ROUND TABLE: PROJECT BIG PICTURE



After the announcement that 'Project Big Picture' would be ditched, just days after it was conceived brought some welcome news to fans who staunchly opposed the Big Six's proposals for the EFL. Three of our regular writers spoke with one another to create another round table discussion on the initial 'Big Picture' proposals and the backlash the club received on Wednesday after CEO Jim Rodwell's statement.


What are your initial thoughts on Project Big Picture?

Sobs thinks Project Big Picture is all a bit short term thinking and that in the long run, it won’t be beneficial, “The typical fan’s knee-jerk reaction of 'for the few and not for the many' is how I initially reacted, and after taking a deep breath and a bit of a lie down to consider how they’d had the temerity to put such a project together after Shearer agreed with my initial thoughts– much the same. They, the so-called Big Six, are offering us what is basically a sherbet lemon in which the sherbet has been replaced with a naga chilli (if I’m being polite). The initial offer of £250 million or so will be fantastic for a while, but when it runs out in the not too distant future, we’ll be running around screaming 'what have they given us?' How can any club with any desire to exist independently in a couple of years’ time think that giving the top few clubs in the Premiership more power and money (‘cos that’s what it boils down to) as well as ultimate control of your club’s destiny is a remotely good thing? Undoubtedly, there are some good things in the Project, but they’re all short term benefits for clubs outside the Prem, and the only long-term beneficiaries are the top six. Almost certainly, they’re in there purely to get the fans to bite. The fewer teams in the Prem means the smaller your chances of promotion into it, the more money for those that are currently there - and their initial proposal is for eighteen teams. I’ll offer you no odds whatsoever that next year they’ll be proposing sixteen, then fourteen – and eventually six, and no relegation. Rant over… well, not over, but it’s been truncated for the sake of you actually reading this to the end, and my not being sued by someone or other.”

Michael Conroy reckons football is heading even further down the wrong track, “Let’s face it, football as we know it went down the plughole a long time ago; the Premier League was viewed by some as the death of football when it first came in and so it has proven to be really. We launched the pay per view experiment in an away game at Oxford United many moons ago in a move which sent a clear signal that football had shifted from being the beautiful game to a marketable commodity, an entertainment if you like. At school when I was a kid, the odd classmate who supported Liverpool or Man United was roundly mocked for not supporting a proper team and being a glory hunter. Now it’s the proper supporters who are mocked for choosing a shit team to follow; like it’s a choice. Project Big Picture continued that trend so I was neither surprised nor infuriated when it was launched. I looked at what we could get out of it. The top six in the Premier League is largely impenetrable now without a huge wedge of cash and there’s a bit of me that says let them get on with it and take what we can. I know that’s a depressing view but barring an eccentric billionaire and a change in financial fair play rules we’re pretty stuffed right now. I looked at the positives of the proposals in terms of getting some much needed cash poured into clubs who were largely unlikely to bother the top 6 too much. The bad omens were there too, I mean any proposals launched by American billionaires are unlikely to be altruistic. There was also the fact that the place I read it first was in a supportive article from The Daily Telegraph which is hardly the place to read about ‘man of the people’ stories. Putting that aside though the sweetener in the bitter deal was attractive. As the days went by and more detail appeared about the proposals the sweetener became less attractive. In all honesty the clubs most at risk in the deal would be premier league clubs outside of the top 6. The temptation is to look at the current Premier League table for that but there is movement in that on a regular basis. Ironically if we had maintained our status in the Premier League we would have been one of the elite clubs which just shows the farce of the whole thing really.


Thomas Thornton was equally as disappointed with PBP as the rest of us, "it may be beneficial in the short run, clubs like Wigan and Bolton will of course be supportive of the offer as it may be their only hope of seeing the year out. But, in the long run, this is completely unfeasible and should be flatly rejected in any form close to the current one. It would kill the game we all know and love, although it isn't the only factor in football going to the dogs at the moment, but it is certainly a contributing factor. It just goes to show how much influence teams like Manchester United and Liverpool have and if they had their own way, at times it seems as if they would just completely scrap the English tiered system and form their own league. The thing most people love about football is the ups and downs of promotion and relegation,the rollercoaster seasons, the excitement and unpredictability of the game, this Project, or any similar proposal would undoubtedly kill those aspects of football which we all know and love."

