Lifting the lid on the world of football

The Secret Footballer
3 Aug, 2013

Referees told to respect Premier League brand

Well, it didn’t take BT very long to start with the list of demands after securing 38 live Premier League games for £738 million.

On Tuesday, it was reported that Grant Best, BT’s executive producer, was pushing for live TV access to Premier League changing-rooms. He said: “There are a number of areas where we’re talking to clubs to try to get access. We are enquiring [about dressing-rooms]. We need their help. They’re all being really open right now.”

Thankfully, Richard Scudamore, the Premier Leagues chief executive, was having none of it. He said: “It’s highly unlikely. We’ve had a media-access working group working on this topic for the last 18 months, the slightly gimmicky idea of locker-room access. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good idea.”

The subject has come about because the games were purchased from ESPN, whose coverage of American sports includes “locker-room access”. Now, I know this may come as a shock for some people, but just because something is happening in America doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. In fact, it’s been proven over the centuries.

I know from my friends at Sky that they are trying to work out how to incorporate a live Twitter feed onto the screen without impairing the coverage of the match too much. This is the same model that is in use right now on some US networks covering various home sports.

I’ve seen it when I was out there and I can save Sky an awful lot of time and money because it can’t be done. Furthermore, nobody who watches football wants or cares about what has suddenly popped into the head of “Nigel from Littlehampton”, no matter how compelled he suddenly is to share it with the world.

 As if going to Old Trafford wasn’t hard enough, anyway; now you know what the Premier League’s smaller teams are also up against

Anyway, moving on, last week I met up with a prospective candidate who is interested in becoming our “Secret Referee”. This is a guy who has refereed all the greats and, to be honest, he had me hanging on his every anecdote. But it was his throwaway story about Scudamore that had me intrigued and not just because I’d already chosen to include him in this column.
The ref told me that during a Premier League meeting of top referees, Scudamore had finished off by saying: “And, remember, you’re not in a sport, you are part of the entertainment business. We don’t want our top players being sent off every week because it’s bad for the brand. We want them on the pitch as much as possible.”

After I’d picked my jaw up off the table, I had a good think about that remark. I’m sure that it was most likely meant as a rallying cry to encourage referees to let the game flow but, my goodness, it still sails very close to the wind and probably explains why Wayne Rooney wasn’t sent off against a team that I once played after a two-footed challenge on our right back.

As if going to Old Trafford wasn’t hard enough, anyway; now you know what the Premier League’s smaller teams are also up against when they have to play there.

But after reading about his stance on dressing room-access, it is at least good to know that Scudamore realises the limits of TV interference and is prepared to lay down a marker, even to the all-powerful TV networks that have such a dramatic impact on the economic success of our game. For that, I applaud him.

I’m sure that it was most likely meant as a rallying cry to encourage referees to let the game flow

But Scudamore isn’t simply flexing his muscles and putting outside influences in their place; nor is he protecting the players directly. He is protecting the brand – the Premier League. As somebody who appreciates branding very much indeed, I have to admire the way that the Premier League has evolved.

It has a toll, of course – the England team comes to mind – but, overall, as a hugely entertaining sporting package taken at face value, the product is fantastic. Aided by TV coverage that, it has to be said, is already superb.

And Scudamore also said: “It’s almost the last bastion of secrecy in football. I just think there is something about the dressing-room that is sacrosanct because that is where the manager goes and does his work with his players. There must be things that go on in there that are between them.”

There is. No matter how astonishing it would have been to see Alex Ferguson kick a stray boot at David Beckham’s face, there is a limit. The changing-room is a place where the gloves come off and players and managers are allowed to say what they think to try to win a game of football.

I don’t want you to see me pinning somebody against a wall or being pinned to a wall myself. I don’t want you to see my manager Frisbee-ing a metal platter of sandwiches at our midfielder’s head as happened a few years back.

I’m talking about the manager who tells his defenders to “leave one on” Rooney so that he “gets angry and lashes out”

I don’t want you to see our defender on the floor after our midfielder had caught him with a neat right hook before the match had even started and I don’t want you to hear how we’re going to win a game of football because it’s extremely important to keep that information private.

I’m not talking about tactics as such because anybody that knows anything about football will be able to see what the tactics are when the game kicks off. I’m talking about the manager who tells his defenders to “leave one on” Rooney so he “gets angry and lashes out” or to “close Torres down and leave one on him so he goes into is shell”. These are things that teams that I have played for have resorted to in order to get a result and, by and large, they have worked.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of that sort of thing is talked about during the week away from the limelight but, in a tense situation, it is very easy to forget the cameras are there and that is a real fear for me because anybody could say anything and find themselves in a world of shit.

And before you mention it, I am aware that I have told you what goes on in a changing-room many times already. But a lot of players don’t want you to know what they are saying and doing and that is the key difference.

And who would judge that what had been said or done was inappropriate? How would the FA deal with a manager who told his players to kick an opponent because we all know that they’d have to do something? It all sounds a little like the opening of a can of worms.

Football isn’t a lengthy game, with constant stoppages and opportunities to change tact like American Football. Once it kicks off, that’s it. So pre-match and half time become very important to a team’s chances of success and so what is said and done in those moments is very intense.

And much of it is not pleasant to watch or listen to; no wonder that the TV networks want access to it.

At this moment in time, the Premier League continues to sell and top players continue to come here to play. There should be no rush to push the brand into something that it doesn’t have to do; a brand for which, in any case, always manages to push the numbers skyward each time the TV rights come up for negotiation.

And much of it is not pleasant to watch or listen to; no wonder that the TV networks want access to it

This next paragraph may come a little out of left field but it does sum up perfectly what I’ve been trying to say and I’ve actually just had it on in the background on YouTube when I heard it. In the “Beatles Anthology”, there is a great quote by Paul McCartney that came in answer to an interviewer who was asking him if “The White Album” would, in fact, have been better as two separate albums.

McCartney said: “Look, I’m not a big one for ‘maybe we should have done this’ or ‘maybe we could have done that’. It was great. It sold. It’s the bloody Beatles’ White Album. Shut up.”

You’re not wrong, mate.

Win several signed TSF items

About the author: The Secret Footballer


I’ve seen everything there is to see in football, and a lot more outside of it. My anonymity let’s me tell you how it is, from inside the game without the shackles of pre-conception or fan bias.

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