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MERSON: “If I’m being honest I don’t think that the non-league game as a whole gets enough backing both financially and logistically.”

The Bootiful game caught up with former England, Arsenal, Middlesborough and Aston Villa (amongst others) star, Paul Merson who was in the region recently for a function. Merse’ as he is commonly known is now better known to us as one of Sky Sports leading football pundits as well as for being open and up front about his views, writes Gary Langley.

He has managed in the lower leagues and has a wealth of non-league knowledge with his son Sam having featured strongly in non-league for the likes of St Albans City. Paul enjoys his visits to the region and we caught up with him to talk football and in particular non-league. So to start, what does he think of the current state of the non-league game at present?

“If I’m being honest I don’t think that the non-league game as a whole gets enough backing both financially and logistically. When you look at how much money is around the Premier League at the moment, I can’t see why more money doesn’t filter down into the grassroots game.

“I also feel that a rule change is needed in the FA Cup, for example if a non-league club makes it through to say the third round of the FA Cup, with all due respect the don’t want to be going to a team in say the bottom six of League One, there’s no value in that. It should be seeded so that at that stage they can face one of the stronger or higher profile sides, say a Man United or an Arsenal so they can make some money from the experience, money that would keep them going for a few years.

“Simple things like that need to be sorted out, it’s hard otherwise especially for Chairmen of non-league clubs who put their money in, there’s not a huge amount to be made and it’s their own money more often than not. They do it for the love of the game and the love of their club or Town.

“Out-with that you could perhaps levy a 0.00001 charge on transfer fees to help grassroots but I’m not sure how practical or even legal that may be. The Jamie Vardy situation has opened things right up now, clubs and scouts have a lot more faith in non-league football and in return players know that they are on a stage where they can be spotted if they have something about them. I don’t think scouts can overlook the fact that there could be another Jamie Vardy knocking around and if someone else spots him there could be repercussions and undoubtably there are more out there.

“There have been players make the breakthrough before now, don’t get me wrong, you can look at Ian Wright and Gary Pallister to name a couple but also the likes of Geoff Horsfield of Halifax who had a great couple of spells at the likes of Birmingham and Fulham. The game is global now and there is such a demand for regular football. When I was playing, You could play, once, maybe twice a week if there was a live game on the television but now there is a game on somewhere every day of the week, to cope with that demand squads are a lot bigger and clubs need to fill them with quality players.

How do you think you would fair in the current non-league set-up?

“I played non-league football – I played one game for Tamworth in the Conference! It was probably the hardest game I had ever played in! I was the wrong side of 35 and was coming to an end but everyone is trying to prove themselves, the tempo is so fast they want to do well and get out of that league an let’s be honest, earn big money. In that game we played against Halifax and I barely got a kick, I got kicked but not ‘a kick’ as such.

“In my opinion the Premier League is easier to play in than non-league, it’s a lot harder the further down the leagues you go. You get a lot more time on the ball at the higher level of the game but as a result now, you get kids who haven’t quite made it through the academies at say, Arsenal, Liverpool or Man City and they are suddenly having to try their luck lower down the leagues where you get less time on the ball than you are used to and they have to play harder, quicker, more savvy if you will and that’s when you can see players thinking, ‘ahh I’ve had enough of this’ and they drop out of the game.

Paul, you’re here at this event to talk about your career, still huge interest about in your time in the game. You must get asked a lot but what are your career highlights would you say?

“You have to say playing for England, playing in a World Cup and Scoring at Wembley for England. They are all pinnacles and it’s what every player dreams of doing and I was lucky enough to do that. At Club level, winning the league, doesn’t get any better than that. There is a culture about that says football didn’t exist before the Premier League but if you look at the likes of my Sky Sports Colleague, Tony Cottee, he has an incredible scoring record he isn’t a million miles away from Alan Shearer in total but because of the change of name mid-way through his career he doesn’t attract the same amount of recognition as perhaps he would have done if he had his breakthrough a few years later.

On the flip side, what do you regret…….

“I don’t really regret anything? I had a great time in football, I had won everything in the game bar the European Cup and played in a lot of games. Thank god, I touched lucky on injuries, I never had a bad injury, nah I wouldn’t change anything – bar Walsall.

“I would say to any non-league player, ‘work hard and every game that you go out be it in front of twenty or twenty thousand, play the absolute best you can, because you never know, that scout might be watching you. It’s not a cliché either, as I mentioned earlier, these scouts are out there, they have to be given the talent that’s floating around.

There maybe someone who is not yet a scout but if you make an impression and that person remembers you then there you go. The rewards in the game are so great these days, you have to believe your chance will come, if it doesn’t you still know that you played well when you got the chance.

On that subject of the rewards in the game, what do you make of the money floating around in the game? There are talk of caps and of course there is the Chinese factor at the moment, clubs there trying to seriously attract players like Ronaldo, Neymar, Costa for example?

