Game 39 isn’t dead in the water yet

The Premier League’s controversial announcement to host an extra round of games overseas hasn’t been halted by the worldwide opposition to the plans, according to notes released from the Football Supporters’ Federation‘s meeting with the league’s chief executive Richard Scudamore.

Despite strong opposition from FIFA’s President, Sepp Blatter, and supporters’ groups along with concerns from the FA and other football federations, the notes show the Premier League seem, if anything, just as determined to press ahead. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Game 39’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

The writing appeared to be on the wall following Scudamore’s decision to cancel a meeting with Blatter after it became clear the FIFA President would use the subsequent press conference to attack the plans further.

The cool reception the plan received worldwide, combined with Blatter’s suggestion that Game 39 could threaten England’s chances of landing the world cup, and the FA’s criticisms of the project, looked to have stopped the plan a mere 21 days after it was announced to the world. Fait accompli, or so it seemed to the media.

But, according to notes sent out following the FSF’s meeting with Scudamore to express their concerns about the game, the Premier League are still talking bullishly behind closed doors.

In the meeting, Scudamore is reported to have said the plans were still ongoing and in a “consultation” stage, with the format of the overseas game the main sticking point.

And despite public questioning of the scheme from several Premier League chairmen, including Reading’s John Madejski, Scudamore told the FSF there was a unanimous agreement among the 20 Premire League chairmen to take the game forward.

Scudamore also implied that the scheme could go ahead regardless of FIFA’s objections, and indicating Sepp Blatter’s opposition may not matter. “Read my lips,” the notes record him as saying. “If the local football federations do not think this is a good idea for football development in this country, we will not do it.”

Another main claim to emerge was Scudamore’s belief that the plans would help correct imbalances between the financial power of Premier League clubs, and it would be precisely clubs like Reading would who stand to gain the most from the plans.

The FSF were far from impressed with the meeting — the notes describe Scudamore’s claim football in England would fall apart if the plans did not succeed in some form – and repeated their continued opposition and ongoing campaign against Game 39.

It’s unclear where Game 39 will go from here. Scudamore and the Premier League clearly realise the opening battle was not a success, no matter how bullish they are in private. Yet, given the league’s history of winning the majority of fights they pick, it would have been surprising if Game 39 was dropped completely.

What would not be a surprise, though, is if the overseas proposals stay off the agenda for the coming months while plenty of talking and consultation, something that many football associations felt there wasn’t enough of the first time around, go on around the world.

Similarly, despite concerns from various Premier League chairmen, they’ll have done their sums and seen the chance for the league to improve on the £2.7bn it pocketed on its last deal. The lure of a large payday was one of the driving factors behind the formation of the Premier League itself and it would be naïve to assume this will be any different. The criticism may just vanish if the format of the overseas games can be made more palatable.

Football history is littered with examples of unpopular moves, such as Wimbledon’s conversion into the MK Dons, being first opposed but still forced through with little more than weary indifference resulting in other than the most hardcore of supporters.

Yet Scudamore did appear to offer hope to the FSF and other groups who remain vehemently opposed to Game 39 when he told them if “they [the dissenters] fight above their weight, it may put people off”.

One thing’s for sure — while the Premier League attempts to quietly woo the rest of the world, the FSF and other bodies will be doing their best to loudly rally the opposition and keep Game 39 very much on the national agenda.

Gary Andrews also has a blog…

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