Why I support League 3

The League 3 debate is perhaps the most one-sided in the history of English football. Almost everyone is against its creation - it seems that only the sport’s financial elite and the bean-counters in the Premier League’s headquarters are in favour. As soon as the idea was revealed, fans up and down the country set aside tribal differences and united against a measure which would, apparently, see the integrity of their sporting institutions irreversibly damaged.

Personally, I do not see anything wrong with it. It comes down to what it is people want from their football. If they just want a local outfit to support and identify as their own and value that tribal autonomy over the quality of the football they watch, then the current status quo suits them down to the ground. It does not need any alteration and League 3 represents uninvited interference from a governing body that should be as laissez-faire as possible.

If they genuinely care about the game, however, and want well-run, financially sustainable clubs that prioritise teaching local kids how to play the game and eventually giving them a route into professional football, then something has to change. The current structure does not benefit anyone. Players, managers, coaches, fans - we all get a raw deal.

On top of the ninety-two professional sides in the Premier and Football Leagues, there are now many professional clubs in the fifth tier of the league pyramid. All-in-all, England has more football clubs than any other country: around forty-thousand according to FIFA’s 2006 ‘Big Count’. The Championship is the fourth best attended league in the world, behind only the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga – famously ahead of Italy’s Serie A.

This popularity and scale, the argument goes, is irrefutable proof of both English football’s quality and its health. Actually, a little digging reveals it to be the exact opposite: we have the highest number of clubs in the world and the highest ticket prices but a staggeringly low number of qualified coaches. According to a 2010 article in the Guardian, “Uefa data shows that there are only 2,769 English coaches holding Uefa’s B, A and Pro badges, its top qualifications. Spain has produced 23,995, Italy 29,420, Germany 34,970 and France 17,588.”

The causal relationship between there being almost no quality coaching at grass roots level and there being no world-class players or managers at senior level could hardly be more obvious. Despite this drawback, foreign investment falsely gives the impression that English football is in rude health: its big clubs pay the biggest wages, the Premier League is continually ranked as the most-watched division on the planet and every year two or three of its clubs are capable of winning the Champions League.

Everyone agrees that English youth coaching requires a revolution. That debate is long since over. The only question that remains is how it should happen. One common-sense solution is to reduce greatly the cost of coaching badges so that anyone can try to become one – to become a UEFA licensed coach in the UK costs several times what it does in Spain, Germany, France or Italy – but with the government cutting investment in sport and keen to let clubs act as autonomous bodies and set their own prices, the onus falls squarely on the clubs, whose continual financial struggles supposedly dictate that costs must be high.

Indeed, the most important problem facing English football is that almost every club outside of the Premier League, from those in the Championship to those in the Sunday leagues, lives a hand to mouth existence. Their priority is not helping enthusiastic locals to become qualified coaches, nor to teach the kids how to play in the same way that Spanish, Dutch and German coaches do. They just want to win their match every weekend. When continued failure to do so would put players and managers out of jobs and clubs out of business altogether, that is understandable.

So if the government will not intervene and Football League clubs cannot afford to provide a high quality education, it is squarely down to the Premier League elite to carry the load and teach the nation’s youngsters how to play. This is what they do now, but when these players get to 18, 19 or 20, they need game-time. Not just any game-time, but the experience of playing in complex tactical systems, with various responsibilities and against opponents doing exactly the same thing. Again, the clubs in the Football League cannot provide that.

Due to high turnover of players, a very crowded fixture list and the fact that most English veterans know only how to kick and rush, they learn to play in relatively simple, outdated systems and most matches become miserable slugfests where the team with the best stamina, bravery and set-piece organisation wins. It is the equivalent of sending a MIT Engineering graduate to stack shelves in a supermarket. Sure, he or she will learn a work ethic but are they really using or developing the skills they spent years acquiring? Of course not. It is a total waste of time.

I am pro-League 3 because, above all, I want every young footballer in the United Kingdom to have the same excellent chance of fulfilling their potential. They do not have that opportunity at the moment. The Football League system is bloated, inefficient and, sadly but most importantly, financially destitute. If we as fans want to help future generations – our own children – reach the top of the game, then we have to put their needs first and those of historically relevant but currently hopeless clubs second.

