Wednesday 4 June ~
The back pages today were the usual mixture of early summer filler and gossip, focused more than ever on England's top four clubs. There were headlines on Chelsea's increasingly tedious search for a manager, massive coverage of José Mourinho's boasts on taking employment at Inter, Arsène Wenger putting an overly positive spin on Arsenal's chances next season and a mandatory reference to Man Utd's Portuguese winger. It is sad, revealing and damning that all these non-stories (not to mention check-in desk reports of Wayne Rooney's stag week in the news pages) were given priority over a philanthropic and groundbreaking gesture by Aston Villa.
Next season Villa's shirts will bear the name of West Midlands children's hospice Acorns for free, giving much-needed publicity to a local charity. In an age where none would think less of a club for taking the name of the highest bidder this move was welcomed by many. On messageboards everywhere fans of other clubs reacted with a mixture of respect, admiration and jealousy. But the reaction of fans was the complete opposite of the indifference of the national media – all references to this arrangement, though positive, were buried several pages into the sports sections. As many Villa fans pointed out, had this been a top four or London club there would have been a “two page spread in one of the tabloids with some celebrity hungry B-listers saying how wonderful it is”.
Unfortunately some use such news for their own ends. After welcoming Villa's decision Richard Scudamore just couldn't help himself: “The power of the Premier League has long been something that companies have tapped into to reach audiences throughout the country, and increasingly, across the globe.” The publicity that Villa are getting is, quite rightly, very positive, while the money they have lost, calculated to be about £2 million, doesn't pay the wages of many Nigel Reo-Cokers. Yet they have set a generous and important precedent. After Niall Quinn's decision to donate the proceeds of his 2002 testimonial to charity this has become standard practice. Let's hope the same happens here.
So though the Champions League clubs get almost blanket coverage in the media there is some positive and progressive resistance. And it should be borne in mind that the club that has dedicated profitable publicity space to charity next season does at least make the winners' list of Europe's elite club competition – unlike two of the current big four.