FA chairman Greg Dyke poses with the executive's controversial report on the future of the England national team, which has angered Football League clubs. Photo: Getty Images
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Football League clubs are in open revolt against the B team plans of the executives who represent them

The continued endorsement of Premier League B teams being given access to Football League competitions has led to an open rebellion by teams and their owners against the executives who are supposed to represent their interests.

In the luxury resort of Vilamoura on Portugal’s Algarve, important discussions about the future of English football are taking place. It’s the Football League Owners and Executives Conference, the objective of which, according to a letter from Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey, is to “increase engagement with clubs”.

Harvey also includes in his letter the caveat that: “The emphasis will be on the future, not the past.” The observation that those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it is brought immediately to mind.

One way in which Harvey no doubt helps the future can be focused on is by discussion of the proposal to allow B teams from the elite clubs of the Premier League to enter the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, the cup competition for lower league clubs. This proposal dangles unspecified “financial benefits” in front of lower league clubs to encourage then to accept something that has already been widely rejected in a different form – the parachuting of top club B teams into competition with traditional clubs.

The suggestion represents something of a rearguard action after the furore sparked by the FA Commission’s report on the future of the England team, which suggested that B teams from the top sides should be allowed to compete in the Football League. As the many thousands of fans who have opposed that plan pointed out, the idea undermines one of the basic principles of the English game: that a club's position is based on merit. The fans, of course, were not asked for their views – we’re just expected to pay to watch the games we don’t want to be staged. But it’s not just fans who are opposed to the plans.

The Football League clubs themselves are also in open rebellion, with Peterborough United’s Darren Macanthony, Portsmouth CEO Mark Caitlin and Bradford City’s Mark Lawn particularly vociferous in their opposition. All of which presents a problem for Football League chairman Greg Clarke, because while almost all the clubs he is supposed to represent oppose the B team plans, and while the Football League itself has said the original FA Commission proposals “may not contain a solution that is acceptable at the current time”, the embarrassing detail that remains is that Greg Clarke was one of the members of the Commission who signed off the proposal.

It’s not the first time Clarke has incurred the ire of the clubs he is supposed to represent. At last year’s meeting, he had to face down the prospect of a no-confidence vote from clubs angry at the way he had negotiated a solidarity payments package with the Premier League, about his failure to secure sponsorship for the League, and for putting himself in the frame for the job of FA Chairman – eventually given to Greg Dyke – without informing the League.

On that occasion, Ken Bates, then the chairman of Leeds United, moved a motion to dismiss any concerns and move on – with only a handful of clubs opposing. This year, it seems, former Leeds United executive Shaun Harvey will try to get Clarke out of trouble, repackaging the B team league proposal as a B team cup proposal. And showing, in the process, that despite the protestations of the football authorities that they are listening to the furious fan criticisms of the whole B team principle, they are in fact not listening at all.

The fact that they are not listening is no surprise. Harvey once set out his philosophy as ‘players play, managers manage, and supporters support”. With the conference in Vilamoura also due to discuss ownership structures, it’s also interesting to remember that Harvey has presided over three administrations, two at Bradford City and one at Leeds. He was at Leeds for years when the ultimate owners of the club were not publically known – which equips him well to be the chief executive of the organisation responsible for the Owners and Directors Test. Leeds fan Amitai Winehouse has written an interesting portrait of Harvey for the fanzine STAND, while Harvey’s approach to supporter criticism was examined in some depth by David Conn in the Guardian.

One of the major problems with the way English football is run is that those who take the key decisions are in those positions for a variety of reasons – none of which include being accountable to any constituency other than people like them. So they often define the interests of ‘their’ clubs as their own personal interests, and those interests often include seeing how far they can rise within the governance structure of a sport that likes to project a professional image, but which too often conducts itself in an amateur fashion, with a nod here, a wink there and a favour thrown in when it can make a difference.

That is not to say that there are no good people involved at this level, or that every idea those who run the game come up with is bad – although you do have to look a bit harder for the good ones. It’s the system itself that’s the problem, a system that promotes patronage and discourages the more open and collegiate processes that are increasingly expected.

If English football was serious about looking to the future, it would address this. 

Martin Cloake is a writer and editor based in London. You can follow him on Twitter at @MartinCloake.

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Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear