Grave Reserve – ations

Unsurprisingly, Jose Mourinho talks and the media jumps. This time, the proverbial cat thrown into the pigeons concerned the prospect of the Reserve team of Chelsea playing in the Championship, Mourinho asserting that his clubs second string could more than hold their own in the Championship. Arsene Wenger meanwhile agreed with the principle but believed that the French model worked better with Reserves playing in the bottom rung of the professional setup.

British football is somewhat unique in Western Europe in that the Reserves do not compete with other clubs first teams. In spite of the fragility of the financial states of a large proportion of Professional Clubs in England, there is a robustness to the Professional structure that does not exist elsewhere. To quantify that, the attendances are substantially higher in the English Lower Divisions than elsewhere in Europe. The Spanish for example average around 15,000 at Segundo Division matches. Saturdays Championship matches averaged an attendance in excess of 20,000 with one more to be played on Sunday. Indeed, the lowest attendance of those matches was 12,101 at Plymouth v Hull, possibly the most geographically disparate meeting that those two teams have all season. But it is when you step into the equivalents of Leagues 1 & 2 that the real difference becomes apparent. Using Spain as an example again, the Tricero Division attendances average about 1,500 which is something that you would expect from a Nationwide Conference programme, the League 1 & 2 averages were treble and double the Spaniards average.

Within the current structure in England there is no way to accommodate the suggestion of Reserve teams. In order to do so, Leagues 1 & 2 would have to be regionalised into perhaps four divisions of sixteen teams (North and South in each Division), increasing the total from 48 clubs to 64. This would mean inviting perhaps the current top five of the Conference plus half of the Reserves of the Premiership sides, to compete on a weekly basis. However, would this make the existing clubs anymore sustainable than they currently are. In geographic terms, the distances travelled should theoretically rule out the need for overnight stays thus cutting costs. Another theory is that attendances would improve through having more local derbies. The evidence of this is purely anecdotal for the comparative figures were from over fifty years ago, the regional sections of the Football League running from 1921- 1958 prior to the current structure coming into existence.

The biggest hurdle would however appear to be practical. Where would these Reserve sides play? Much of the support in the weekend’s media was based on the assumption that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United & co would play their games at their home stadia. This is absolute nonsense; there is no way that any club would allow their pursuit of the Premiership crown to be hampered by the Reserves tearing up the pitch at, for example Old Trafford, whilst entertaining Rochdale. More likely is that existing Ground Sharing arrangements would continue at such luminaries as Borehamwood, Bury and Aldershot. Perhaps one avenue to pursue would be to enforce a rule whereby the Reserves have to share a professional clubs ground, meaning that Arsenal would be forced to look at Barnet or Orient for example, in order to increase revenues for other League clubs.

The second practicality concerns Promotion. At what point do you stop promoting the Reserve teams? In most other European leagues where this setup exists, there is a ceiling where the teams can compete to: Spain prevents them from gaining promotion to La Liga, not that it is much of an issue there with only Castilla (Real Madrid’s Nursery Club) in the Segundo Division. Personally, I would agree with that limit being put in place here so that the teams can go no higher than the Championship. But what happens if you end up with all of the Reserve sides in that Division? It could be seen as a death knell for competitive football if they occupy eleven of the say twenty two places? Looking at the records of the Reserves in cup matches in recent years, it is not too fanciful a situation.

The alternative to this is that Premiership clubs buy lower division clubs and turn them into Nursery Clubs. Regulations currently prevent this but rules can quite easily be changed. I believe this to be an unlikely course of action though for any club purchased would surely lose local support and links to the local community. One thing that ought to prevent this from happening is the Supporters themselves, setting up a trust may become a more urgent need if this scenario arose.

