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The Mark Catlin column: To B or not to B - That is the question

I may not know that much about Shakespeare, but if there is something that I do know about it’s the effect of allowing ‘B’ teams to compete in a national football league structure.

As Andy Williamson (our Football League chief) has rightly said, "The suggestion is frankly offensive".

As more and more ‘foreign’ managers become involved in our league system, I have read with interest how they have pointed out that in ‘their’ countries the introduction of club’s ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams into domestic leagues works really well. Does it really? I beg to differ!

What would make YOU such an authority I hear you ask? Well, having run a Spanish football club for two seasons I am perfectly placed to offer an insight into how this system works, and what would be its long term effect on the majority of football league clubs.

There is naturally an attraction for a few of the biggest clubs. In Spain the ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’ team cannot compete in the same league, but potentially you could have a situation, and it has arisen in Spain, where (for example, as it is Andre Villas-Boas that has suggested it) Chelsea are in The Premiership, Chelsea ‘B’ are in the Championship, and Chelsea ‘C’ are in League 1.

Knock on effect would be catastrophic

The Premiership would be largely unaffected as a club's 'B' team cannot be in the same league as the 'A' team, but the knock on effect throughout the league would be catastrophic.

A Championship filled with say six ‘B’ teams would effectively ‘relegate’ six proud Championship clubs into League 1, but that’s just the start. As these six clubs would then be relegated into League 1 and there would be a host of other ‘B’ and potentially ‘C’ team mixed in, this could completely displace almost all of the current League 1 clubs. League 1 would now have a host of ‘B’ teams and ‘C’ teams in it, plus displaced Championship clubs, and so it would go on and on, right down the league structure.

‘So what?’ some of you may ask. But here is the real ‘killer’. If these ‘displaced’ clubs from the Championship, League 1, League 2, and below this even - proud, historical clubs that have represented the local town - and have done so for over 100 years in most cases, are pushed down the league structure, then their attendance and support collapses.

Outside of the ‘Primera Liga’ in Spain the attendances are abysmal. Drop to the third tier and you are looking at attendances that many Conference North and South teams would laugh at. By the time you are at the fourth tier in Spanish football you are in many cases seeing attendances akin to Sunday league football.

How interesting would the Championship be if the teams that are promoted finish 6th, 8th and 10th? And so it goes on down the leagues.

Youth system

You cannot argue that Barcelona, as has been rightly pointed out, are a successful team. BUT this is the result of a fantastic youth system in operation throughout Spain, and specifically at Barcelona. If we want to learn lessons from Spain then THIS (how the Spanish coach kids from a very young age) is the model we should be following.

Even IF I am wrong, and in one case, in one club, in one country, it has proved to be successful, should we even contemplate destroying the fabric of a system that I can tell you is the envy of the rest of Europe (even Spain)? To put in danger what is without question the greatest league structure anywhere in the world is quite frankly not only offensive (as Andy Williamson has suggested), but incredibly dangerous.

Thankfully, I believe that there are more than enough sensible heads in football to realise that my ‘nightmare scenario’ as explained above would become a reality in the event of allowing ‘B’ teams into our Football League structure. And besides, we already operate a fantastic loan system that has and continues to produce talent and experience for players needing competitive action, or youngsters looking to gain experience in a competitive environment.

I love Spain, and we would do well to learn many things from them when it comes to football, but the introduction of reserve teams into our league system is most definitely not one of them!

By Mark Catlin, Bury FC director


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