72 Unite: Football League Fans Wage War With The Premier League

The FA's controversial EPPP motion looks set to revolutionise the way young footballers are plucked from obscurity and provided with a chance to play at the top level, it's not good news for everyone though, as one Crystal Palace fan explains...
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The FA's controversial EPPP motion looks set to revolutionise the way young footballers are plucked from obscurity and provided with a chance to play at the top level, it's not good news for everyone though, as one Crystal Palace fan explains...

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The humble bedsheet, the cornerstone of any angry protest.

Tuesday's Carling Cup tie between Crystal Palace and Southampton brought together two Championship clubs whose youth academies have boasted an unparalleled roll of honour in recent times, and a timely reminder of what could be no more.

An unfurled banner warning 'No more Clyne, Zaha, Scannell' came into view at the front of the Holmesdale Road crowd leading up to kick off that night. The curiously titled EPPP motion had been bubbling away on fan forums and corners of the internet for the previous few days, but suddenly it came into sharper focus. As the very names before us warmed up in the background, the talk of the terraces turned from lofty road-to-Wembley whimsy to 'What the fuck is EPPP?'

The Elite Player Performance Plan was approved by the majority of Football League clubs last Thursday, which in essence, will radically alter the current youth development system as we know it. Pencilled in to start from the 21012-2013 season, Premier league clubs will now be able to lure youth players outside of their 90 minute radius, and given that there would be no limit to their recruitment exploits, could ostensibly create a battery henhouse of would-be teenage starlets rather than a more assured, bonafide production line of talent. Let's not forget there's only so much room for rookies in a strong squad of 25. Whilst the top clubs are panning for gold, sifting through the best of the rest, it should be noted that those poached from the lower leagues who don't quite make the grade could be sold back to where they once came for a cheeky profit.

The death knell has also been sounded for the much-maligned tribunal system, which settled financial disputes for young players under 24. Unbelievably though, Football League clubs will be even worse off under EPPP legislation. Now there will be set fees based on the number of years a player has been with its parent club's academy. In principle, a paltry £3000 per year for every year of a player's development between the ages of 9 and 11. £12,000-£40,000 between the ages of 12 to 16.

The Elite Player Performance Plan was approved by the majority of Football League clubs last Thursday, which in essence, will radically alter the current youth development system as we know it.

What's been under reported is that these payments will continue throughout a players career, but rarely will a little-and-often cash injection be of as much benefit to a lower league club in comparison to the lump sums they are accustomed to, to reinvest immediately in other players or initiatives. Nor is it likely to add up to the same amount.

In real terms then, Crystal Palace were forced to accept £700,000 for then-16 year old John Bostock when Tottenham took the Eagles to a transfer tribunal in 2008. This was despite Palace already turning down a £900,000 offer from Chelsea, and Aaron Ramsey sealing a £5m switch from Cardiff to Arsenal at the same time. Palace felt hard done by at the time, they weren't looking for anything like £5m, half that at best. Bostock was, and sadly still is, and unknown quantity. But that's another story.

Under EPPP though, Palace would have been forced to accept a base amount of £130,000 for Bostock. That's the mucky truth of the matter.

46 of the 72 league clubs voted in favour of EPPP last week. What incentive could possibly outweigh the freedom to nurture your own crop of local youngsters that you're free to sell on? Whilst media reports suggest the Premier League threatened to withhold £5m of youth development funding in the event of non co-operation, Crystal Palace co-chairman Steve Parish has cited the recently revised parachute payments deal for clubs relegated from the Premier League to the Football League to the tune of £48m over 4 years (instead of £16m a year for two years) and TV solidarity payments of £1.2m per Championship club as the real reason why Football League clubs have succumbed. As an apparent take-it-or-leave-it-offer, the fact that only 7 Championship clubs have voted against EPPP would suggest there's more to it than meets the eye.

In effect, if you're a Championship club whose history hasn't seen many players that climb up the ladder, you may well figure you're better off voting for EPPP. But for Championship clubs like Southampton, who've seen the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain graduate from their ranks and sold on to top-flight sides for competitive fees, it's a bitter, depository-sized pill to swallow. For Crystal Palace too, although in recent years administration and cash-flow problems have seen cut-price deals for Tom Soares, Victor Moses and Ben Watson go through.

In effect, if you're a Championship club whose history hasn't seen many players that climb up the ladder, you may well figure you're better off voting for EPPP.

It begs the question; Where has this all come from? For Palace fans, there's an even stickier twist. Gareth Southgate, our first academy success to reach the heady heights of the Premiership with Aston Villa and Middlesboro, England international and then Premiership manager is now the FA's Head of Elite Development and under the direction of Trevor Brooking (no stranger himself to a productive academy in West Ham), it seems that together they have endorsed EPPP as a course of action to be carried out under FA Premier League's Head of Youth Ged Roddy, with the grand long-term aim of improving the England team.

Now that's all very sweet. But on the face of it, EPPP wouldn't just apply to would-be England players, would it? No. Take for example the four youngsters currently taking regular berths in Palace's starting 11. 17 year old John Williams is born in England, but just celebrated his first call up to the Wales senior squad. Wilfried Zaha is eligible for England, but could just as easily choose to represent the Ivory Coast. Sean Scannell is an Republic of Ireland international, which leaves our much-lauded right back Nathaniel Clyne as the most likely potential future England international. But all four of them could be sold to Premiership clubs under EPPP. How good is that going to be for the future England team? Quite good maybe, but not as good as it will be for the top-flight clubs.

The Premiership top-club's fans may not realise it yet, but they'll probably feel a bit dirty peeping through Sky's glory hole at all the exploited teenage talent headed their way. Meanwhile at Palace's Academy, they'll be teaching a whole new module on the John Bostock story. Who? Let that indeed be the lesson.

The cream will still rise to the top under EPPP. But it's not going to taste as pure as before.

On Saturday at 3pm, fans of the Football League's 72 clubs will make a stand against plans to radically transform the academy system in England. After the controversial Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) was approved by a vote held last week, leaflets asking supporters to boycott the first five minutes of this weekend's matches were handed out across the country to protest at the main entrance of their club, in an attempt to show their widespread opposition to the motion. - More info available HERE

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