Mark Carruthers: An open letter to Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow and why he was wrong about English football and the Premier League

Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow has provoked quite a reaction from football supporters around the country after he stated “Everything good in English football sits in the Premier League.”

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 2:10 pm
Mark Carruthers' non-league column.

You can call his comments short-sighted or perhaps even deliberately provocative.

You can also call it a whole host of things that are not safe for print.

No matter what you call it, I felt the need to reply and give my own thoughts - so what follows is an open letter to Christian.

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Dear Mr Purslow,

Firstly, I would like to state that I believe the Premier League is one of, if not the best league in the world and we have witnessed some remarkable moments over the last 30 years.

It has put English football at the forefront of the world game and the league has showcased a whole host of the greatest players in some iconic stadiums.

That exposure has brought worldwide exposure, increased broadcasting revenue beyond belief and attracted the interest of multi-billionaire investors from around the globe.

It is, without doubt, a behemoth of a brand.

However, to state your belief that “Everything good in English football sits in the Premier League” is remarkably narrow-minded and ignores the foundations that our game were built upon.

Your comment completely ignores the passion and commitment that courses through the veins of supporters, volunteers, players, coaches and committee members at Football League and non-league clubs around the comment.

It also makes light of the unseen hours of hard work and the never-say-die spirit shown by people involved at non-league level that have gone above and beyond during the financial and practical challenges during Covid.

Or the club across the EFL and the non-league pyramid that went above and beyond to support their supporters and their local communities during the last 18 months.

The clubs that have taken phone calls, provided food packages and raised funds for the NHS and local charities.

These clubs mean everything to their supporters and that connection is every bit as strong as the one between clubs at the top end of the game and their supporters.

Club below the Premier League have also played an integral role in the recent improvement of the England team and that should not be overlooked.

A whole host of Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2021 squad played their formative years - or spent time on loan - with EFL and non-league clubs.

They learnt about the other side of the game, where success is counted in points accrued, not how many millions and billions of pounds are there to be made.

They looked at experienced professionals and non-league stalwarts that are striving to get every last moment out of careers largely spent away from the billion pound television deals and bright lights of the elite.

The committed individuals that give their all at historic grounds that have sat at the heart of their local villages, towns and cities for over a century and will remain integral for generations to come.

As a match-going supporter, I was taught about all levels of the game by a Dad that underwent the same education 25 years earlier.

I was taken to stadiums at the top level and watched some of the biggest names in English football right in front of my eyes.

One of them - Paul Gascoigne - made me fall in love with the game years before he found his way into the heart of supporters around the country.

But there were heroes to be found and achievements to be marvelled at in all levels of the game.

I remember watching Tim Buzgalo fire Woking to a shock FA Cup win over West Bromwich Albion and Micky Thomas’ iconic free-kick and celebration that helped Wrexham to a fine win against Arsenal.

York City’s remarkable League Cup win at Manchester United still remains prominent in my mind and so to does Roy Essandoh - a player signed via teletext - writing his name into FA Cup folklore when he scored the winner for Wycombe Wanderers at Leicester City.

All of this matters, not only to the supporters of those clubs, but to supporters around the country.

They are moments that stuck with us throughout our lives.

I am fortunate to work as a writer covering clubs across the football pyramid and that has given me a broad view of the state of the game.

In recent years, here in the North East, I have seen a player that worked in his parents newsagents score a last-minute winner in an FA Cup tie against a Football League club in front of an audience of over two million on Match of the Day.

I watched a former Premier League star fall in love with a club and community when Julio Arca joined South Shields and played a significant role in helping kick-start their rise up the non-league pyramid.

I saw supporters of Gateshead rescue their club.

More recently, I have witnessed local communities rally around their clubs to help them recover from the impact of Storm Arwen with the damage caused over the last week forcing clubs to face up to repair costs that will run into tens of thousands of pounds.

All of these things matter, and the true beauty of English football does not lie solely at the top end of our game.

Non-league football and the EFL are the foundations upon which English football has been built and without them, there will be nothing and the game in our country survived for a long time before the Premier League came along.

Our entire football pyramid should be a great source of pride for everyone involved in our national game - not just those that lie in what feels like an increasingly closed shop amongst the elite.