The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

"One of the most brute and beastly shires in the realm"

22 May 2020

Middle-Aged Diary used occasionally to wonder what would happen if the clubs of divisions three and four simply said "sod it." If after years of trying to appease the ever-growing, ever-more-zealous greed of the Premiership, of allowing our leagues to be distorted by parachute payments, of accepting our young prospects will be ripped away from us for pocket money, of allowing our cup to be killed by b-teams, of living off crumbs, we were all to say: "Enough. You have weakened us so much we can scarcely stand, but stand we will."

The competition that emerged from such a schism would be more democratic, but, make no mistake, far poorer (and let's not imagine there was ever a time when third and fourth flight clubs were rolling in cash.) The income would come from fans who prefer live football to TV, and local sponsorships. At first, it would be very hard going, and it may be the purest fantasy to imagine it would not wither and die. But a large part of me dreams that we would reconnect football as a sport, to re-discover the joy of competition on a level playing field, the commercial pressures eased, the incentives to cheat weakened.

Yesterday, Grimsby Town, like several other fourth flight clubs, announced their retained list: as short as it can be. Nine players have been released. No one is pretending that some, or even most, of those players aren't good enough. To name just a few: everyone with a head knows that Jake Hessenthaler will be missed at Blundell Park. And if you have not the heart to feel for Harry Cardwell, whose last chance to impress was cut short by injury, or for Ahkeem Rose whose time here has been beset by trouble, then stop reading: I've no use for you.

It is a harsh world that out-of-contract, lower-league footballers are being forced out into. And it is also a harsh world that the boards of the clubs making the decisions about their futures are operating in. The wagons are circling. The articles are speculative, but the speculation is that the price for the latest crumbs the top clubs will throw us will come with the string of b-teams attached, that second-flight clubs are wondering if now is the time to set themselves up as a Premier League Two.

Bend any further to accommodate their demands and we'll break our own spines. Better, before it is too late, to look for our support not from above but from below. Bravo once more to our own Phil Day and to Bradford City for voting against shutting the door on promotion from non-League: we may have to work with the Conference. And boards may need to work with supporters. We too should have our price, but the price should be to make better the clubs we support, the competitions we play in. Even, in a small way, the world we live in.

It might be time to stop wondering. It is going to be hard going whatever we do. So we may as well do it right.