Anti-hero Gordon Gekko had us believe that “greed is good” in the 1987 box-office hit Wall Street. But Hollywood aside, greed is anything but good – especially when you’re talking about scrapping relegation from, and promotion to, the Premier League. Quite honestly, I’ve never heard such a dreadful idea in my life. Sport is all about competition and to have a top flight with a safety net to protect the chosen few would be an absolute joke. I’m not sure the greedy blighters pushing this utterly selfish plan have a legal leg to stand on but the fact it has surfaced at all leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
Premier League chief exec Richard Scudamore describes it as “nonsensical” and, for once, I couldn’t agree more, because if this was ever to get off the ground then football as we know it would become a thing of the past. Our national sport would be lacklustre and insipid, devoid of all drive and passion. The likes of Wigan may have earned their place in the Premier League’s Class of 2011 but that hardly gives them the right to pull up the drawbridge on more than 100 years of football history. Who is to say that the likes of Derby, Preston, Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday or Sheffield United don’t deserve their place among the elite on heritage alone?
Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has come up with a potty idea to revolutionise the game. When I was playing, AstroTurf was going to sweep the world – there wasn’t going to be a blade of grass left in football. QPR were the early pioneers so I went to see their boss Terry Venables to find out what all the fuss was about. I didn’t like it, it didn’t catch on and, thankfully, 30 years on we’re still playing on grass.
Now, it’s not that I don’t like to see sport evolving. Danny Blanchflower was probably the most imaginative footballer I ever met and he was always wondering how the game might be improved. He once pondered the impact of reducing games to seven-a-side and, while this has never taken off in football, rugby sevens is a phenomenal success. I used to play a lot of cricket too and if someone had said to me back then, ‘Jim, it’s going to be a 20-over game in the future’, I’d have thought they were nuts. I guess it’s more a case of evolution rather than revolution. That’s why I’m convinced the next big thing in football will be a European Super League. In fact, I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened already.
I know we have the Champions League but why not expand it and have a top tier sitting above the Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga for the top two or three from each country? There would still be a threat of relegation with the team finishing bottom relegated back to their domestic leagues while the top team domestically would be promoted to the elite level. And why stop at Europe? It could take in Russia and Ukraine. In fact, New York is getting closer as air travel evolves – maybe the Cosmos could be involved! The furthest journey a footballer faces these days is four or five hours – the same sort of time it would take me and my Chelsea team-mates to get to Newcastle on the steam train. And it was a bloody sight bumpier!
Portsmouth landlady Karen Murphy’s victory in her case against Sky TV could well force a rethink when it comes to renegotiating future deals with the Premier League and broadcasters overseas – and this may well provide an opportunity for a serious debate about the possibility of a European Super League. Yet whatever happens, we MUST retain promotion and relegation. Football is not a matter of life and death but knowing your very survival is at threat sure makes it interesting.