Could We See Partnerships Between Lower Tier Clubs and the Premier League?

The announcement of the European Super League back in April was hit by huge backlash coming from almost every interested party. It is very rare for the fans of every football team, the Premier League, the EFL, the FA, and the governments of several European countries to all find themselves on the same side of an argument.

The clubs that proposed the breakaway league were heavily criticised for putting their own commercial interests ahead of the sport, particularly at a time when many lower league clubs have been struggling with simply staying afloat.

It came after another widely criticised proposal, Project Big Picture, was shelved after it was met by a similar level of anger from fans. If realised, this plan would have seen the Premier League’s biggest clubs take control of the top tier of English football and run it in their own interests.

However, there are other proposals that could deliver much better results for the whole of English football, benefiting clubs at the top and in the lower tiers like Walthamstow FC.

What Problems Need to be Solved?

As fans of clubs outside the top tiers of the sport will know, football can be just as much of a battle off the pitch as it is on it. Balancing the finances, keeping a ground that can host games, and managing staff can all be a struggle if you don’t have the deep pockets of the biggest teams.

Walthamstow FC fans are no stranger to this. The mid-2000s saw the club suffer financial problems, a name change, and problems keeping a metaphorical roof over its head. Thankfully, it has been able to put many of these issues behind it in recent years and even moved back to Wadham Lodge in 2013, but other clubs haven’t been so successful.

Higher up the tiers, Bury FC was expelled from the EFL after it got into financial difficulty. The club was put up for sale, but a buyer couldn’t be found in time and, although it technically still exists, it has no players, is not in a league, and is now in administration.

Premier League teams also have problems. Increasing demands for additional tournaments are putting a lot of pressure on players, with several managers complaining that fixture congestion is forcing them to prioritise some competitions over others.

The need to achieve success on the pitch is also making it difficult to give younger players the time they need in games to develop.

A Partnership Solution

One widely discussed idea was first proposed by Greg Dyke in 2014 when he was the chair of the FA. It would see bigger teams create “B teams” that would give them the chance to more regularly field academy players.

These B teams would compete in a newly-created “League Three” that sat below the current EFL leagues. This new competition would be made up of 10 Premier League B teams and 10 from the Conference.

The idea would mimic systems already in place elsewhere in Europe where many of the continent’s biggest clubs have second teams that compete in lower leagues. This allows younger players to make their professional senior debut in a team that can give them more time on the pitch before being promoted into the main team.

Dyke’s suggestions also included a mechanism for Premier League clubs to create a “strategic partnership” with a lower league team and loan them up to eight players.

The Guardian reported last year that, although the plans were originally dismissed, discussions about their viability have begun again within the FA, the Premier League, and the EFL. However, it seems that the EFL is still yet to be convinced by the idea of B teams competing in their ranks.

There are some logistical issues with this too. For example, there could be a conflict of interest if a Premier League’s A and B teams were drawn to face each other in the FA Cup and there has been no mention of how it would be decided which of the 20 Premier League teams would be allowed to create a B team.

Regardless of how this ongoing discussion progresses, it is clear that partnerships and collaboration are needed in football to ensure that teams on the lower rungs of the pyramid can remain viable in the long term.

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