Having thought long and hard about the arguments for and against Football League clubs being set up to be exclusively ‘feeder clubs’ to Premier League clubs, I’m able to affirm which side of the fence I sit on.
I have no problem with high-ranking clubs wanting to blood their youngsters at lesser clubs. The arrangement can be beneficial to both and give players who otherwise wouldn’t get to experience a lesser side of football a foot in that camp. I think of Jermaine Defoe at Bournemouth and David Beckham at Preston as two specific examples, but there’s many more out there.
I’ve not even got a problem with clubs setting up links with others; if Arsenal thought Stevenage or Barnet were particularly good at helping their young players develop, then sending a few of them on loan regularly isn’t a bad thing either. Maybe Stevenage would get to a point that Arsenal youngsters were no longer good enough to get in their team, and then the Gunners would move on.
That’s my gripe with the idea of setting up as permanent feeder clubs. It removes any semblance of aspiration. I’d love Huddersfield Town to link up with somebody like a Manchester City, so that those players who don’t quite make the Citizens’ 25 are loaned to the Terriers to improve their performance. That would be wonderful.
I want my team to improve. I want them to get to a point that they could be equal to, or better than, Manchester City. It might sound like a pipe dream, but it was a reality not so very long ago. Why would anything that prevented a club that represents a separate community (as English football clubs do – from Rochdale to Gillingham to Carlisle) sign up to a deal that disallows that club from getting as high as it possibly can?
Why should Bury, a team who won an FA Cup during the last century, take part in an agreement that, while it might mean a few young Liverpudlians join their ranks, puts them in a position as second-rate fodder?
Another question that ought to be asked here is “What about Crewe?”
Crewe have BEEN a feeder club for twenty years, operating sensibly on the pitch and seeing their fortunes rise and fall along with it as their players are sold off, at the right time, to further the club.
Should not Crewe’s be the example the FA try to follow? Make all clubs ‘feeder’ clubs in that sense, encouraging them all to bring through their own youngsters and see them progress upwards of their own accord if they’re good enough; to rely less on the crumbs from the Premier League’s table, and focus more on learning to bake their own bread – something that is able to happen less and less as Premier League academies stockpile their youngsters.
I dream of a world in which all the clubs who voted to initiate the Premier League spend some time outside it to see how marginalised they have made the rest of English football.
I also dream of a world in which Huddersfield Town, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Plymouth Argyle (for example) are able to dream of being the best team in the country. I can only think that making any one of them a feeder club to another club, whoever they may be, would prevent that dream from ever coming true.
I say no to feeder clubs. I say yes to dreams.