On Thursday the 23rd of October, the 72 Football League clubs voted in favour of the ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’ (EPPP), a radical new overhaul of the current national youth system. The changes include the scrapping of the current tribunal system, which previously determined the fee a club would have to pay another for a youth player who is out of contract when no agreement between the two could be reached, and the implementation of a ‘tier’ rating for each club’s youth system, ranging from tier 1 to tier 4.
Instead of the tribunal system, there will now be a fixed tariff in place to determine the fee a club must pay for a youth player. It is £3,000 per year for a player aged between 9 and 11’s development, with the fee from 12 to 16 ranging between £12,500 and £40,000, dependent on a club’s youth system tier category.
Regarding the new tier formulation, clubs’ youth systems are now ranked according to how much staff they employ and how much they spend on their youth development. To be rated as tier 1, the club’s academy must have an annual budget exceeding £2.3m, at least 18 full-time employees, excellent training facilities as well as school places. What a tier 1 ranking gets you is the pick of pretty much all youth players in the country, considering the 90-minute rule has now been abolished. Contact time with youth players will also be increased with tier 1 academies. At the other end of the scale will be the tier 4 academies, acting as a ‘safety net’ and only allowed to pick up previously failed youth players at the age of 16. Tier 3 academies will have no contact with youth players until the age of 12. As it stands, the only academies in the country who will be rated as tier 1 when the EPPP is implemented at the start of the 2012-13 season are Southampton’s, Chelsea’s, and Manchester City’s, but you can expect Manchester United’s, Arsenal’s, and Liverpool’s to have reached this ‘prestigious’ status by that time.
The vote passed with 46 votes in favour, 22 against, 3 no-shows and 1 abstention. What is startling about these figures is that 3 clubs didn’t even bother to turn up to the vote of one of the most significant changes to English football, but more importantly, the fact that only 23 clubs had the courage to stand up to the monstrous machine that is the Premier League. All are a credit to the Football League, with the ones who voted in favour a shameful symbol of how our game is being killed off.
The EPPP is a plan drawn up by both the FA and the Premier League, and both these parties, along with several Premier League clubs, are hopeful it will be a success and achieve its aim (which, apparently, is to have all the best young players reaching their potential at all the best academies, thus strengthening the national side). A Premier League spokesman said of the EPP: “The new plan is a great example of English football working together to raise standards across the board.”
The questions that have to be asked are, that if the plan is bound to be so successful for English football as a whole, why did the Premier League have to threaten to withdraw the £5m funding they currently provide Football League clubs per annum if they voted against it? This is blackmail in its most blatant form, and is proof as to how flawed the plan actually is that it is required to force it through. More so, is this new scheme really centred on just strengthening the national team? No. It is simply about the big teams hoovering up all the talent in the country. Do you really think that Manchester United, owned by the American Glazers, Manchester City, owned by the Abu Dhabi Sheikhs, or Chelsea, owned by the Russian Abramovich, care one iota for the success of the national team? Of course they don’t, and once again the shortcomings that foreign ownership brings are highlighted.
I referred to an academy having a tier 1 status as ‘prestigious’ earlier. Under the new rules, Chelsea would have a tier 1 status, whereas a club like Crystal Palace would have tier 2 status, and thus Chelsea would have the pick of all Crystal Palace’s youth players, as well as increased contact time. But is an academy that currently has 2 home-grown players in its first team squad really ‘better’ than an academy that currently has 11 home-grown players in its first team squad and in fact more graduates playing Premier League football? The EPPP has in part been arranged so that apparent ‘better’ academies can have the best young players in the country. But this ranking system is flawed, and is accordant to the finance of academies rather than assessing just how effective they are at young players fulfilling their potential.
In my mind at least, the EPPP is frankly scandalous, and it is an outrage that it has been passed with so little reaction. What it means is that the days of going to watch local players play for your local team will soon be gone (it is estimated that between 30-40 youth systems in the Football League will now be scrapped, such is the pure worthlessness of having such systems with this scheme in place). It means that the rich will be getting richer, and whilst Premier League chief pigs such as Robert Scudamore can jolly it up discussing the ‘39th game’ over their prawn sandwiches, those silly little clubs in the Football League will be fighting to stay afloat, now that a great sum of their income has been removed. What the EPPP is doing is ripping the heart out of our game, the lifeblood of our clubs and it says it all that they had to extort the Football League clubs to make this ridiculous plan pass.
Most, if not all, of the Football League clubs who voted in favour are not actually in favour of the EPPP; the vote made for it is a direct result of the threat of the withdrawal of the £5m per annum the Premier League currently grants Football League clubs, money which without, they would find it hard to survive. Barry Fry, Peterborough’s Director of Football, has spoken of how the Premier League’s threat felt like blackmail, whilst co-owner of Crystal Palace Steve Parish has expressed his fury at the agreement, claiming that Football League clubs ‘took their 30 pieces of silver’, and condemned last Thursday as a ‘dreadful day for football’.
If you agree with how ridiculous the EPPP is (and I would hope you do; having non-football fans reading this is not something I planned for), I would also hope you agree with the fact that we cannot just sit there at let this happen. We cannot just treat this ruthless action with a vast degree of apathy and accept that our game is dying, and there is nothing we can do.
There is a movement, under the heading ‘The 72 Unite’, designed to combat this overhaul of the English game and the disgusting actions of the Premier League. They have made a statement (which I will post in a separate article) and the first course of action is a proposed boycott of the first five minutes of every league game in English football on the weekend of the 29th October, in order to draw attention to how we, the loyal supporters upon which our clubs thrive upon, feel about the prospective changes. This will not be the only event, with more being planned, and it is true that one 5 minute boycott will change nothing, but it is a start and brings a platform for us to voice our disdain.
Along with participating in the boycott, we ought to do our part and start circulating not only the group and its plans, but also just how shady and destructive the EPPP is. Something I have been astounded by is how little people know of it, or how many people do not even know of its existence. Football fans up and down the country must be made aware that our game is at risk from the greed of the Premier League; and consequently, the Premier League must be made aware that we are not going to allow this to happen without serious opposition.