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The folding of ITV Digital....by @trick


The folding of ITV Digital need not necessarily sound the death knell of the Football League or force the bulk of clubs in the First, Second and Third Divisions out of business, as has been predicted in almost apocalyptic terms in the last few weeks.

Many people in football, Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmondson for one and countless other columnists and tabloid scribes predict that many clubs won't survive past this summer, figures up to twenty five have been bandied about with everyone involved in the game seemingly determined to sprinkle their salt of gloom into the soup of uncertainty.

Undoubtedly some clubs will suffer financial hardship but I believe that this fate can be minimised, partly because the clubs who used to receive the most cash from the ITV Digital monkey's coffers (Division 1 teams) are the clubs who receive the most cash from ticket sales etc, however these are also the teams who spend the most money on wages and transfers so there are two ways of looking at the argument.

However, earnings in the Second and Third division differ greatly, the top player at a club such as Colchester in the Second Division gets about £1,200 per week, this is what ex Millwall player Bobby Bowry was reported to be getting last season. At the start of the 2001/2002 season Colchester were estimated to be shelling out £20,000 a week on the playing staff.

However, contrast this with Wigan, with millionaire Dave Whelan bankrolling their ultimately unsuccessful drive for success. Ex Grimsby striker Lee Ashcroft was reportedly taking home around £9,750 a week, with the weekly playing personnel expenditure around £95,000. What is possibly most remarkable about these two teams is that they both ended up in the bottom half of the league, cue the retorts of 'money doesn't buy success', (Rushden fans beg to differ)

So now we know how expenditure differs from one club to another but it would be a plucky man to predict that Colchester will suffer the axe before the bigger spenders, such is their careful financial planning. It doesn't need me to tell you how those clubs who budget carefully now will live to tell the tale in the long term, whilst fans of our good club may be showing dissent at present at some of the cost cutting measures that the leadership has put in place, at least in a year or two we will still have a club to support.

Careful financial planning will work to steer the drifting vessels of the Football League back on a safe course to a point, but what I think will ensure that the clubs of the Football League last another 100 years will be their regionalisation.

The Premiership would remain in its present form, the clubs in the higher reaches of football in England are already on a different planet to the likes of us and they are not at all struggling with TV deals, fans or travelling expenses.

There would be a Division 1 and 2, they would not be regionalised and would contain about 18 teams each, these smaller numbers would ensure fewer mid-table non-events, and with 3 automatic promotion places and the playoffs also would ensure an exciting season for all involved. Division 1 would contain most of the current Division 1 such as Bradford, Coventry and Wolves. However, the lesser clubs of that league such as Grimsby and Walsall would shift into the Division 2, containing the likes of Stoke, Cardiff, Reading etc, along with the rest of the significant clubs in that league.

But there would be three regional leagues, uniting the Conference, League 2 and the smallest clubs in the Division 2 such as Blackpool, Wycombe and Colchester.

Probably the key factor to support this is the fact that more fans will be able to travel to support their teams, for example the classic case of Carlisle against Exeter or Torquay, it doesn't need me to enlighten you on how utterly ludicrous games like this are, but a 700 mile trip doesn't do anyone any favours and means that already impoverished clubs are required to shell out on costly travelling expenses. Most games would be local derbies, Hereford, Telford, Shrewsbury and our very own Kidderminster would all be challenging in the same league.

But an additional good line of reasoning for this is the TV deal. We all know about the well documented plight of ITV Digital and the Football League currently has no coverage for the coming campaign, and with the present state of affairs after media giants such as the massive Kirsch Group in Germany have gone into liquidation, it looks unlikely that anyone will be willing to offer the necessary cash.

The regionalised ITV companies, Yorkshire, Central etc would be much more interested in screening local derbies than a clash between sides from either end of the country. For example, Leyton Orient vs. Dagenham and Redbridge would attract a larger audience than say Dagenham and Redbridge vs. Stalybridge.

Some clubs in these three regional divisions will probably go part-time. But the sacrifice of full-time professional football, in such a grim financial climate, is a small price to pay. This removal of national league status need not be construed as an insult. Going part-time may be a viable option and anyway need not matter as such clubs would be part of an expanded, strengthened Football League. After all, they can always go full-time if they gain promotion.

Most other countries in Europe have regionalised leagues at the bottom of the pyramid. The success of Chievo in Italy and Alaves in Spain shows that smaller clubs can prosper in such a system. Alaves is from a town rather than a city and yet were UEFA cup finalists a year ago. Chievo hail from a mere suburb of Verona. They all attract crowds on a par with our First or Second Division clubs, yet are in their countries' top tier. Until recently Chievo played in Serie C1, Italy's equivalent of my proposed northern regional division, yet they have easily secured an automatic UEFA Cup spot.

The guardians of the game in this country have a reputation for waiting for a calamity to occur before making amendments, just look at the tragic occurrences of Hillsborough. The FA have the chance to resuscitate football in this country in their hands, they just need to grasp it tightly whilst still they have the opportunity…

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