Thoughts on Methven and Rodwell’s comments?

Sobs wasn’t impressed with the CEO’s comments and he thought Methven was cleverly vague in his statement, “It depends entirely on your outlook and for how long you’re prepared to have it. Initially, there’s money to be had, and with the situation/mind-set our owners are in/have, proven by the sale of Maja and Bali Mumba for laughably small fees, any money is good money. That’s a pro, until you consider what might be done with the money. It will almost certainly be a con in the minds of most fans, as it won’t go on anything tangible in terms of improving the team because of the ludicrous salary cap. Unless we spend it on several players below a certain age who will improve our team and stick around for at least four seasons, it’s a false economy for us. “Charlie has, as ever, been clever in what he’s said. Nowt controversial in there, unless you’re either a) really picky, or b) a legal eagle. It might/would have been better (in my opinion) to come out and say that the Project is only going to benefit the Big Six at the expense of the rest of the football world in the long (or even medium) term, but he didn’t and he left few bones to pick over for those who are into that sort of thing. Jim Rodwell, on the other hand, has come out in outright support of the Project, saying that the plans don’t hurt anyone in a meaningful way. Well, of course they don’t - in the immediate future. All the clubs outside the Prem would be too busy divvying up the £25 million – which is what Gareth Bale earns, if 'earns' is the right word, after tax, between now and Christmas 2021. Now tell me that it’s good for the teams outside the Prem. Go on, give it a good try. Thought not. 'We have an obligation to look after the game in a holistic fashion. How much are we losing without spectators?' says Jim, while stating that he’s cautiously optimistic about the whole thing? Undoubtedly, we’re losing a lot financially as well as in terms of noise and atmosphere, but the fans are losing out too, both mentally and physically. I, for one, am going radged with no games to go to. He also said that without going into figures, the financial stuff is (Trump style-ee) 'big, big numbers. We will keep treading water until someone throws us a life-buoy.' Whether he means a bar of soap (ask yer dad) or a floatation device, it’ll only float for a few years. Bite it now and it’ll taste nice (not the soap, obviously), but it will inevitably spring a leak and deflate in the not too distant future. On the plus side, the whole Big Picture Project thing has at least woken many from the stupor induced by seven months of being unable to attend matches, and get those many discussing (on social media, as face-to-face, down-the-pub chats are forbidden) the future of the game. Therefore, Liverpool, Man United, Rick Parry and the rest should be applauded for trying to do something for the game, he said with his tongue more firmly in his cheek than if he’d just bitten one of those aforementioned naga chillies. Well, at least we’re talking about it, and out of that talk might just come something meaningful.”

Michael Conroy has given up and stopped taking notice of what Rodwell, Methven and Donald have to say for themselves now, “I’m at a stage with those two where I largely ignore what they say. Their words mean very little to me as I have absolutely no trust in either them or their motives. Once again I wasn’t surprised to see that they were supportive of the proposals. Since the arrival of Donald and Methven the majority of vitriol has been finance driven. We have heard about costs being driven down, we have heard about biggest budgets, about excessive player salaries, agents’ fees, how we can pour our money into the club to set a crowd record against Bradford City. That last one was sold on the basis of status; we could become the biggest club League One had ever seen in terms of fan base. Whether that was to tart us up for a prospective buyer or to boost the coffers I don’t know, but I certainly don’t believe it was out of a sense of pride in the support this club has which is what drove most of those who attended that fixture to buy tickets. So if money is dangled in front of them then yeah, absolutely they would support it. The backlash was always inevitable. The fact is that Methven has blotted his copy book with the fans and has gone from cheeky chappy to dark overlord; anything he says is going to be roundly criticised. Rodwell’s introduction to the fans was to insult the loyalty of season card holders. There are huge bridges to be built between that lot and the fan base and to put effort in, but these proposals stink of desperation and small club mentality.”