By Rob Brown - @robbro7/http://robbro7.com/

Posted by Natter Football

  1. What an absolute load of fucking tosh. This bloke clearly hates lower league football is a Premier League/higher tier fanboy. Appalling viewpoint.

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    1. +1,000,000

      This guy is Winkelman’s target audience.

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    2. Spot on mate – could not have put it better myself!

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    3. I do not hate necessarily hate lower league football or like top-tier football. I do not know what part of wanting kids to have the chance to get really good at playing gave that impression.

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  2. What about community based clubs that could potentially die because of it? You’re just ignorant and only care about the success of the national team. To sacrifice our rich football history for the chance of MAYBE (it must be stressed MAYBE) winning something is just a risk now worth taking. We need more coaches, we need a limit on the amount of foreigners in the Premier League and there needs to be a certain of amount of English players in a matchday squad or first team. Ruining our history for the sake of an experiment just isn’t on. The smaller clubs get shat on enough. There’s more to football in this country than the Premier League. Thankfully, your view is shared by the minority.

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    1. I never once mentioned the national team or said that the aim should be winning a national tournament. I just want the kids of the future to have the chance to be the best footballers they can. That’s all.

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  3. Problem created by and within the Premier League that should be fixed by the Premier League but not to the detriment of other innocent leagues.

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    1. Fair point, Steve. An ideal scenario is the Premier League flooding the lower leagues with the cash they refuse to share. I accept that. In the real world, however, that just isn’t going to happen. League 3 is the least terrible of a plethora of terrible solutions to a problem that should never have been allowed to exist.

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  4. All very good points Robbo, from the lack of good coaches , the costs of becoming a coach, But you have failed to express how a League 3 would solve these problems, do you honestly think that league 3 is any better than the loan system or the U21 premier league

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    1. I do, yeah. The financial sustainability of the parent club means that the B team can invest in the coaches of the future and allow them to guide the players of the future through a risky and competitive but not precipitously dangerous environment. As I mentioned in the article, too many teams live hand to mouth to offer that experience now. League 3’s an extremely long way from being an ideal solution but it’s the best of an abysmal bunch.

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  5. No surprise that such a ludicrous idea would find favour with the sort of football hipster who deserted his own team, sorry, “gave up fandom in order to watch good football across the world”

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    1. I am sorry that my own personal preference for watching football sits uncomfortably with yours. I do not see anything ‘hipster’ or attention-seeking about preferring to watch football without attachment. It’s just what works for me.

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  6. As a long standing supporter of a NL club playing in Conf South, the L3 proposal would basically kill my club. One that has worked it’s nuts off trying to engage with its local community and has a thriving juniors setup.

    Why would it kill us? Well, lets look at our town, Sutton. We’re based in SW London. The area is utterly dominated by Chelsea ‘fans’. It’s hard enough as it is trying to get these people to realise we exist as it is. Now imagine what effect a Chelsea B, effectively parachuted into the FL and able to push as high as L1, would have. Who the fuck is going to watch a poxy little NL club like us when for about the same money, they can go and watch ‘da bloos’ stars of the future for about the same money as they could to get into our two bob dog & duck football and convince themselves that they were being true blue Chels’ fans.

    For us, with an average of 6-700 fans, to mount publicity drives is an effort and requires commitment. For Chelsea? A few extra quid on the bottom line. Marketing & PR firms. Paid leaflet droppers. Shiny displays handing out tickets on our high street. And that’s before they get stuck into our community & juniors activities. Lets face it, you’re 7 years old and you’ve got the choice of playing for Sutton Utd or ‘Chelsea Lions’, wearing their kit? It’s no contest. Especially if daddy is a Chelsea fan. It’s hard enough as it is at the moment with the likes of Chelsea, Palace & Fulham all running summer soccer schools etc on our doorstep. If they all had B teams, that would intensify 10 fold as they scrambled to make sure they got the jump on their neighbours.

    And this is before we get to the big question of where outfits like this would play in the first place. They’d need a ground of at least upper Conf National standard or it would make the gradings us and others below them have to stick to an utter farce. Yet another disadvantage you’d have foisted on us. Maybe they could share with us! Still, at least they’d have a nice pre-prepared ground land in their laps when their dominance locally finally killed us off eh?

