Returning old pros only harm Wembley FC
26 June ~ Regular readers of WSC know well the interminable battle non-League clubs face simply to stay alive. Deep-pocketed investors are few and far between in the lower echelons of the football pyramid. So there was widespread surprise in March when it was announced that ninth-tier semi-professional side Wembley FC had signed a three-year sponsorship deal with US lager giant Budweiser and hired former England, Spurs and Barcelona boss Terry Venables as a technical advisor.
Unfortunately, it seems the cynics were right to be, well, cynical. Last week the club revealed they (well, Budweiser) have recruited an embarrassment of ex-pros – Ray Parlour, Martin Keown, Graeme Le Saux, Claudio Caniggia and Brian McBride – to turn out for the club in its forthcoming FA Cup campaign.
The faded stars, plus David Seaman, who has joined as goalkeeping coach, have been training the Wembley squad since Budweiser's involvement began. They have now announced their intentions to haul themselves out of retirement for the competition, which begins with a tie in the extra preliminary round on August 11.
The club has also unveiled a shiny new kit, featuring a suitably bombastic redesigned crest emblazoned with the Wembley motto, A Posse Ad Esse (from possibility to reality). The whole charade is to be immortalised by ESPN, who are filming a documentary charting the FA Cup campaign called Dream. On. The Journey of Wembley FC.
Budweiser, who sponsor the Cup, are under the impression this grotesque Football Manager-style experiment amounts to "championing the magic of the FA Cup", but there's nothing magical about parachuting in ex-pros – who have already won the trophy 12 times between them – at the expense of the team's players, who train part-time for the very opportunity to take part in such a competition.
The idea completely disregards the intrinsic integrity and fairness of an open knockout tournament. It'll be magic for Parlour and co, though. They are being paid handsomely (I imagine) to indulge one last fantasy.
Wembley, too, will be glad of the opportunity to share in some corporate cash. But if the money goes straight into the pockets of a handful of individuals without so much as passing through the Wembley till, what does it achieve? Apparently funds have gone into the club's infrastructure, but when I visited Vale Park in May (my Sunday League team played its cup final there) there wasn't much sign of investment. The pitch was no better than the playing fields at our home, Regent's Park, and the changing rooms were arguably worse. There was, however, plenty of Budweiser advertising around the place – and no shortage of bottled beer for sale.
Admittedly, the announcement has created something of a buzz. Wembley might benefit from increased gates for a few specific games, but the vast majority of celebrity spotters will not be making the trip for league outings. When the club is inevitably dumped out of the Cup after a handful of matches, despite the best efforts of its leathery mercenaries, these fairweather fans won't be back.
But the memory of this ill-advised freakshow will linger, like the smell of stale lager, long after the old-school quintet retire once more. Vincent Forrester