It’s been a reasonably quiet time of late on Wearside. No disastrous PR gaffes, no mud-slinging, no Phil Parkinson protesting and even some positive results on the pitch to boot.
Something would have to give you would suspect; step forward Project ‘Big Picture.’ The headline which has plagued timelines and news feeds aplenty this week became even more ear pricking to Sunderland fans when Netflix’ favourite parody, Charlie Methven, was quoted as saying it is “the first serious attempt that we have seen to answer the major strategic issues facing the football pyramid,” followed by suggestions the majority of clubs, including Sunderland, back the proposals.
Perhaps there is little surprise in Sunderland backing these short-term lucrative ideologies, after all this is a club who have moved on any saleable asset available to them over the past 18 months and even struggled to repair a broken door at the Academy of Light if reports are to be believed.
Nevertheless, it is alarming that we of all League One clubs would support this plan of insatiable greed being proposed by footballs big wigs at Manchester United and Liverpool namely.
Despite being rooted to the third tier of English football for a third consecutive season, there are still languishing hopes and desires this football club can regain its consciousness, clamber back onto its knees and move back up towards the Premier League.
Had this project been proposed when talks and negotiations first began in 2017 then Sunderland would have been one of the lucky nine to be given an invitation to the league’s boardroom meetings given their 10 year stay in the top flight – emphasising just how ludicrous the ideas are as well as amplifying just how far Sunderland have fallen in three short years.
The tangible monetary gains are attractive at face value, but contrary to its title there is no big picture being considered here for clubs outside of the top six of the Premier League. It is short-term capitalism.
How does this project benefit a club such as Sunderland in the long-term? It reduces the chances, should the club ever make it back to the Premier League, of competing in the top flight. The success of Wolverhampton Wanderers for example, would be quashed before it was given an opportunity to flourish by the top six who would be able to unanimously veto any takeover or perceived threat to their dominance.
How can that be right? How can it be right for the top six clubs in England to be the ones who dictate the other 86?
Under new rules the League Cup and Charity Shield would be no more, but on what basis? Because it’s inconvenient to the top six? Why should that be acceptable?
My best memory supporting Sunderland came in the League Cup at Old Trafford. It is a competition which provides an opportunity for success for teams outside of the elite. Why should that be taken away? How often will we see another Leicester City in the Premier League? That shop is as good as closed, once in a lifetime stuff. To remove one of the domestic cup competitions because you don’t see it valuable enough in your calendar, or you believe it can be replaced by a European fixture to generate more cash is discourteous at best.
The timing of this doesn’t sit right either. While those in favour will argue there is no better time to launch a project of this magnitude due to the current global pandemic, in reality it stinks of supremacy. The gall at flaunting the figures of money they are offering the EFL and Grassroots at a time like this is disparaging. It’s a case of “look at what you could have” knowing fine well the pandemic will not impact their clubs.
Businessmen of the magnitude of those at Manchester United and Liverpool are not naïve. They have such sizeable bank accounts by being able to seize and capitalise on opportunities for their own gain which is all this boils down to in the long-term. Do we really think Liverpool give the first semblance of a monkeys as to what happens to Sunderland over the next 12-24 months? Absolutely not.
The big picture here is that this benefits a minute establishment of the English football system and irrespective of how beneficial it may seem right now, it won’t be further down the line.
There are principals which the majority of clubs and supporters would welcome; the capping of away tickets at £20, the subsidising of away travel, the more evenly distributed sums of television money. But these are ideas that should be reached without the need to hand over the keys of the game’s soul to the top six clubs in the Premier League.
Methven may have alluded to this being the nearest attempt at football answering its major strategic issues but in truth it is the closest the sport has come to swallowing itself in greed.
As a Sunderland supporter I’m concerned. I’m concerned Stewart Donald and co. acknowledge and are willing to entertain the idea. If this is given the green light it almost begs the question: What are we doing here? What is the point? What can we achieve now? One domestic trophy and an elevated drawbridge preventing us from the Premier League table – who knows if we’ll even be able to get back in the 18-team league anymore should they chose to align themselves in with a more Americanisation model and franchise the league?
It may be entitled ‘Big Picture,’ but that picture is no bigger than a polaroid without air, struggling to develop. Football should not let this happen.