Bail-out has to happen – it will put top clubs on the right side of history
While it understandably sticks in the craw for Premier League clubs to be lectured by a government that has so evidently mismanaged the response to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a phrase that emerged during the height of the crisis that resonates again now: “Be on the right side of history.”
As things stand, history may well show that a number of football clubs went to the wall in the coming months even though the sport remains the richest in the world and the Premier League is at its pinnacle. In years to come, we may look back and wonder why that was ever allowed to happen.
At least now it seems that those who run football will step in to help each other out, with the expectation that the Premier League will agree a financial package to support the English Football League. Government aid is needed for other sports, not professional football. It should be able to look after itself.
There was logic in Sean Dyche’s argument that there is no outcry for every successful hedge fund manager to support those less successful and so “if you are going to apply it to football, I think you have to apply it across the country to everyone and every business”.
But, without being too romantic, football – which, by the way, already pays £3.3 billion in tax every year – is not like every other business, and the Burnley manager knows that all too well.
And just because others are not doing the right thing, does it mean you should not? That is where Dyche’s argument fails.
A football club is more than a business, even though it needs to be run on business lines. It is a club; an organisation that is supported by people with a common purpose. And that purpose should not be financial. It is a different kind of institution.
The details are yet to be seen and could be crucial. The issue will be discussed at an EFL meeting next Wednesday, the day before the Premier League’s latest gettogether, but the requested bailout of up to £250 million has to be met. A loan, in truth, is no good. It has to be hard cash.
There should be some conditions attached. Firstly, there needs to be proper accountability for any payments made, with the EFL clubs each producing clear business plans as to why they need the money, how it will be used and why they do not have other means to cover their losses.
Indeed, it seems that will be demanded as the money will only replace lost ticket revenue.
Secondly, the Government needs to remain open to discuss with the Premier League how it can lead the way for fans to return. The Premier League has become frustrated by the blanket ban on them when it has the technology and the wherewithal to be at the vanguard, just as it led the way with testing and creating biosecure bubbles for sport to take place.
Without being romantic, football is not like other industries – this is where Dyche’s argument fails
Premier League clubs insist fans can be safer in stadiums than they are in pubs, and they should be allowed to test the truth in that, because it might just help out other industries. If it means some fans are attending Premier League games but not EFL matches, then so be it – that would generate a degree of revenue that can benefit all.
As we head towards a second spike of Covid-19 then it may be politically difficult to argue that some form of football crowds can return, but it can be done with options such as clinical passports.
If the Premier League believes it can achieve it, then let it try as a condition of providing more funding and for the general good.
What is a relief is the Premier League does appear ready to help out. It needs to do this so that when, in the future, what happened in 2020 is debated it can say: “Never mind what hedge fund managers and politicians did – we did the right thing.”