Tracey Crouch has now taken a good look at football, and knows exactly what our national sport needs. It needs more people like Tracey Crouch.
Heavens, what a happy coincidence. Her independent review has sent down some interim findings to culture minister Oliver Dowden and it transpires government is the answer. Lots of it.
‘I have stated publicly that there is a strong case for a new independent regulator,’ she wrote. ‘And I have heard nothing in evidence that has dissuaded me from this view.’
Tracey Crouch’s (left) independent ‘fan-led’ review sent down some interim findings to Oliver Dowden (right) and it transpires government is the answer
So Crouch is going out with the views she came in with. Very independent. And this is, of course, a fan-led review because as we all know football fans agree on everything. Or maybe Crouch was just most interested in the fans who agreed with her.
Certainly, the idea of an independent regulator would flatter Crouch because it is exactly the type of gig she, or a circle of parliamentary sports enthusiasts, might hope to land. Beats being MP for Chatham and Aylesford, which is her current day job. Regulating football is hot stuff. The queue of former sports ministers angling for this position would stretch around the block.
Crouch’s predecessor, Helen Grant, sports minister from 2013 to 2015, was out by 20 years when asked to name the year the club in her constituency, Maidstone, fell out of the league, but she is also a staunch advocate of regulation.
And whoever is appointed to this role would be a government pick. So this is what football needs? Rule by the people who gave us Dido Harding? Maybe rule by Dido Harding. Why is the political class so sure it has all the answers, when the evidence of recent years suggests anything but?
Crouch’s letter tacks heavily towards the familiar. Owner investment is considered negatively, grandiose populist statements are made, utterly devoid of evidence. Cliches abound, particularly when referencing the recent financial collapses at Bury and Macclesfield.
The European Super League plans led fans of the Premier League’s Big Six to protest against their owners, which has now resulted in the independent review
‘Historic and much-loved clubs are going under,’ she concludes. Historic? Fair enough. Bury were founded in 1885, won the FA Cup in 1900 and 1903. Macclesfield arrived even earlier, 1874, but did not join the professional leagues until 1997. So for historic, read old.
As for much-loved, that is pushing it. All football clubs are loved by football fans and no doubt their towns are proud of the weekly mention on Final Score, but Manchester United are much-loved, Liverpool are much-loved. In the last complete season with crowds before the pandemic, Bury averaged 4,044, Macclesfield 2,389. It was the fact that these clubs were not loved enough that pushed them inexorably towards calamity.
Few clubs go skint with 50,000 through the turnstiles. Financial mismanagement played a huge part in Bury’s demise but let’s not pretend that in League Two it was ever much more than a season-long scrap for survival. The continent looks on astonished at our 92-plus professional clubs. Many are not much-loved. Many are niche, from a business perspective. Steve Dale bought Bury for £1 because no one would go a penny higher. Nothing that is much loved goes for half the price of an eight-pack of Papermate Inkjoy Assorted in Poundland.
Yet those paraded in front of Crouch will have peddled the romantic notion that all football clubs could be financially viable and, if they are not, the wicked system is to blame and needs fixing by the state. Newcastle fans will say that with a straight face right up until the moment their club cannot afford a striker because it is diverting additional money to support struggling clubs in League One and Two: like Sunderland.
Demands for a new regulator for football have been widespread among fan groups recently
And good luck handing the game over to the same people who still have not got a naming rights deal for the Olympic Stadium, nine years on from 2012, who managed the white elephant Millennium Dome but not the hugely successful O2 Arena.
One of the main reasons Bury struggled was because owner Stewart Day was dealing with the collapse of his property empire. Couldn’t all the more successful property magnates not have gathered funds to stop this happening, or is that just the answer to business failure in football?
There are some positives in Crouch’s letter but they will largely be familiar to regular readers of this column. Rules to cement each club’s name, location, colours and badge — and the competitions in which it plays. Crouch seems to favour implementing this with a golden share for fans, when a charter would work just as well, but potato potahto.
A government regulator, however, is not splitting hairs. It is an incredibly powerful and crucial appointment being left to the people who brought you test and trace and the pingdemic. Might Crouch now apply for the job she intends creating? Or maybe Matt Hancock knows someone suitable. He usually does.
TIME FOR OLE TO REPAY THE FAITH
Raphael Varane is an excellent signing for Manchester United. Real Madrid do not surrender players in their prime and Varane is 28. A partnership with Harry Maguire gives United strength across the back four and matches their rivals. One by one, though, excuses for failure are being removed.
The faith shown in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer goes beyond his new contract, too. A team as strong as United’s are worthy of a trophy and at any other major club, under any other manager, that would be this season’s bottom line.
United are clearly happy with Solskjaer — the worry is that their rivals are, too.
Manchester United’s signing of Raphael Varane will only increase the demand for silverware
FANS’ RETURN RENDERS THIS RIDICULOUS
How utterly ridiculous that Premier League clubs have been told to maintain socially distanced home and away dressing rooms when the new season starts.
This was a Covid protocol that was made possible by the absence of fans from grounds. Some of the temporary structures were in remote locations that might now have spectators milling around in, others are in parts of stadiums that would expect to return to normal use, such as hospitality areas or media suites.
Surely, measures can be put in place so that contact is kept to a minimum around dressing rooms, without banishing the away team to the perimeters of the car park. The clubs should resist this unnecessary red tape.
WAYNE PUTTING PRIDE BACK INTO PRIDE PARK. IS IT PANTO SEASON?
It was not the most self-aware statement.
‘All I can do,’ said Wayne Rooney, ‘is try to bring some dignity and pride back to this club.’ Cue an all-night session, scantily-clad ladies from Barrow-in-Furness and accusations of a blackmail plot.
