“The 39th game is an absolute must. We have to make it work, get over the bureaucracy and look after our product. Every top country in Europe wants what we’ve got. Italy, Spain and Germany are jealous of us and the UEFA president Michel Platini cannot hide his jealousy. It’s so important we stay ahead of everyone else and the 39th game will keep us there. Let’s get it back on the agenda.”
he Premier League is sizing up overseas markets with hungry eyes; fresh converts are waiting to feed the beast of English Football and international fixtures are the tool of choice. Discussion of an international round heated up last fall when the idea was again floated. The proposed fixtures would provide a financial double punch for the league through gate revenues and (the incomparably more lucrative) increased broadcast rights payments. However, the winds of popular opinion were squarely against it and the concept was shelved once more to the disappointment of the league chiefs.
Several months later and murmurings of the 39th game have surfaced again. Sam Allardyce is only the most outspoken of a number of a power brokers waiting for the issue to break into the light. The Premier League speaks of brand expansion and financial stability. Politicians espouse the merits of international trade and benefits for host cities. But none speak of the football, because 39th game proponents can give no football related reasons for the inclusion.
Why is the focus on adding another league fixture and not other types of competitions ? The same brand development could be achieved by sponsoring an International League Cup at the end of the season, or more friendlies. The answer is again, as for all questions relating to the 39th Game, money. Placing the extra fixture in the league increases the value of the broadcasts rights, whereas a cup competition might not draw the same interest.
Supporters understand that adding the extra game destabilizes the balance inherent in the home-away system. Talk of seeding teams in the fixtures rather than random draws only confirms the fear, but balance and the game itself are mere afterthought to the Premier League now. The football has gotten in the way of the commerce. It is stubbornly rooted in the path of the economic future and it must be moved.
But the football must not move. To yield ground is to allow a perversion of the system that strikes at the inherent fairness of the league. To do so merely, and self admittedly, for money is nothing short of self-destruction and reflects a deep misunderstanding of what drives the relationship. The football drives the product, not the other way around. Protecting the entertainment value of the football is what protects the product, and balance is the keystone in the competition’s structure.
As long as there remain football supporters there should be voices against the 39th game.