Where not very long ago all sorts of obstacles were in the way of the 2019-20 Premier League and Championship seasons, firm plans are being made for the top flight to come back at Bramall Lane on June 17, followed by the second tier on June 20. Some, including Sheffield Wednesday manager Garry Monk, worry players will not get enough training-ground work in first to avoid widespread injuries.
Nobody need pretend this is not about money. Considerations about lifting national morale come a distant second to reducing the numbers on the cheques football will have to write to broadcasters not given matches as promised.
But the hasty restarts can only really be justified if that money is put to good use – not just for the 44 leading clubs playing again, but the game as a whole. Nobody wants to see football scrambling around for money just to line the pockets of millionaire agents, but if it keeps people in the Bradford City ticket office in work, that is different.
In the House of Commons on Thursday, culture secretary Oliver Dowden leant on the Football League, Premier League and Football Association to ensure the government does not have to bail out those down the foodchain.
“I would look first to sports to look after themselves,” he said.
He might be overestimating his political clout. He might even have quietly closed the stable door after the horse has bolted.
It is not the first time in the pandemic the government has tried to put political pressure on football. Remember when Matt Hancock called for players to “do their bit” and take pay cuts? Some have, but by and large he is still waiting.
That ought to have told the government a little more than gentle persuasion is needed when dealing with football.
It has succeeded in getting all 92 remaining Premier League games on television, but that was easy. Plenty of clubs will be happy with a precedent where all their games are televised and the Saturday 3pm slot when live games cannot be shown to protect lower-league attendances is abandoned.
When it came to ensuring the Premier League shares its money better, the government held all the cards. The resumption can only go ahead with their approval.
Yet since in early April the Premier League advanced money due next season, there has been little mention of the financial help lower-league clubs could need to get through to next month, never mind next season.
“Until we have been able to get back playing, until we have a clear plan to start season 2020-21, we are dealing with our own situation,” insisted Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.
A leak from the “Season 2019-20 Rebate and Cash Flow Report” apparently says next season’s solidarity and parachute payments – money gifted down the pyramid from top-flight TV deals – may have to be cut by 25 per cent.
Asking football to put its own house in order would be understandable from a government having to spend billions keeping other areas of society going if it had not seen the failure to effectively self-regulate over many decades. Allowing the Premier League to just look after itself is not on.
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