    As for the UK having far less coaches than the likes of Holland and Spain, there’s a reason for that. Courses here cost up to £3000 depending on the level of badge. In Holland it is ONE TENTH of that. Yep. The highest one costs around £300. And when Mr Van Der Clog has completed his nice cheap course, the average wage for a Qualified coach in Holland is 40k. Here? 16k. Why the fuck would you pay thousands of pounds to get a qualification that means you’d earn the sort of money an assistant manager at McDonalds would snigger at.

    You want kids to have opportunities and be coached correctly? Then get the FA to start actually running the game rather than pandering to the greedy cunts in the PL. Get coaching qualification costs down & make it a worhwhile career people can earn a living wage doing. Get more of the ONE BILLION pounds per year the PL clubs earn from TV rights & prize money and get it into facilities like more 3G surfaces & reclaiming park\recreation ground pitches (as we at Sutton have done at our OWN COST) that have been left to rot and without even basic changing facilities.

    I could go on TBH, but I think that’s enough to get you started. Dyke’s plan is, like everything else the FA does, geared towards profit and the benefit of an already obscenely rich elite. If you think L3 would strengthen English football, you couldn’t be more wrong. It would kill it.

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    1. I appreciate your passion and understandable concern for Sutton United but I’m afraid I don’t see why your (or any) club should be preserved at all costs when you yourself seem to admit that bigger clubs are providing all of the same services but at a higher standard.

      Put it this way: your son wants to become a footballer and dreams of one day being as good as Lionel Messi. Which of the local clubs you named do you think would give him the best shot at maximising his ability and achieving his dreams?

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    2. Additionally, I mentioned that the ideal solution is making doing coaching qualifications significantly cheaper. I also accept that, under this government and this ideological system, it is never going to happen. League 3 is not an ideal solution is anyone’s book but it’s an effort to reform a system that does youngsters everywhere a great injustice.

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  7. It is a one sided debates because of the completely selfish viewpoint of articles like this. The first response was absolutely spot on.

    The Premier League created this mess – they should sort it out.

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  8. Have you ever been to a game outside the Premier League? What an ignorant, blinkered view of the game. Go off and have a wank over Barcelona’s possession statistics against Real Zaragoza or something.

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    1. I grew up supporting Cambridge United and had been watching lower league football for 16 years before I went to my first Premier League game. And forgive me if wanting kids to have the chance to become the next Lionel Messi instead of the next Lee Cattermole makes me ‘plastic’.

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  9. Brave to take on the masses Robbo and I’m afraid I will also take task with you. I don’t know what experience you have of lower league football but you seem pretty clueless. For example ‘most veterans know only how to kick and rush’ – pleassse! Heres the other side – a Conference club goes to a premiership academy and the coach says ‘none of these boys is ready to start with xxxxxxxxxx, they’re not good enough.’ Why then do Premiership academies stockpile 3 or 4 teams of mediocre youngsters and then complain they cant get games?

    The other side is academy players who leave/ get released and drop a few leagues, learn their craft and make a career in the lower FL. The problem is purely and simple that the PL is too rich, hoovers up youngsters indiscriminately and pays inflated salaries to inadequate young players ( boosted by parasitic agents) who have no chance of becoming premiership starters. the premier league does not care about the national team – but because its so powerful those lower have to try and appease the monster.

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    1. Firstly, I watched Cambridge United every week for nearly ten years so my experience of lower league football is quite broad. I do not hate necessarily hate lower league football or like top-tier football. I do not know what part of wanting kids to have the chance to get really good at playing gave that impression.

      Nonetheless, I appreciate that you took the time to write a considered reply and raise several valid points. For me, regrettably, the chasm in wealth at the top and the bottom of the game is unbridgeable. There is simply no way that lower league clubs can compete with the oil-rich oligarchs who now run the game. All we can do is work to achieve reform within the existing system and I think that League 3 is the best of a series of terrible ideas when it comes to this. The worst thing we can do is continue as things are.

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  10. This article is excellent. When people search the net for something supporting the League Three proposals this is pretty much all they will find. An article written in complete ignorance that offers exactly zero reasons why the League Three proposal would fix any of the undoubted problems.

    It does highlight the real problems . . . coaching and the cancer that is the Premier League.

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    1. Simon,

      Please find in my answer to Jay below the ‘pro-League 3’ explanations you deemed missing from the main body of text. I left them out of the original because I wanted to stop it from getting too long.

