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Brexit and COVID - is the football industry at risk?

21.11.2020 @SaulCuttell

Who am I?

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. This may be a well-known saying, but trying to tell that to all the staff who have recently been made unemployed by lots of different football clubs around the UK, who have directly suffered because of the pandemic. Most would have thought their job was safe and secure, and who can blame them for thinking in such a way. But often when one door closes, another one opens. This formed the basis of one of my many conversations, but this time it was with a very experienced, knowledgeable coach and academy manager, Simon Dwight, who had recently been released from Milton Keynes Dons! But this highly experienced coach/educator of football had had 15 years’ experience for me to learn from---what a chance! 

Simon’s route into football was very different. He started out in life with an artistic outlook and wanted to explore this avenue. Yet he found himself teaching, and coaching the school team, which then progressed up to district team, and, as already stated, this path led him ultimately to MK Dons FC. What a journey right? Not only did he have this unique route to football in life, but he also played a lot as a young man, having over 300 games for Hounslow Town for up to 10 seasons.

Football under lockdown

Well with this impressive CV and experience and unfortunate recent unemployment, I felt compelled to ask Simon what he thought was the future of English football, and how would the lock down influence all things football? How would a second lock down effect things further? Simon answered with a very honest, sincere and straightforward response. Simon stated ‘’lockdown and COVID has created a very muddled, uncertain environment for all in football and for all in other industries. We have already seen a lot of unemployment across the UK, and I fear we will see more. Everyone has taken a hit. Clubs need to think about season ticket holders, academies, refunds, TV and sponsorship deals, so there really is a lot to consider. It may well be that big leagues like the Premier League may push out an online subscription model for fans to view their team online. Or that smaller clubs will do the same’’. Maybe this will be the future of football, to be more online, well at least for the near future, while fans cannot necessarily access games so easily at the minute. He also said that maybe a lot of clubs will go down or under liquidation, as they cannot simply afford to run under the current conditions. So, football in the UK will have to evolve, but what that looks like we simply do not know yet.

Impact on professional players

We also spoke about the effect this would all have at the top end of the game. For instance, Simon thought that mature professional football players could find themselves without a club because they are too expensive. This will in turn make the club depreciate in potential value and will also allow younger players coming through an opportunity to prove themselves. This will be an amazing opportunity for young talented players to have a break through into the professional game, but at a much lower cost to that which professionals would normally get. Simon also mentioned that this could be a great opportunity to progress into a team and learn a lot about the pressure of competitive games for young players, especially as there may not be any fans to cheer them on or indeed boo them. Ultimately the professional end of the game will become more compressed and compact and the search for talent will become potentially stricter, but maybe with more opportunities for players who do make it to the required standard. Additionally, it will become common place for professional players to look for second careers, so this may influence coaching, scouting and different football sector related jobs.

Academies and talent

We also spoke about the effect on academies and how registered boys there may well be culled before their time, with a result that more players are put into shadow academies or development centres rather than full academies. He also went on to explain that talent pathways may well be blocked and the search for talent will become increasingly more difficult. This was when we spoke briefly about Pitch (access here) and that it attempts to bring players ability to scouts and coaches in UK but with a validated twist. Not everyone can simply make (using the FA 4 corner model for talent ID; we also have a 5 minute survey for scouts about this model which you can access here). Similarly, these points raised brought the discussion back to the ever-unstable football job market and what Simon thought may happen as a result. Simon stated that more coaches will also be looking for jobs, which may mean that clubs can be more selective in the process of picking up experienced coaches maybe for less, and that clubs will be able to pick and choose young talented players more readily. It appears the football industry will be even more competitive going forward and something everyone involved in this profession should consider moving forwards, especially with Brexit.

The future for talent

This was the topic of the next question we discussed, and Simon gave a very interesting answer as he centered it on the idea of the pound dropping in value and the effect this would have on the game, but also how players and academies would have to make a new way forward. Simon spoke about a reverse funnel effect, where it will be harder for talented young players to come through into the first teams and there will be more competition for places in these elite environments. This may in effect give a greater pressure to find talent. Additionally, this could impact on education as university and college programmes may get more overflow of students. This bottle neck approach could significantly harm the industry further or could potentially augment it. We simply don’t know yet, we are running the experiment. Without asking the topic seemed to nicely evolve into the topic I had originally want to discuss with Simon, that being mental health. We both agreed the effect could be enormous with the current situation of COVID, along with Brexit the compounded effect may not still be known exactly.

Talent, players and dealing with lockdown

Simon mention how Troy Deeney recently refused to train because he had concerns about his family, and rightly so I think. This topic then progressed to the idea of young people and how some young players in academies may be affected. In essence these young players will have had coaching regimes, but now they need to conduct these at home, instead of at the training ground or the gym. This could have an influence on all sorts of behaviours that may be intertwined with the family unit, schools, friends and more. It may be easier to not train with distractions like social media or computer games, and what effect will this all have? What if they get ill or a family member gets ill? There are so many unknowns that we just know how they will play out. I did ask Simon what advice he would give to anyone and he had a brilliant answer, one that is very true to my heart too. Simon stated that if you are going through any trouble, then reach out for help. But also, he told me that every morning he writes a note or two about how he feels, this helps him in so many ways to appreciate what he does have. I thought this was great advice, as I do a similar practice. Every day I write three things that I am grateful for, and this really helps me to put things into perspective. So, if you are a young player or affected by mental health, please do reach out to someone or even start to write your feelings down, and see how it affects you and hopefully you will see that this really works. But most importantly please reach out for help if you need it.

If you want to learn more about Simon please follow on Twitter @SimonDwight or check his profile out on LinkedIn here