Why English football is too insular and governing bodies should be taking advice from their NFL counterparts

To the uneducated person NFL is just big blokes in pads running into each other and cheerleaders putting on a half time performance.

Physically, as a sport it is much more than that.

And off the pitch it is much more than that, so much so that according to some England’s beautiful game, football, should be taking more than one leaf out of NFL’s book.

Martin Calladine, the author of The Ugly Game: How Football Lost its Magic and What it Could Learn from the NFL, has been, for years, advocating that English football authorities should be looking across the pond for guidance.

His points are solid, his research is thorough, and he makes more than valid points.

In short, if people like Calladine were the administrators of the game, we may be in a much better position than we are now.

But as the author explains, your average fan doesn’t see it in that way.

“I had grown away from football and did a lot of research and looked at a lot of things that the NFL did, and wrote this book from my personal perspective,” explained Calladine.

“But when you talk to people about this and about the NFL, they just think it is stupid fat guys in pads, and they say they wouldn’t want cheerleaders in football.

“That’s not my point at all. I’m saying there must be better ways to run football and the way NFL is run is a better way.

“But football is incredibly insular.”

Calladine fell in love with football as a Reading season ticket holder, but fell out of love with the game as it became dictated by finances and dodgy deals.

One evening while feeding his daughter he opted to switch on the NFL highlights rather than Match of the Day, and it sparked a journey which led to the launch of his book in 2015.

“The book hasn’t won any big prizes, but it is about the way football has been run and the way it continues to get worse,” added Calladine.

“I am by no means the only disallutioned football fan, that problem is more wide spread.”

Calladine penned 20 reasons why he was enjoying NFL as an all round sport more than football, and they were the blueprint for the chapters of his book.

Salary caps, finance, ownership models and other regulations are all things we have heard mentioned in football.

But as quickly as they are on the table, they are off, and that is something that needs to change according to the author.

He added: “In NFL the prize money for winning the Superbowl is $0. You get no money, you get the trophy.

“You get bonuses in the season but you get more in the regular season than you do in the play offs, and that is interesting because the English football is centred around financial reward, not just trophies.

“The glory is there but the cash is also there too.

“There is a damaging connection between victory and cash.

“In the NFL all the TV and ticket money is split equally between the teams, and that is a radically different way to run the game.

“Coaches have hardly ever played at elite level. Coaching is seen as a career, over there they begin coaching careers at 19 or 20.

“In the NFL they will force owners to sell a team if they are not doing it properly, that would never happen in the UK.

“TV analysis over there is better. Here most of it is awful, it is only now becoming supported by stats and analysis but it is decades behind other sports.

“Salary caps are dismissed and they say they will never work, but they are needed.

“Football needs to stop thinking it can’t change.

“There are only small changes and actions by a small number of clubs that try to drag others in the wrong way, and it is completely self interested.”

Calladine’s book goes into detail about how every club gets an equal vote at all league meetings, and how prospective owners have to be filly vetted before they even get on a list to own a club.

In England, the fit and proper persons test is ridiculed time and time again and sometimes leads to clubs heading towards extinction.

“Football is run by owners who have no affiliation to that team, there is no long standing connection,” added Calladine.

“We saw with Project Big Picture last year that a small amount of clubs were trying to strike secret deals for long term control, and other clubs were thinking they should go with it.

“But that isn’t how it should be.”

In the Premier League clubs get more money the higher they finish and if you get into the Champions League then your owner is rubbing his hands.

Across the pond it is different.

“Those who finished last get five or ten percent more in money than the team who finished first,” explained Calladine.

“It isn’t to make teams tank and lose, it is delivered so things are more even.

“FFP has stopped clubs bankrupting themselves to a degree, but salary caps in football would stop that.”

The Rooney Rule, which means one black or ethnic minority candidate has to be interviewed for every role has been used for years in the NFL.

Calladine’s book explained how using it in England would rid the sport of unconscious bias when it came to interviewing managers.

He added: “It would bring diversity. Every club has to publish the reasons why people did or did not get the job.

“Whereas in England someone can get the job because they know the owner, or they have a good relationship and that leads to terrible managers sometimes.

“The Rooney Rule would get rid of unconscious bias.”

The NFL also has practice squads in place, which are made up of ten players who are not quite good enough for the first team.

Those squads are almost ‘use them or lose them’, and other clubs can take them as free agents at certain points, something that means good players aren’t rotting in youth squads, wasting the best parts of their careers.

And the testing around owners is absolute water tight in the NFL, and for Calladine, it is one of the major reasons why football should be looking at its American friends for help.

He added: “You can’t buy a club until you’ve been approved by the commissioner.

“You submit a plan, how you plan to spend your money and then go on a waiting list until a team becomes available to buy.

“To have that in football would require legal changes, but at the moment the only rule is that you can buy a club if you haven’t been convicted or been to prison.

“That mindset just has to change.”

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