There are rear ends of pantomime horses currently operating with a greater grasp of dignity than Rooney.
Wayne Rooney said he is trying to ‘bring some pride back’ to Derby after pictures emerged of him passed out in a hotel room with semi-naked women
GUNNERS ARE GONERS AFTER MISSING EUROPE
For an elite club, like Arsenal, failing to qualify for Europe is akin to the calamity of relegation for those below. Such a crisis provokes a significant reaction — changes in personnel, a strategic rethink, new beginnings. Yet, as with relegation, this upheaval rarely happens on the terms of the affected club.
Arsenal have a long list of players they want to sell but they were the players who put the club in trouble in the first place. They also have players they wish to keep, but those are the ones everyone wants. It is just like going down. It is no surprise, then, that Arsenal are struggling to find a lucrative market receptive to Cedric Soares, Sead Kolasinac or Lucas Torreira, but had to fight Aston Villa off over Emile Smith-Rowe.
Alexandre Lacazette is the type of player Mikel Arteta wants rid of but even if he does go to Atletico Madrid — who have previously expressed interest — it will be for around a quarter of the £50m paid in 2017. Just as the Championship changes a club’s finances, so does a year in the wilderness for one the size of Arsenal.
Those with sufficient funds to afford Arsenal players do not wish to recruit those who under-achieved so miserably and those outside the elite band cannot pay the going rate for Arsenal salaries. So the unwanted sit and the club must now decide how low they will go just to get a player off the books. Arsenal helped create the cartel of super-elites and can now enjoy the world they made.
If Alexandre Lacazette leaves Arsenal, it will be around a quarter of the £50m they paid for him
KEPA PAID A HEAVY PRICE FOR HIS PENALTY TANTRUM
More than two years on, Kepa Arrizabalaga has finally apologised for his behaviour in the 2019 Carabao Cup final, when he refused to be substituted after sustaining a mild injury.
It was a public humiliation for his manager, Maurizio Sarri, and also for the goalkeeper instructed to take his place in the penalty shootout, Willy Caballero. Chelsea lost anyway.
Some will see Arrizabalaga’s apology as coming too late — yet it cannot be argued he hasn’t been punished.
At the time he was rated as one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe. Maybe not living up to his world-record transfer fee, but with that potential. After the Wembley tantrum, his trajectory has been steadily downwards, as if the pressure of that arrogant stance had an adverse effect.
He lost his place in Chelsea’s team and in Spain’s squad for this year’s European Championship. The apology suggests he has grown, but the consequences remain.
As Toby Alderweireld disappears to Qatari club Al-Duhail, the mystery of another disappointing Belgian showing at a major tournament clears.
Belgium already had Thomas Vermaelen playing for Vissel Kobe in Japan. Now another of his defensive partners chooses to depart to an inferior league, for the money.
Perhaps the hunger wasn’t there. As this highly gifted Belgium side have won nothing, however, it is hard to see why.
Toby Alderweireld is the latest Belgian to disappear into the distance after moving to Qatar
There were 3,177 new coronavirus cases in Tokyo on Wednesday, the highest level since the pandemic began and the first time the numbers have risen above 3,000.
It was reported the surge was driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. And yes, medals are lovely and the stories behind them heart-warming. With Japan near the top of the medal table, no doubt the pre-Games resistance is weakening there, too.
Yet, soon, the show will have left town and then the reckoning starts. Usually it is measured in deserted, empty venues and the ill-considered spending of public funds. This Olympics may yet have a more human toll, laid at the IOC’s door.
SKY’S THE LIMIT WHEN IT COMES TO INSPIRATION
We have heard much this week about the Olympic capacity to inspire. Matty Lee, gold medal winning partner of Tom Daley, has a photograph of them together from when he was a nine-year-old schoolboy. Lee remembers asking Daley for pictures and his autograph.
Lauren Williams, a taekwondo silver medalist from Wales, took up her sport after seeing Jade Jones, from Flint, winning gold. Rebecca Adlington predicts an Adam Peaty effect for swimming.
For the majority watching at home a successful Olympian puts a spring in the step — for a small number it becomes life-changing.
And no doubt this narrative will continue when 13-year-old Sky Brown competes in the skateboarding on Thursday.
How many young girls might be inspired by her? Yet, this time, there is a caveat. Brown qualifies for Team GB through her father but was born in Japan and divides her time between Miyazaki and the United States. Her presence carries a less palatable message.
Work hard, train hard, be brave but always understand that, no matter how much you try, if there’s a ringer from the States with a better chance of a medal, she’s in and you’re out.
Sky Brown, just 13 years of age, is gearing up for her Olympics debut in the skateboarding
USUAL EXPERTS PIPE UP AGAIN
The usual experts are out in force on the subject of Simone Biles’ wellbeing. Can’t work out why she might have mental health problems, can you?
AUSSIES’ ASHES STANCE LEAVES A NASTY TASTE
Australia’s rugby league players do not want to play here in the World Cup, the country’s cricketers have not travelled for the Hundred. So it is a little rich that Australia expects this winter’s Ashes to be unaffected by the pandemic.
With personal well-being now a greater consideration, it is no longer acceptable that players who represent England across multiple formats could be separated from their families for four months.
Early indications are that Australia’s government will not budge on its limit on foreign visitors and alternative plans are being considered — such as a family base in New Zealand, where a travel corridor has been established.
If that does not fly, however, some players could withdraw and one of sport’s greatest spectacles will be devalued. An inferior series would be a severe financial blow for Cricket Australia, but the tourists cannot be blamed.
Having pulled out of a trip to South Africa and with seven players refusing to embark on the tour of the West Indies, Australia have hardly proven the most reliable partners of late, either.