DUNLAVY: F1 chaos is les­son for foot­ball

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

FOR­MULA One is pretty dull.You get mod­els, film stars, sheikhs and princes. You get an hour of glitzy build-up. Then you get 70-odd laps of te­dium as the bloke with the best car leads from flag to fin­ish. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve started watch­ing a race, only to wake up an hour later to find ev­ery­one in the ex­act same po­si­tion. And gone back to sleep.

So the chances are, most foot­ball fans met this week’s news re­gard­ing the demise of Team Cater­ham with a dis­in­ter­ested shrug.Who cares, right? This isn’t foot­ball.

But we should care. And we should be an­gry. Be­cause the car­nage at Cater­ham is an ob­ject les­son in what can hap­pen when a sport­ing body al­lows its rich­est teams to run the show.

For­mula One is a sport that rakes in £1bn a year. Half is looted away by com­mer­cial rights hold­ers.The other half goes to the teams.

Out­ra­geous

That should be more than enough to keep ten com­pet­i­tive teams in busi­ness.Yet thanks to some out­ra­geous con­trac­tual agree­ments, it is al­most all carved up by a hand­ful of fat cats.

Fer­rari get £56m just for turn­ing up. They also share an ex­clu­sive £187m pot with McLaren and Red Bull, while Mercedes re­ceive £18.5m. The rea­son – and this isn’t a joke – is that th­ese teams are ‘his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant’, which is a bit like ar­gu­ing Liver­pool should pocket more prize money than Man City just be­cause they won a load of ti­tles when peo­ple were still play­ing back­passes.

This leaves the smaller teams to get by – or not as it has tran­spired – on loose change and char­i­ta­ble dona­tions.

Ev­ery­one in F1 knew the smaller teams were strug­gling. Ev­ery­one knew there were only two ways to save them. One was a manda­tory cost cap.The other was a fairer dis­tri­bu­tion of rev­enue.

But did the big boys care? Of course not.When­ever any mea­sure to in­crease com­pe­ti­tion was mooted, they used their power to block it.The gov­ern­ing body was too weak to re­sist.The lit­tle teams –

with their lit­tle en­gines – went to the wall.

It’s easy to dis­miss this as rac­ing’s prob­lem, but don’t for a minute be­lieve Pre­mier League clubs aren’t do­ing ex­actly the same thing.There is no dif­fer­ence be­tween a big­ger en­gine and bet­ter play­ers.There is no dif­fer­ence be­tween Fer­rari and Man United. So, the worst ex­cesses have been re­sisted. Re­mem­ber when Bolton chair­man Phil Gart­side pro­posed a twotier, 36-team Pre­mier League with no rel­e­ga­tion? Or when Liver­pool direc­tor Ian Ayre ar­gued that Liver­pool should be al­lowed to ne­go­ti­ate in­di­vid­ual TV rights like Real Madrid or Barcelona, a de­ci­sion that has turned La Liga into an an­nual two-horse race.

Yet injustice is rife. Parachute pay­ments ring-fence the elite, fill­ing the pock­ets of for­mer mem­bers while si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­cour­ag­ing Foot­ball League clubs to run up debts chas­ing the dream.

Adrift

Of the Pre­mier’s League’s £5.5bn broad­cast­ing rev­enue, just 6.8 per cent is given to the Foot­ball League.The rich stay rich, the poor are cut adrift.

It is now in­con­ceiv­able that a team could get pro­moted to the top flight and win the ti­tle three years later, like Derby un­der Clough or the Leeds class of ‘92.

We will never again see a club like Wim­ble­don rise from Non­League to the sum­mit of the game.

The game may be faster. It may be a bet­ter spec­ta­cle. But money has made it way more bor­ing than 20 or 30 years ago.

Sure, you can ar­gue that the Pre­mier League is no char­ity. But as F1 is find­ing out, sport needs its tad­poles as much as its ti­tans. Spon­sors are de­sert­ing all but the best teams.View­ing fig­ures are plum­met­ing. Soon, the same two teams will win the ti­tle ev­ery year and the goose will stop lay­ing its golden eggs.

For them, it is al­most too late. For foot­ball, it is not. I hope the pow­ers that be see Cater­ham, see a halfempty grid at Mel­bourne in March and re­alise that greed is not al­ways good. I hope one day we see the Pre­mier League’s riches spread around the 92.

But like Fer­rari and Red Bull, I fear self-in­ter­est will win through. And that to­day’s Cater­ham will be to­mor­row’s Old­ham or Ac­cring­ton.

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