Non League Daily

Mark Carruthers: FA Cannot 'B' Serious

Just picture the scene for a moment. It's Sunday 18th May, you're sat at Wembley Stadium at the Skrill Premier Play off Final. Whether you are a Gateshead or Cambridge United fan – I'll let you choose – the scene is set.

 

For the Tynesiders it's a chance to reach the Football League for the first time since the 1959/60 season, a realisation of a dream for Chairman Graeme Wood. For the U's it's the opportunity to regain League status that was lost by relegation in 2005, a chance to return to the days of John Beck and Dion Dublin. Redemption, success and most of all glory on the biggest stage English football has to offer.

 A return to League Two offers trips to some of the most historic grounds in country, Fratton Park for example. A ground that was home to the FA Cup winners less than ten years ago and hosted AC Milan, SC Braga and Wolfsburg in Portsmouth's Europa League campaign. Dreams will be realised, hopes will be shattered, drama will be guaranteed. The peak of Non-League football will reached, played out in front of supporters who couldn't dare to dream of seeing their heroes run out at the home of football with a chance of reaching the Football League.

The FA's proposal to introduce a League Three where Premier League clubs can enter a "B" team puts the very essence of Non-League football under threat. Ask any player, official or fan heading to Wembley next Sunday just how they feel about their club playing in the Football League and they will hardly contain their excitement. Now imagine telling them they wouldn't be facing the Portsmouths and Plymouths of this world but would have to face the Academy products of Stoke City or Crystal Palace. Having another block put in their way having to play in what would effectively be a playground – or should that be a holding pen – for the Premier League's stockpiled young talent, some of who will never make it.

Now this season I have seen games at nearly every level of the game. From England to Evo-Stik League, from Premier League to Sunday League and the issues with the constant underachievement of the national team are not the fault of Non-League clubs, nor are they the fault of their players who play mostly for the love of the game and not chasing the almighty pay cheque. The FA's proposal ignores the real issues and oozes an almost "Thatcherite" belief of only looking after the elite. It ignores that fat cat, greed of the Premier League, it ignores the ridiculously expensive cost of coaching badges that are ludicrously inflated compared to our neighbours on the continent. It ignores the ever increasing cost of youngsters getting involved at grassroots level or the horrendous standard of the facilities they have to train and play in.

If the FA wants real success – however they judge that is open to anyone's interpretation – then they must start at grassroots level and leave Non-League and the League pyramid well alone. Encourage retired players to take their badges but snub the cushy job in an academy and get in amongst the community youth clubs that have produced the outstanding players that we have. Forget investment in pushing the national game abroad and invest heavily in facilities in every county around the country. Why have St Georges Park when the cost shared could give every town and city a top class facility where youth clubs and groups can go about producing the stars of the future. Stop making youngsters play on glorified bogs covered in dog excrement or broken glass when they could be on state of the art 3G pitches where touch and control are improved in a heartbeat.

At the top level of the game make the Capital One Cup what it effectively is; a reserve team competition. Impose a rule whereby Premier League clubs can only play three over twenty three players in their ties. Impose a rule in league games where at least three Under 21 players must be named in your matchday squad, whether they start or are named on the bench. Encourage a more beneficial use of the loan system whereby the Premier League club covers the cost of their youth players spell at a Football League or Non-League for a season long loan, not a three week period. Make the Under 21 Premier League a Friday night competition and encourage clubs to play their games at their first team stadiums with entry at a vastly reduced price. Get your own house in order before you go messing with Non-League football and the pyramid.

I keep hearing about the need to revitalise the pyramid at the bottom end of the Football League and in Non-League. This is something that I find massively disrespectful to each and every club at both of those levels. Ask the 4,000+ fans who attended the FC United of Manchester v Chorley Evo-Stik Northern Premier League title decider if the game at that level needs revitalised. Ask the 8,144 who were at the International Stadium to see Gateshead reach the aforementioned Skrill Premier Play-Off Final with a 3-1 win over Grimsby Town if they were bored of the game at that level. Statistics show that the average attendances in League Two and the Skrill Premier are favourably comparable to the 'B' teams of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, the example we are supposed to be following. I simply refuse to acknowledge that a 'B' team league will do anything else except ensure the rich get richer, the Non-League game suffers and more clubs go to the wall, for that reason amongst many others the proposition must be rejected.

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