The Perpetual Rage of Dave Whelan
The past few weeks of announcements and proposals coming from the Premier League was like a flurry of punches landing on the bloodied and battered corpse of the football league. First, a couple of jabs from Ian Ayre with his lust for foreign money, swiftly followed by a Daily Express type rumour that foreign owners want to scrap relegation. Those bloody foreigners. But, they were just softeners; the hammer blow came when the Premier League thrust its EPPP policy onto the football league with all the subtlety of a mobster enforcing a protection racket. Sign up, or else.
These are not fun times for anyone looking nervously at the increasingly aggressive behaviour of football’s power brokers. I’m among the many that have voiced their contempt for such schemes, but fans like me are on the outside. Who will fight the establishment from within? Step forward Wigan Athletic owner, Dave Whelan.
On Premier League matters Whelan is a prolific a commentator. Even if you happen to have been living in a metaphorical cave, it won’t have escaped your attention that Whelan is an outraged man and walking tabloid news feed: ‘WHELAN ATTACKS LIVERPOOL TV PLAN’; ‘WHELAN SLAMS NO RELEGATION IDEA’; ‘FOREIGN OWNERS CAUSE CANCER, SAYS WHELAN.’ Just type ‘Dave Whelan Outrage’ into Google and see how many hits you get. His blood pressure must be getting dangerous.
In these difficult times when greed reigns, it’s comforting to think we‘ve got fightin’ Dave, there aren’t many other Premier League Chairmen prepared to voice their concern so forcefully. Ian Ayre’s plan to hog foreign TV rights was deemed ‘scandalous’. As for the plan to scrap relegation, “it’s the most stupid suggestion I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Whelan. To emphasise the point, he also said he’d withdraw Wigan from the Premier League if it ever happened – I’m sure Ian Ayre would gladly hold the exit door open for him. Bye then, Dave, keep in touch.
As for the EPPP plan – the one that makes it easier for Premier League clubs to pick off the best young players from the football league – well, as you’d expect, Whelan was, well, I’m not sure, actually. You’d have thought he’d be up in arms again, right? But, Whelan has been uncharacteristically quiet, inconsistent with his policy of rubbishing big club policies. Not surprising, this was the Premier League’s plan after all, which its members voted for back in June, but that’s not the point.
When Ian Ayre voiced his opinions on scrapping revenue sharing from income generated abroad, Whelan said it would kill smaller clubs like Wigan. Maybe it would, but not as quickly as if Whelan pulled his money out. Even with Whelan’s considerable financial support, Wigan’s grip on top flight status is slipping. Clubs like Wigan are only ever really interning in the Premier League. They’ve done well to stick it out this long, but without a full time position on offer, eventually they’ll have to face reality and start considering another career path. It is at this point that policies like the EPPP will take on a much greater significance.
For someone who appears to have gone out of his way to get in the face of ‘big club’ Chairman, was this a missed opportunity for Whelan, or did it just seem like a trivial matter compared to the lucrative TV rights deal? You can draw your own conclusions, but consider that he doesn’t seem to have lost his voice on other issues, such as the Premier League’s racism row, “If a white man insults a black man, that’s big, big news. If, a black man insults a white man, that’s nothing, and it’s expected.” According to Whelan, players who suffer racist abuse should just ‘get on with it’, and complaining to the authorities is ‘a bit out of order’. Astonishing, but this is a man with plenty of previous in contentious arguments.
He has frequently spoken out against Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, a fierce rival in the world of sportswear retail, accusing him of having ‘no class’. Ashley doesn’t have many friends in the football world, so as it stands that comment was hardly going to cause a stir. However, the reference he used to qualify his statement, should; “All of the dignity has gone out of the club [Newcastle]. Whatever you think of Freddy Shepherd, he had great dignity.”
That’s Freddy Shepherd, the former Newcastle owner who was caught in a News of the World sting chatting to a reporter in a Spanish brothel, deriding the Geordies insatiable appetite for replica shirts, and calling Newcastle women “dogs”. That, according to Whelan, is dignity.
Shepherd’s reference to replica shirts is relevant here, because it was Whelan’s own JJB Sports that was heavily fined by the Office of Fair Trading for fixing the prices of football shirts. I’m not sure where that fits into Whelan’s world view on right and wrong, but deliberately fleecing fans doesn’t look good for someone so quick to decry the business proposals of other clubs.
It’s all very depressing. I want to appreciate Whelan for shouting down the likes of Ayre, which must have been massively insulting for the Liverpool director. But, the louder he shouts, the more insincere he sounds. All football club owners are inherently self interested, they have to be. But, instead of focusing on what is likely to earn them they most money in the next three or four years, it would be refreshing to see Chairmen of smaller Premier League clubs recognising the long term risks to their own clubs of policies like the EPPP.
As for Whelan, keeping Wigan in the top flight for this long as is a remarkable achievement, but as a spokesperson his frequent outbursts have ultimately discredited him. He’s become a novelty at best and worthy of contempt at worst. Small clubs need advocates, they need ambassadors, but it’s time for someone else to set up. Dave’s punched himself out.
More from Mr Regista on his site here.