost certainly be waived.

The greatest culls, unsurprisingly, have been at two relegated clubs. Bristol Rovers released 12 after they dropped into the Conference, and Carlisle’s drop out of League 1 saw the Cumbrians show the door to 11 players.

The number was double figures at four other clubs as well – Swindon, Crawley, Notts County and Mansfield. All these players will be looking for somewhere to play. You have to think some will find it easier than others.

Their options are no different to the supporters who loyally watch their favourite team week in, week out. Employment pays the mortgage(or rent), feeds the family and puts fuel in the car.

Personal circumstances may tie you to an area, in which case you get the best job you can. If you have a transferable skill (sic) like a footballer, you must be prepared to go where you’re in demand. For those players released this summer, the concept of lowering your sights is a difficult one to stomach.

I met a manager informally the other day who has managed in all three divisions of the Football League. He said openly that most of the meaningful transfer business is done before the end of May, when managers try and sign their top targets.

After that, it’s a game of cat and mouse, with players failing to land their preferred deal
re-considering their options as the start of the season draws near and teams report back for
pre-season training. From July 1st, the Conference may become a viable option, with a clutch of full time clubs stoked with ambition.

It should not therefore have surprised anyone that the FA Commission’s suggestion of bouncing Premier League “B” teams into the fifth tier was hardly welcomed with open arms. Except perhaps those on the FA Commission. Did they not expect this fierce kickback from the lower league clubs ?

Fans are equally partisan about their own team at step 5 or 6 as they are in the Premier League. They identify with clubs they have played either frequently or infrequently in their lifetime, and with players who have stopped on and off the
merry-go-round at different points.

Who exactly is going to turn up at Aldershot to watch Chelsea “B” against Alfreton, or at Hyde for Manchester City “B” against Dover ? Try selling that to the local public, never mind any broadcasters the FA might think are interested. I would also argue there is no attraction in the return fixture either.

The solution of the FA Commission to what they perceive as a blockage to English talent coming through the system seems to be to give them a meaningful level to play at. Why does the blockage have to be released at the bottom, rather than the top ? Is it because the FA can’t possibly risk upsetting the Premier League, or because they simply don’t have the clout to do that anyway ? I would have thought such a weighty piece of work
could have come up with a better concept.

Football, as those of a certain age know, existed before the Premier League was formed. In that pre 1992 era, foreign players were added gloss to the domestic mix. Ardiles and Villa at Spurs, Muhren and Thijssen at Ipswich, and so on.

The “sell” was that our players would learn from them. You can’t learn everything on a training ground, and now English players can’t get through because the market is global and Premier League teams stock pile players from around the world and send them out on loan.

It’s not the same sport but in rugby union the teams in the Aviva Premiership are rewarded for playing young English players. Now there’s a novelty. In a game which has had it’s own structural wrangle over the Heineken Cup, there is at least an incentive to bring through the best home grown talent. Will football ever catch on ? Don’t hold your breath….

Photograph : Copyright http://www.torquayheraldexpress.co.uk


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