Thomas Thornton reckons they were completely out of touch with fans and doesn't understand why Jim Rodwell would say something like that! "You know, over the last few years, the one thing all Sunderland fans can agree on is that very few owners, managers, players etc. have been able to connect with fans. Jim Rodwell was an odd appointment as CEO anyway, especially with his track record at Boston United, but this has burnt any bridges he had with fans - his comments were out of touch and out of order, he just doesn't get what the whole thing is about, all he has seen is pound signs and let's face it, neither him, Methven or Donald are going to be around long enough to feel the real impact of Project Big Picture so why would it bother them? Methven's comments were his usual vague but clever words which showed us little on what he actually thinks but Rodwell put his cards on the table and astoundingly united the vast majority of the fanbase against him!"

In hindsight, if they’d said nothing would things have been easier, especially as the plan was cancelled soon after their statement?

Sobs is cautiously optimistic and is willing to see what the future holds before jumping the gun, “If you’re asking me if I believe for one minute that those putting forward the Big Picture have the welfare of anyone outside of the Big Few (i.e. the real Big Picture) at heart, then I’d say no. Should we just take the money and stay quiet? I’d say no. If they want a European Super League, which seems about as obvious as the pie that is now Steve Bruce’s face, then do it - but give free transport for your fans to all away games, and free telly coverage to those that can’t get the time off work, or afford, to attend. In the meantime, come up with something that might just ensure the future of football outside the Prem. Otherwise, just shut up and watch the telly. Sky, obviously. Considering the fact that the Project was as likely to be supported by any clubs apart from the dead rich ones as me buying a Mag season ticket, it was very unlikely that it was ever going to fly in its original format. Considering that the vast majority of fans of clubs outside the dead rich ones were ever going to back in its original format, it was very unlikely that many clubs apart from the dead rich ones would have expected their fans to have smiled sweetly while chowing down on their newly-subsidised pies (one month only, special offer, then it’s back to the stuffed-crust pizzas and wine in plaggy glass with a foil top at a tenner a go) while considering the latest Sky TV option. Do what I did. Read Project Big Picture, watch it, listen to it, have a think over a coffee and a Fruit Club (other choccy biccies are available, even if they don’t come close) and let your thoughts cook a while and Hey Presto, it’s gone. Then, do a Ronan Keating. You say it best, when you say nothing at all. Shouting the odds at the first outing of a proposed sea, change in the future of the beautiful game is something that folks down the pub did. Considering the odds of a proposed sea-change in the future of the beautiful game, adding that to your considered opinion of what the fans of your club are thinking on the subject, then making a statement, is what club directors might do these days. Let’s see what they come up with next, and here’s hoping we (the club) count to ten before hoying in our opinion. Just saying, like.”

Michael Conroy thinks they should’ve kept their mouths shut and hung fire, “Undoubtedly. Wise men say only fools rush in and the counter proposals from the Premier League have left them with an eggy mess all over their faces. That trust has been hugely eroded even further now. They were trying to get us to buy into something when a better offer was just around the corner. Now to give them the benefit of the doubt perhaps they didn’t know about the counter proposals, but that in itself is indicative of poor leadership. On the one hand they knew about the counter proposals but tried to get us to buy into Project Big Picture for a reason only they will know; on the other hand they didn’t know and didn’t try to find out about any counter proposals and, despite FSA and other fan groups roundly criticising Project Big Picture didn’t bother to find out if anything else was on offer before telling us it was a great thing. The counter proposals are far more attractive and far more altruistic. It’s a shame this wasn’t done sooner and if there is anything positive to say about Project Big Picture it is that it has forced the rest of the Premier League into action. Without action clubs will disappear, of that there is no doubt. If you’re a fan of the Big 6 or however many there are you might view that as collateral damage in the quest for European supremacy. After all, if clubs go bust they need to be replaced to maintain the league structure. What better way than to stick Liverpool B in to work their way through the tiers, but that ignores generations of fans who understand that the game isn’t centred around superstars in shiny shirts. It’s centred around walking through rows of terraces with your dad or your mates to go and watch the club your family has supported for eons.


Thomas agreed that Rodwell and the club had jumped the gun to make a statement, "In hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, then obviously they wouldn't have said anything; I think Jim Rodwell probably regrets making that statement but he said it and he has to take responsibility and the backlash that comes with it. I'm sure we all saw on Twitter that the club did not hlaf get some stick from our loyal fanbase, who felt that the owners and CEO just didn't give a toss about the club or what the fans thought. It's sometimes better to say nothing than to say something and this was one of those times, especially how the proposals were always going to be rejected in that format."


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