His­tory may con­sign fat cats to the sid­ings

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

FOR Dr Richard Beech­ing, the de­ci­sion to dis­man­tle Bri­tain’s rail net­work boiled down to a sim­ple mat­ter of profit and loss. No ethics. No morals. No real con­cern for col­lat­eral dam­age. An in­dus­try ac­coun­tant with ice in his veins, the man ap­pointed by Harold Macmil­lan to stream­line an ail­ing ser­vice cared only about cold, hard data.

Not enough peo­ple us­ing a line to turn a profit? Rip it up. Close the sta­tions. Send Old Smoky to the sid­ings. As a re­sult of his rec­om­men­da­tions, Bri­tain lost more than 4,000 miles of track and some 2000 sta­tions.

Eco­nom­i­cally, Beech­ing’s hatchet job made sense. The govern­ment – swayed by prospec­tive sav­ings of £18m a year and ea­ger to push com­muters into nice, tax­able mo­tor cars – hap­pily ac­qui­esced.


Yet there is a rea­son Beech­ing re­mains one of Bri­tain’s most re­viled civil ser­vants. By fo­cussing on a model that pri­ori­tised profit, he failed to con­sider hu­man costs.

Lin­colnshire, a vast but sparsely pop­u­lated county, was vir­tu­ally dis­com­mu­ni­cated from the rest of the UK. Ru­ral vil­lages were cut off. Jobs lost.

Corn­wall, es­pe­cially, was dec­i­mated. Vi­tal ar­ter­ies that brought hol­i­day­mak­ers to its coast­line van­ished overnight. Fish and agri­cul­tural pro­duce could no longer be shifted. To this day, many in the South West blame the re­gion’s fi­nan­cial strug­gles on Beech­ing.

Some­times, you have to look be­yond the data. Be­yond cold logic. Like when you hold a clan­des­tine meet­ing to dis­cuss the fate of the FA Cup.

Premier League big­wigs, it seems, have de­cided the old com­pe­ti­tion is now sur­plus to re­quire­ments. That it gets in the way of the big boys’ busi­ness.You know, things like pock­et­ing ever more TV money and play­ing in Europe.

The plan is to shunt Cup games into the same mid­week nether­world in­hab­ited by the Cap­i­tal One Cup.Worse yet, moves are afoot to end re­plays.

As in Beech­ing’s case, you can see the logic. Fewer games would al­low for a win­ter break, giv­ing Eng­land’s elite play­ers more rest and leav­ing them fresher for sum­mer tour­na­ments. Con­sid­er­ing Eng­land’s fourth Cham­pi­ons League spot is also hang­ing by a thread, the Premier League is also keen to give its rep­re­sen­ta­tives a bit of rest be­fore the knock­out stages.

For the priv­i­leged few, it’s a win­ner all ends up.

For the rest, how­ever, it’s a disas­ter. With­out re­plays, Non­League Bur­ton wouldn’t have earned the money- spin­ning tie at Old Traf­ford that wiped out their debts and laid the foun­da­tions for ev­ery­thing they’ve achieved to­day.

With­out the cash gen­er­ated by a tele­vised re­play at Black­pool in 2001, New­port County may have gone out of busi­ness en­tirely.


With­out re­plays, Char­lie Blake­more’s Chase­town might never have be­come the low­est-ranked side ever to reach the third round in 2008; a draw at Port Vale in round two would surely have be­come a de­feat as Non-League legs grew weary in ex­tra-time.

Bear in mind, too, that, by the time they faced Cardiff, Chase­town had al­ready played more games than any of ‘tired’ top-flight play­ers re­quire to reach the fi­nal.

For the vast ma­jor­ity of the 736 clubs who en­ter, the FA Cup – and re­plays in par­tic­u­lar – are the fi­nan­cial lifeblood that keeps them lurch­ing from sea­son to sea­son. It pays wages, plugs the gaps left by stay-at-home fans watch­ing Sky.

How dare a few fat cats uni­lat­er­ally de­cide what is best for the thou­sands on the bread­line? Es­pe­cially fat cats with the big­gest squads in the coun­try.

Yes, Eng­land’s play­ers could do with a break. But, how­ever much you’d like to win a World Cup or stay in the Premier League, is it re­ally worth shaft­ing so many peo­ple to achieve it? Beech­ing had that at­ti­tude – and look how his­tory re­mem­bers him.

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