I am unconvinced that the suggestion of Reserve teams coming into the Football League is a good idea, it smacks of protectionism by the bigger clubs. They have nothing to offer the rest of football, these teams now effectively under-21’s as opposed to the Reserves of yesteryear who contained a large number of the first team squad. There is surely little draw for crowds in that respect. However, were the prospect of the Football League unilaterally deciding this route then there is little that the supporter can do but kiss goodbye to football as we know it.

6 thoughts on “Grave Reserve – ations

  1. John says:

    Something needs to be done – Arsenal Reserves in 16 weeks covering Oct -Jan play just 6 reserve games. So when we see Baptista, Sendros, Aliadaire, etc its no surprise when they are off the pace. Thats why so many are now loaned out because there are so few games.
    I would favour second division club links but obviously there are many issues with promotions and of course relegation of the primary club. Also, if a club hits financial problems it would probably now involve two clubs.
    Anyways, I believe that the reserves should be playing in a competitive situation and it seems ridiculous that such good players are not able to show their talent when teams are full of teams with less talent. I would expect the second club to play games at home (not the Emirates) when Arsenal are away. I for one would certainly go to see more of these type of games if I could see possible future Arsenal players. Watching the current reserve games seems to lack any purpose or cutting edge.
    I will agree that for the likes of Lupolli,and Bendtner that being loaned out is best for them as their chances of playing for Arsenal are almost zero.

  2. Yogi's Warrior says:

    From a club like Arsenal’s perspective, comeptitive football for the reserves is great as you rightly say it makes sense as a breeding ground and ensures that the players do not pick up any bad habits at other clubs.

    However, for supporters of teams like Crewe or Swindon the thought of playing Arsenal Reserves or being their feeder club is not as enticing. They have long been able to cover the thinness of their squads with loan players; a move to this type of setup kills that off.

    There is one point worth bearing in mind though. For this to work and the leagues to remain competitive, the Reserves must be treated as a separate club by the Leagues and there cannot be transfers between the two outside of the windows. This would therefore deprive the bigger clubs of the chance to get players back to match fitness, e.g. Lauren would not be able to play for the first XI if he returned to the Reserves after January’s window shut. In that respect there is no benefit in changing the current set up.

  3. Flint McCullough says:

    I have often wondered why mid week leagues of 2 x 10 PL sides could not be formed.

    This would provide 20 competitive matches per season. You could maybe set up a knock out competion for the top 4 in each league leading to a cup final.

    That would mean 10-12 extra matches on the home ground, which would surely be feasible. There is no point playing on sub standard pitches. It is arrogant to suggest that it is ok to bugger up a lower league teams pitch, even though it provides much needed revenue.

    Charge say max £10 for tickets, allowing many the chance to see at least some top professions in live action.

    It would mean the clubs would have to play a side equivilant to Arsenal’s League Cup teams.

    To accomodate this the League Cup could be a competition for Championship clubs down, which in turn would give 1 of those clubs the chance of still,in my opinion, worthwhile silverwear.

  4. Yogi's Warrior says:

    Flint

    There is more chance of a European League than a domestic midweek league which is where the money is to be made. There is not one single club in the top flight who would entertain more home matches without commensurate increases in revenue and £10 per person would probably not even cover the running costs of the Emirates on matchday if you consider things such as Power, Policing? Also, what sort of attendances do you think they would get? My guess is around 20k max for Arsenal at home, once the novelty had worn off. Better to use a near neighbour and let them benefit.

    The lower league clubs would welcome the extra games without buggering up their pitches. Given the choice between that and the League Cup / Johnson’s Paint trophy, my guess is that they would bite the hand that feeds them to Groundshare with a Reserve side. Guaranteed Revenues from 2k – 5k additional people per match without the cost? Makes financial sense for them and utilises their biggest asset which everyone claims is underused.

  5. Flint McCullough says:

    I would reckon av 10-15k with occasional max 30k if it had a genuine competitive edge. Where would you find a suitable ground , reasonably within the area, that would hold 10-15k? Barnet is about 4k. Spurs or West Ham would want Leyton Orient.

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