One simple vote on 23rd June could completely change the face of the sport we all know and love.
Football may not be one of the first things you think of when deciding which way to vote in the upcoming European Union referendum, but it’s important to note that the outcome could dramatically change the game as we know it in this country forever.
From young European players who may have to leave Great Britain, to supporters who may face increased flight and travel costs – there is a lot to consider. It could all change with one national vote.
“I don’t think football supporters realise if we leave the European Union we lose free movement of trade and foreign players will be less attracted to our leagues,” says Keith Dibble, a Labour Councillor at Rushmoor Borough Council and Tottenham Hotspur fan. He is voting to remain in the EU.
“If we leave, it will make it harder to sign players from across Europe because there will be a huge delay on work permits. It would heavily impact the quality of the English game and attracting top players.”
A recent study by the Guardian newspaper found that two thirds of European Premier League players would not meet the criteria for a work permit using the rules currently implemented for non-EU players.
However, this is just one argument, with VoteLeave supporters such as UKIP MEP and Everton fan Raymond Finch heavily disagreeing, citing that we would be free to set our own laws on migration.
“If you’re going to have top of the range players coming in, they will pass any work permit, so we will still get top European players coming in even if we set our own laws on work permits and migration,” he says.
“The Football Association and the Home Office will make it so it’s easier for top players to gain a work permit. What will happen is that we will lose out on European players who are average or not as good which will only benefit the English game because there will be more room for English players to come through.”
When the Premier League was first formed in 1992, there was 69% of English players in starting line-ups across the opening weekend. That fell below one third this season to 33.2%.
Raymond argues that leaving the European Union will help the fortunes of the England national team as it will allow more and more young English players to break into first teams.
“I’ve seen great players who’ve never had a chance. At Everton for example we have Kieran Dowell, a great midfielder who recently scored a hat-trick for the under-21s. He made his Premier League debut, coming on for five minutes against Bournemouth this season and he was outstanding.
“But I know when we get our new manager in, he will buy a European midfielder for big money and Kieran Dowell will be sent out on loan and he’ll never see the first team. After a couple of years he won’t have developed because he’s not been playing against top class players and his career will seriously be hampered. He might reach Championship level if he’s lucky.”
The argument from the StrongerIn campaign is that young English players are not getting a chance due to their age and a new culture of football which requires immediate success with less room for risks.
And with 64 managers fired from a possible 92 professional clubs this season, it is evident this new era of short-term success exists.
“It’s not the free movement of European players that hampers home-grown English players,” says Keith.
“Look at Tottenham Hotspur this season where young English players such as Eric Dier and Dele Alli have been given an opportunity and they have thrived.
“I think the problem in football now is more to do with a focus on short-term success. If a manager loses four or five games they could be out the door so it’s easier to sign a ready-made player who’s at the peak of his career rather than take a risk on a young unproven player.”
There is then of course the issue of addressing young European players either playing in professional development squads or non-league football. One such player who could be affected is 19-year-old Snorre Nilsen, a Norwegian midfielder playing for Portsmouth FC.
Snorre, who has spent much of this season out on loan to non-league Bognor Regis Town FC, was brought over to Great Britain by Portsmouth scouts whilst playing for his local team SK Gjøvik-Lyn at the age of sixteen.
“I love living in Portsmouth,” he says.
“Gumwharf Quays is one of my favourite places, and I love all the pubs and restaurants and going down to the beach. I love English football. I love the culture and the fans and what it means to people.
“It’s brilliant playing for such a big club like Portsmouth. It’s a great opportunity and a great experience for me to be here.
“Leaving the EU would change so much for me. It would be harder for me to get a work permit.
“I’d be gutted if I have to leave this country. I love living here and I love playing football here. If it wasn’t for Portsmouth offering me the scholarship I wouldn’t have come here in the first place.”
Looking after young European footballers who have primarily been brought over to Great Britain to play football appears to be the only thing Keith and Raymond agree on.
“It would be very un-British to boot young European players out of the country who have been primarily brought over here to play football, especially if they have brought family with them,” says Keith.
“The FA and the Home Office will work something out for young European players already in the country. I don’t blame the young European players or English clubs for bringing them over,” says Raymond.
Grassroot and non-league football are also set to be affected by a possible Brexit. The Erasmus programme is a European sports funding initiative which has granted Great Britain with over £1.5 million in the last two years.
“Leaving the EU deprives communities of funding which will only hamper the English game,” says Keith.
So there you have it. It is clear that Great Britain either leaving or remaining in the EU will have a huge effect on English football right from your local non-league team up to the Premier League. How you now vote is up to you.