      As for writing from a position of ignorance, you’re entitled to that view. I would beg to differ. If you can provide any facts, figures or substantial arguments to the contrary of my argument then please do educate me.

      Cheers.

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  11. While I disagree with the vast majority of what you’ve written here Rob, kudos for at least debating the issue.

    Let’s start from the beginning. The report from the FA Commission was supposed to address the major concern of the poor performance of the England team at first. This was labelled in the opening of the report as a way of dealing with “a lack of oppertunities for young English players”.

    That’s rubbish. There are lots of playing oppertunities for young English players. But Premier League clubs stockpile talent, and then don’t play them. It’s not uncommon for PL sides to list 70+ full time playing staff. That is ludicrous. There was a well established system that worked very well in this country for nearly 60 years: you have a set of players and you either play them, loan them, or let them move on.

    You say “if they genuinely care about the game and want well-run, financially sustainable clubs teaching local kids how to play the game” – actually yes we’d love that please. League 3 isn’t a shortcut, or even the route, to making that happen. You assume it does without explaining your reasoning? League 3 instantly making all clubs sustainable is news to me?
    I notice on your personal twitter account you list the example of it costing £19 to watch Cambridge United. You also say in your artcile that “almost every club outside the PL” has a priority of wanting to “win their match every weekend”. What you have failed to mention anywhere is that Cambridge United have been fighting for some time for £275k of funding for a youth academy. In contrast the PL distributed over £1.5B to member clubs for the 13/14 season. You could build over 5,000 of those academies for that. Did you deliberately miss that one, or are you uninformed on the subject you’re trying to write about?

    This blind campaign of people who, in your eyes, value tribal belonging over quality of football, have been banging on now for some time about the cost of coaching. That was ignored by the FA in their report. You must have missed us talking about that one too. Your idea to “greatly reduce the cost of coaching badges” is neither new, nor ground breaking. Perhaps you could join us to try and get the point across.

    As we talked about on twitter, can you please even try and justify why lower league clubs are to pay for PL greed for your mythical “quality of football”? None of the pro-L3 arguments I have seen include this.

    “It is squarely down to the Premier League elite to carry the load and teach the nations youngsters how to play” is perhaps the most troubling statement you make. There are countless examples of young talent rising through the ranks without having spent their youth career in the PL.

    “I am pro-league 3 because, above all, I want every young footballer in the UK to have the same excellent chance at fulfilling their potential” – again, can you explain how you think L3 provides this? You don’t in your article. If you genuinely felt that, you’d want the FA and PL to distribute money more fairly and evenly. You’d want decent facilities for local youth clubs that they don’t have currently. You’d want the PL to stop stockpiling talent. Instead you want League 3. What a shame.

    Jay

    Against League 3

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  12. “So if the government will not intervene and Football League clubs cannot afford to provide a high quality education, it is squarely down to the Premier League elite to carry the load and teach the nation’s youngsters how to play. This is what they do now, but when these players get to 18, 19 or 20, they need game-time”

    you stupid boy. luton town have produced more current english premier league players than more than half the teams in the premier league. That’s right. A little team with a history of bankrupcy, mismanagement and idiot fans. Where the premier league youth systems fail is they produce 20 year old spoilt brats with no match experience and salary expectations in excess of what lower level clubs can afford. Best advice to a talented youngster is join a team with a progressive youth team. Whatever is put in place it won’t make chelsea have a team full of englishmen.

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    1. Jim,

      Please do enlighten me. I’ve watched Luton at Cambridge several times over the years and the only players I can remember going on to play Premier League football are Emmerson Boyce and Matty Taylor. Hardly Ballon d’Or candidates but admirable professionals nonetheless. I assume you refer to others who moved to other academies at 14 or 15, of whom I can have no knowledge.

      Cheers.

      Rob

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      1. To name a few just off the top of my head

        John Hartson
        Curtis Davies
        Leon Barnett
        Kevin Foley

        Apologies that these aren’t the sort of global superstars that a football hipster like you is expecting a small Football League club to produce. No doubt if we were Tottenham Hotspur ‘B’ our record would be far more impressive.

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  13. Jay,

    Thanks for your lengthy and well-argued response. I’ll do my best to answer your questions and address your concerns.

    Firstly: “Premier League clubs stockpile talent, and then don’t play them. It’s not uncommon for PL sides to list 70+ full time playing staff. That is ludicrous. There was a well established system that worked very well in this country for nearly 60 years: you have a set of players and you either play them, loan them, or let them move on.”

