Wednesday 13 December 2017

Plans to increase number of professional English clubs to 100 collapse

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka and captain Grant Leadbitter celebrate last year's Championship win CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka and captain Grant Leadbitter celebrate last year's Championship win CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Matt Slater

The English Football League has scrapped its radical plans to restructure the league pyramid after the Football Association refused to consider scheduling FA Cup games in midweek slots.

The EFL's 72 clubs have been debating the Whole Game Solution since the end of last season, with the main proposal being a move to five divisions of 20 teams but also a commitment to playing as many league fixtures as possible at weekends.

That plan depended on the FA being willing to stage FA Cup games during the week but its new £800m deal for the international broadcasting rights for the world's oldest cup competition means it has promised to keep cup games in weekend slots.

In a statement issued via its website and social media channels, the EFL said the executive board's decision to "cease discussions on the Whole Game Solution" had been taken "with significant regret and disappointment".

It blamed the collapse of the plan for the biggest reforms to the league structure since the formation of the Premier League in 1992 squarely on the FA's refusal to compromise on the scheduling of FA Cup fixtures.

EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said: "As a result of the FA's decision, the board has been left with no option but to end the Whole Game Solution discussions as, in its current form, it is no longer viable.

"If the weekend slots are not available, then there is simply no way we can meet the financial conditions (to be no worse off) as outlined at the very outset.

"The stance the FA has adopted has brought the discussions to a premature end, before fully understanding what the financial outcome from the creation of a new distribution model could be.

"If the FA are willing to change its position then we are, of course, open to re-engaging in what is a hugely important debate that was designed to help shape the future of football in this country."

Harvey's anger at the FA stance is obvious in a letter that he sent to the chairmen and chief executives of the 72 EFL clubs which has been seen by Press Association Sport.

In the letter the former Bradford and Leeds executive outlines why he thought it was important for the EFL to take a lead in the reform debate and reiterates his position that any restructuring should not leave the EFL clubs in a worse financial position.

He then explains that FA chief executive Martin Glenn emailed him last week to say the six-year TV deal it signed last month effectively ended any discussion about further tweaks to the FA Cup's format as far as the national governing body was concerned.

That overseas deal followed an earlier extension of the domestic TV arrangement with the BBC and BT until 2021.

Harvey's letter continues by saying if more weekend slots cannot be freed up for league fixtures, which attract bigger crowds than midweek games, the "EFL has no way of meeting the primary condition precedent" of not hurting the clubs financially.

Harvey's obvious frustration is compounded by the fact the EFL's two representatives on the FA board have confirmed that Glenn's opinion on the Whole Game Solution has not been discussed at board level.

The apparent end of the Whole Game Solution debate, though, will not be lamented by many within the EFL pyramid, as several EFL clubs, National League clubs and fans groups have voiced concerns about the proposed changes.

Harvey has repeatedly had to defend himself against accusations that he was trying to introduce Premier League B teams - as once suggested by former FA chairman Greg Dyke - into the league pyramid, give Celtic and Rangers an opening to leave the Scottish leagues or ring-fence the enlarged EFL from clubs in non-league football.

He, however, has said the plans would maintain the principle of promotion and relegation between the leagues, ease fixture congestion and create room for a mid-winter break to help the national side.

The proposed timeline was that the EFL would develop a final proposal by next February and then vote on the matter at the EFL's annual general meeting in June. That, however, has now all been scrapped.

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