Tell Brussels to Stop Their TV Meddling

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Byline: DAVID MELLOR

ENGLISH football is in danger from Europe. This has nothing to do with the Champions League and everything to do with attempts by bureaucrats to interfere with the right of the Premier League to sell its TV rights collectively. The matter is so serious that the financial health of the English game is threatened.

In America, legislation specifically prevents competition regulators intervening to stop sporting leagues selling these rights en block, but sadly in Europe it doesn't, with consequences for the Premier League which may be devastating.

Three years ago, the Office of Fair Trading lost a battle in the Restrictive Practices Court - the only time they have lost there - to allow individual clubs to sell their own rights. I gave evidence for the Premier League, and did so gladly, because it is hard to think of a more catastrophic outcome for English football than this. It is a double whammy: no exclusivity means the value of the product to the broadcaster will inevitably fall, leading to lower bids, while in a free-for-all the big clubs will clean up, leaving the smaller ones nowhere.

That was pure hypothesis then, but it has been reality since last summer when the start of Serie A had to be delayed because half the clubs were without a TV deal. It is difficult enough for the Charltons and the Southamptons to keep pace with the big boys without United, like Barcelona, being able to sign up for a u50millionaseason TV deal.

Winning the OFT case cost the Premier League - which ultimately means the fans, of course - the best part of u10m. Now the European Commission is set to go down the same road, and the Premier League have until mid-March to object, which they surely will.

When the OFT started their case, I was still an MP, and I asked the then Government to intervene to stop this misconceived action before it could do any harm. They refused, and the outcome was wasted time and money.

And now this Government would do well to tell the European Commission straight away to stay out of our game.

Under the principles of subsidiarity, the European Union is supposed to honour the rule that all decisions be taken nationally unless there is a compelling reason why they should be made by the Community. No such compelling reasons exist here, and the Commission should be put back in their box pronto.

It is hard to think of anything more devastating for football than that the flow of money from Sky, on which football's fragile economics depend, is jeopardised in any way. But no one is going to pay hundreds of millions for a product every rival has got.

This is not an academic matter but fundamental to the wellbeing of the game, and every fan needs to be aware of what is at stake here.

Reformed Terry is leading light THE blow that doesn't break you makes you.

It's an old saying but it could be true for John Terry. His nightclub fracas almost certainly cost him a trip to Japan for the World Cup with England, but it seems to have been the wakeup call this talented young man required.

Gianfranco Zola has become his mentor. Terry has practically given up drink and his ambition these days is to lead Chelsea and England rather than get into a pub brawl.

Whether he will accomplish his goals remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: here's a young man who is sorting himself out before it's too late.

I can think of a few dozen other Premiership players who should follow his example.

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