Richard Scudamore and the Premier League

What is it with Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s (PL) chief executive, that makes journalists from the Mail to the Guardian so disparaging? “He does talk a lot of rubbish” being Richard Williams’ succinct take in the latter.

In many ways, Scudamore is tarred by the brush of his job, which is seen by some as Satan’s representative on earth. Especially in terms of the TV deals which have garnered him most publicity since his October 1999 appointment. He’s done that job superbly. It’s just that defending the indefensible is also high on his job description.

And Richard Williams is right…

Scudamore’s ability to make you go “eh?” is undisputed. But after being appointed when predecessor Peter Leaver fell foul of leading club chairmen (including Ken Bates, before you get too nostalgic), his early years revolved around screwing TV for as much money as possible and opposing efforts to impose independent regulation on spending it.

The three subsequent TV deals have delivered increasing fortunes for the clubs he’s represented in negotiations, £1.1billion rising to, ulp, £2.7billion, with Scudamore taking particular credit for negotiating the latter deal under pressure from the European Commission to end SKY TV’s previously and mutually lucrative monopoly. And producing £1billion more than experts were predicting.

While politicians and others argued over the identity, remit and independence of any regulator — everything but the colour of the office curtains, it seemed, Scudamore maintained football was neither corrupt nor in danger of financial meltdown “thanks to…publicity-seeking millionaires eager to replace a sinking chairman” (he’s been right on the financial meltdown bit so far). And the toothless Independent Football Commission which emerged in March 2002 was “what I wanted.” AND, vital to his continued employment, what PL chairmen wanted too.

Scudamore also saw off the FA, in the person of their chief executive Adam Crozier. He counted on, and used, PL chairmen’s mistrust of outsider Crozier, whose off-beat ideas included running football for the good of the whole game, not just the PL elite. Scudamore publicly accused Crozier of leaks to Sunday papers, privately angry only because Crozier wasn’t leaking to him first (Crozier rightly fearful of Scudamore’s spin-doctoring abilities). The idea of an untrustworthy Crozier stuck in the right minds. And he was history.

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) wasn’t so easily dispatched in 2001 when its members — including the richest players — voted in Stalin-esque numbers for strike action over the PFA share of the 2001 TV deal. The money was historically the contribution to the union from the players’ own share. So Scudamore’s efforts to claim the PL had no obligation to the PFA failed.

He returned to form this year over the PL’s ‘largesse’ in giving the Football League (FL) 2.4% of its latest windfall. This donation considerably widened the financial gap between the leagues (the equivalents of today’s FL used to get 50%). But FL chairman Sir Brian Mawhinney still claimed: “a great deal…I am very pleased to have worked with Richard Scudamore towards this new arrangement.”

Little wonder Scudamore has been favourite for every FA job that’s become available since. Though little wonder he’s always ruled himself out. As he said in 2004: “I have a great job that suits me — its heavy on commercial, broadcasting and promotion of the league. And that’s what I do. The FA is something else entirely” (ain’t that last bit the truth?). And while they can count their money, PL chairmen, for now, don’t mind him staying.

His understanding of the wider game outside the enclosed, parallel universe of Planet PL would leave him floundering, his public comments suggesting George W. Bush, albeit an ultra-efficient one. He’s often peddled the argument that fans don’t and shouldn’t care who owns their club, maintaining this even at 2005’s Supporters’ Direct (SD) conference, the organisation dedicated to supporter involvement in…club ownership. The audience was visible, audible — and in the front rows almost touchable — proof that he was talking rubbish. But he still said it.

He also presented SD with a mathematical formula too complex for Archimedes, to ‘show’ that PL attendances weren’t falling. A less complex formula saw him claim this year that there were more English players than ever in the PL. “54 per cent” he said. Which (a) isn’t THAT good and (b) dwarfs the 39 per cent who actually started last weekend.

In 2000 he claimed: “We do not want to outprice ourselves” amid platitudes about “the people’s game.” He’s opposed every subsequent infringement on club’s charging whatever they liked; almost enshrining the loss of “touch with our traditional heartland and support base” he’s feigned to warn of.

Oh…and: “I don’t see that people are necessarily looking to take money out” — which suggests he wears powerful sunglasses. Indoors. There’s “no future pot of gold” either. “Football has always spent its income.” Well, yes. Mostly on people “looking to take money out.” “Stratospheric sophistry” said the Guardian, correctly, of Scudamore’s comments.

We laugh but Scudamore wasn’t funny over the Carlos Tevez affair. His verbal bullying of clubs challenging West Ham’s ‘punishment’ was unedifying. He also found “the suggestion that we wanted to manipulate who’s in the league so ridiculous it’s nonsensical.” Which is why no-one made that suggestion. Like the Whitehouse spokesman denying links to Watergate to journalist Bob Woodward, when Woodward hadn’t asked him about Watergate. “Have I done anything wholly wrong?” Scudamore asks. The Mail queries the use of ‘wholly.’ Many others say: “Yep.”

Journalist Tom Bower, usually right on such matters, reckons the new foreign club owners will want more than the glorified spin-doctor Scudamore is accused of being. So his future may be safe. But short.

Ultimately, Scudamore’s portrayal of the PL as ‘for the good of the game’ betrays him, as did his visible relief when Lord Stevens’ report found agents and individuals corrupt, not clubs — sufficient for Scudamore to declare, outrageously, that football was ‘clean.’

He is outstanding at his job — serving the interests of the PL at all costs. But that is no compliment.

Written by Mark Murphy and first published on – also see the Right Result table on SL.

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