10 ways to improve the Premier League
6. … and to funding referee recruitment
At some point in the very near future, we are going to face a drought of top-level referees. The introduction of VAR will cause a demand for extra officials across Premier League matches.
If you thought that there was already a lack of high-quality referees that only worsens as you journey down the football pyramid, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Perhaps it’s true that standards of refereeing are dropping, but that’s because a) blame culture has increased and b) the number of referees, particularly at grassroots level, is falling. Those referees who will move up the leagues and become professional face pitiful recompense for their work, meaning that they are basically doing it for the love until they reach Football League level.
We need a funding campaign that starts at the lowest level and moves upwards if we're to avoid standards slipping further.
7. Give the RESPECT campaign some teeth
But why on earth would you want to be a referee anyway? Surveys suggest that two-thirds of them receive severe verbal or physical abuse, and that officials in England are seven times more likely to be abused than those in Europe.
At grassroots level, the lingering threat of violence hangs over those who are paid peanuts. At the elite level, you have abuse screamed in your face for doing your best by people paid a hundred times more than you who also make regular mistakes.
The problem comes from a blame culture in which it’s easier for managers and players to deflect blame onto officials for errors that are so marginal they become imperceptible to the naked eye, rather than examine their own flaws. It ends with players consistently and continuously swearing in the faces of officials, who feel powerless to stop them for fear of only being hounded more.
8. Roll out safe standing
The one thing on which everyone can agree is that safety is paramount. Above ticket pricing, above atmosphere, above everything. Nobody should go to a football match and never come home. Nobody should go into a football ground and feel unsafe.
But we have an option to achieve it now. Scotland Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, USA and Australia; all have stadia with significant standing areas. The sections at Shrewsbury and Celtic have been great successes.
Standing was part of the infamous stadium tragedies that have haunted football, but it was not to blame for it. The reason that Lord Justice Taylor advised all-seater stadiums by law was not because standing itself was dangerous, but because the style of terraced standing combined with inefficient policing was not safe. We can do this now.
9. Full Boxing Day programme
And we mean full. Christmas football is the best football, and Boxing Day is the best Christmas football. So shouldn’t it be ring-fenced as a sacred cow of the English football calendar? That means all 20 teams playing, at the same time, for the only time other than on the final day of the season.
This season was better than usual, with nine matches on Boxing Day. But Wolves supporters were still asked to be in west London by 12.30pm, while Brighton played Arsenal at 5.15pm and Watford faced Chelsea at 7.30pm. And that’s not good enough.
You wake up feeling a little groggy. You have a leisurely morning reflecting upon Christmas Day’s events. If you’re a home supporter you leave for the game at 2pm. The match is over by 5pm and you’re back home to continue the jollities with some non-sport visual entertainment. Boxing Day is the one time that live football really must come above televised spectacle.
10. Increase the homegrown quotas
The rise in young, English players deciding that they'd be better off abroad than kicking their heels in a Premier League academy has been a joy to witness, but we can still give things another kick in the right direction.
The truth is that the three standout academy graduate success stories over the last two years have only come through necessity. Marcus Rashford, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka all seized their opportunities during injury crises. Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff is another example of the same trend. These players are good enough, they just need a chance.
The suggested change would be that at least three spaces in the 18-man matchday squad must be given to a club-trained player, who is either aged between 16 and 21 or was at his current club for three years between the ages of 16 and 21. It will either lead to greater opportunities for younger players, or might persuade clubs not to stockpile external signings.