Barry is taking a break for thirty minutes to enjoy a cup of tea. Yes Barry, pull the other one. A nice glass of red wine perhaps.
Still, this was not the first time we had been privy to such an idea. Back in 1995 Bobby Chase (Norwich) and Ronny Noades (Crystal Palace) et al were making loud noises to quit the Football League and to toddle off to do their own thing. The name for the new look competition was to be called Premiership Two. Gosh, it now seems light years away.
The ’95 idea was quickly consigned to the ‘try again later’ file because of a lack of support from the Premier League. Not surprising though because there had been a bun fight between the two over the Football League’s refusal to participate in negotiating a joint TV deal.
Two years later there was ‘Breakaway 2 – starring Brady of Birmingham City’. Again, and because the Premier League was not keen to enter into discussions, it resulted in another false dawn.
Then there was the 1998/9 version of Premiership Two. On that occasion it was Coventry City’s chairman who flew the flag in what was to be the most vigorous of all attempts to form a new League. As in the two previous attempts it was all about money. That is, TV money. It was noted that for those clubs relegated from the Premiership the financial loss of TV money was huge. Some clubs had committed to new stadiums costing more than £20m. Therefore, surviving a drop to Division One could only be sustained if the player assets at sale could recover the lost revenue. For some clubs that would mean a longer stay out of the Premiership. Other clubs would simply slip further down the greasy pole.
David Sheepshanks is on record as having presided over previous attempts to form a so-called second Premiership Division. So it came as no surprise that Messrs. Sheepshanks & Co, regardless of their respective club situations, would see the proposed Phoenix League as a new dawn, a new beginning. It was going to be a bigger, better and brighter future for all football clubs in the English competition – including the Nationwide and below.
Funny how things turn out. Messrs. Sheepshanks & Co were quoted in the media as pointing to the vast financial differences that existed between the Premier League and Nationwide Division One in particular, and Nationwide Divisions Two & Three in general. For many this was stating the bleeding obvious. At the time I remember thinking to myself that I could’ve gone to the bottom of my socks in thanks for such a revelation. For goodness sake, you didn’t need to be a mental giant to know there were vast financial differences between the several tiers of English football. In fact, my second thought was probably a better assessment of the so-called concern given to Divisions Two & Three by the proponents of the Phoenix League. That is: I doubted that they really gave a rodent’s posterior what happened to the Port Vales’ of this world.
Now, and although I cannot remember the figures quoted, it was stated that the turnover cost between the Premiership and Nationwide Division One could have been anything upwards of £20million. No doubt the purist amongst us will enlighten yours truly. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the financial gap. The media reported Sheepshanks & Co as saying it was unhealthy for the game, and that the time was ripe to address these financial differences. Seems the fruit rotted where it lay.
Each and every time the Premiership Two concept reared its head it was promoted as the solution to making the game more competitive, for keeping alive the dream for clubs in the lower leagues that one day they too could make it to the top. In reality, the underlining message was one of softening the landing into Division One, and sod all nothing to do with Nationwide Divisions Two & Three. Yep, the gap between top and bottom was widening by the day, and at an alarming rate.
What was the motive behind the Phoenix League hustle and bustle? Well, there were those who prattled on about Glasgow R & C strengthening the commercial values of English football which, in fact, seemed to be a coded text of making money for the broadcasters. Others rabbited on about protecting the lower leagues that were seen as being as equally important to the fabric of the game. Excuse me while I yawn.
As we all knew at the time, the notion of a Phoenix League was predicated on television i.e. sales of satellite dishes = larger viewing audiences = increased advertising revenue.
Ah, what a difference a year makes.
Now you’re probably asking ‘What has all this got to do with anything?’ Well, if the truth must be known, I’m creating a thirty-minute time-out for myself from the madness that is Billy Bell’s Barracks. By doing so it helps to clear my head and get me back again onto an even keel. Call it another form of meditation.
Goodness knows I love my club. My parents are descendents of the first Port Vale family! I’m a cradle Valiant, a real true blue. Like the majority of Valiants I do not like what is happening in the dungeons of Hamil Hall. At every opportunity the thumbscrews are tightened, the rack is twisted, the manacles fastened. Right now, both on and off the park, it’s sheer torture.
However, it will get better, of that I’m certain. When? I don’t know! But it will. In the meantime we will have to endure the pain for, and as the saying goes, ‘no pain, no gain’. Do you remember the story of Pandora’s Box? After all the troubles had escaped we were left with ‘Hope’. My hope is: that soon, very soon we will be released from this madness; that we will be rid of those who would hinder Port Vale’s progress; and that we will win the Derby games against Stoke City in 2003/04.
See you later…
November 26, 2002