    I agree, the Premier League’s abuse of the system is terrible. In any fair world the Premier League would share their wealth and invest in grass roots and lower league infrastructure so that everyone, not just its own cabal of untouchables, can look to produce quality players and coaches. Anyone at all would want that. However, that’s not how the world works and nor is it as it was 60 years ago when the earliest versions of the current transfer system were dreamed up. There is now an unbridgeable gap between the haves and have-nots and short of full-scale social revolution we are not going to be doing anything about it.

    Regarding Cambridge United, I did not miss the ongoing furore over their academy. I do not go to watch them any more because of the prohibitive cost – or rather because I believe the cost is not worth the “reward” – but I am still aware of the goings-on locally. I believe for reasons outlined above that there is no way in hell they are ever going to raise that money for the academy. Instead of working on solutions that remain utterly utopian, I am trying to address the problems we face by seeking possible reform within the existing, albeit terribly organised and administrated, system.

    I do not think that lower league clubs are “to pay for PL greed”. I think that we as a society will lose if (when) lower league clubs begin to fold en masse, but in truth they are relics of a bygone age. This is, rightly or wrongly, a globalised era of market economics, huge corporations and cost:value metrics. There is little room for misty-eyed sentimentality when it comes to supporting local football clubs that have continually proved that they cannot survive off of their own proceeds and often face the prospect of going to the wall. This is not about saving the unsaveable. It is about adjusting to this new 21st century reality and making a good fist of doing what’s right for the kids of the future.

    To take a theoretical example I used above: your son wants to become a footballer and dreams of one day being as good as Lionel Messi. Your nearby clubs are Sutton United, Chelsea, Fulham, Crystal Palace, QPR etc. Which of those clubs do you think would give him the best shot at maximising his ability and achieving his dreams?

    League 3 is not my perfect solution – I think that much is clear. What it would do, however, is allow the plethora of stockpiled talent to break through the glass ceiling that currently stops the majority of careers at age 18. These are people’s kids who have invested their lives in reaching the top of their profession only for the system to screw them over. League 3 would allow them to get competitive action in a financially stable environment with high-quality coaching. All of these are things the Football League can no longer offer and, tragically, will never be able to offer again.

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  14. Firstly what a tremendous post and debate created on a subject which should be in the mainstream sports media especially in the pre-season.

    Whilst I support the lower league in this debate I feel the author made some valuable points in the original article.

    It appears we are victims of our own history. Our league structure all the way down the non-leagues is in huge contrast to the countries compared to by others above.

    Some people may want to eradicate that history and large pyramid structure in order to imitate our European competitors.

    The problem is a pyramid that sees the EPL at the top making the money with the top Clubs just below them. Then you have the Football League, then the Non-League and so on. A reflection of modern capitalism in society.

    A solution would be to set up an organised domestic Parent and Feeder club scheme. Organised by the FA, FL and EPL as a collective. The feeder clubs will get players and coaches from that parent club who will gain experience.

    I understand this has gone on for years but it’s all been individually arranged. Some clubs have benefited (Crewe Alexandra) from this but a more organised and compulsory system may have a collective impact.

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  15. On another note I gained my FA LEVEL ONE badge in 2010 at Charlton Athletic FC.

    It was as easy as a GCSE would be to fellow adults (I was 25 at the time). I had ambitions to coach in America because it gave the opportunity to travel but also paid well.

    However you need at least a Level
    Two and a few years experience before coaching over there.

    I attempted the experience side by joining Tottenham Hotspur in the Community Scheme. It was all unpaid and quickly learnt there wasn’t much football coaching but rather P.E. Sessions.

    It was hard finding time around a full time job to do this “experience” and knocked it on the head.

    I was also disturbed by the cost of a LEVEL TWO which was around £290 with a much larger failure percentage than the level one.

    Fortunately I know a freelance UEFA Pro Coach who I shadowed on a few occasions and learnt more than anything I learnt on the LEVEL ONE course. His situation was unique too. Retired in his late thirties, and used his pay off to fund his way up the FA coaching scheme whilst his retirement allowed him the free time to do all the “experience”.

    It frustrates me how it compares in other countries, especially Holland. I often dream of re visiting my coaching ambitions but if I do it would be in Holland.

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