“Yes, there is a lot of money about in the game but it is now a global product, you talk about the likes of Ronaldo and co going out to the likes of China for the big money, but why would you want to? Ok money is great but you can stay at one of the world’s biggest clubs, play in front of 80-90 thousand every week and win trophies and be adored by the crowd.

“I believe the money should be capped for the young players, for younger players at the top level it can come to easy, especially for players not getting playing time. They get paid whether they play or not and it doesn’t sit well with me. I would, let us say for example a player has a £45k a week contract, you get £15k for turning up with your massive headphones on, £15k if you play and £15k if you score, encourage them to aim for something and live up to their potential, make them want it.

“If they’re just sitting on the bench, paid full pelt whatever happens they just tend to fizzle away, they just don’t work hard as they feel as if they’ve made it and the focus goes off the actual football, that’s the mindset these days.

We are just back after a reasonable break in the summer (written in September 2017), what does a top game commentator/pundit/journalist do over the summer months?
“Months? More like weeks! I had a reasonable summer I went away and tried to get fit as I was taking part in the Super Sixes Tournament at the O2 alongside Steven Gerrard who is one of my favorite players to be honest, we didn’t do too bad either. I’ve been working out, trying a new diet and just getting ready for the new season.

Working for Sky is a great job, I love doing it, I consider myself to be very fortunate to be able to do it.

“I haven’t done a hard day at work in my life, I played football and loved it and now I get to watch and commentate on the game which is an honour as the game is so well marketed and watched these days. I get asked whether I would go back into management, whilst I would never say never I’m enjoying my current role too much. I love doing the Fantasy Football on a Friday night and then on a Saturday I can do the Soccer Saturday with the lads and it is basically a group of mates who have played the game, giving an insight into the sport and having a laugh in the process.

A big thank you to Paul Merson for talking to the Bootiful Game
The Bootiful game caught up with former England, Arsenal, Middlesborough and Aston Villa (amongst others) star, Paul Merson who was in the region recently for a function. Merse’ as he is commonly known is now better known to us as one of Sky Sports leading football pundits as well as for being open and up front about his views.
He has managed in the lower leagues and has a wealth of non-league knowledge with his son Sam having featured strongly in non-league for the likes of St Albans City. Paul enjoys his visits to the region and we caught up with him to talk football and in particular non-league. So to start, what does he think of the current state of the non-league game at present?
“If I’m being honest I don’t think that the non-league game as a whole gets enough backing both financially and logistically. When you look at how much money is around the Premier League at the moment, I can’t see why more money doesn’t filter down into the grassroots game.
“I also feel that a rule change is needed in the FA Cup, for example if a non-league club makes it through to say the third round of the FA Cup, with all due respect the don’t want to be going to a team in say the bottom six of League One, there’s no value in that. It should be seeded so that at that stage they can face one of the stronger or higher profile sides, say a Man United or an Arsenal so they can make some money from the experience, money that would keep them going for a few years.
“Simple things like that need to be sorted out, it’s hard otherwise especially for Chairmen of non-league clubs who put their money in, there’s not a huge amount to be made and it’s their own money more often than not. They do it for the love of the game and the love of their club or Town.
“Out-with that you could perhaps levy a 0.00001 charge on transfer fees to help grassroots but I’m not sure how practical or even legal that may be. The Jamie Vardy situation has opened things right up now, clubs and scouts have a lot more faith in non-league football and in return players know that they are on a stage where they can be spotted if they have something about them. I don’t think scouts can overlook the fact that there could be another Jamie Vardy knocking around and if someone else spots him there could be repercussions and undoubtably there are more out there.
“There have been players make the breakthrough before now, don’t get me wrong, you can look at Ian Wright and Gary Pallister to name a couple but also the likes of Geoff Horsfield of Halifax who had a great couple of spells at the likes of Birmingham and Fulham. The game is global now and there is such a demand for regular football. When I was playing, You could play, once, maybe twice a week if there was a live game on the television but now there is a game on somewhere every day of the week, to cope with that demand squads are a lot bigger and clubs need to fill them with quality players.
How do you think you would fair in the current non-league set-up?
“I played non-league football – I played one game for Tamworth in the Conference! It was probably the hardest game I had ever played in! I was the wrong side of 35 and was coming to an end but everyone is trying to prove themselves, the tempo is so fast they want to do well and get out of that league an let’s be honest, earn big money. In that game we played against Halifax and I barely got a kick, I got kicked but not ‘a kick’ as such.
“In my opinion the Premier League is easier to play in than non-league, it’s a lot harder the further down the leagues you go. You get a lot more time on the ball at the higher level of the game but as a result now, you get kids who haven’t quite made it through the academies at say, Arsenal, Liverpool or Man City and they are suddenly having to try their luck lower down the leagues where you get less time on the ball than you are used to and they have to play harder, quicker, more savvy if you will and that’s when you can see players thinking, ‘ahh I’ve had enough of this’ and they drop out of the game.
Paul, you’re here at this event to talk about your career, still huge interest about in your time in the game. You must get asked a lot but what are your career highlights would you say?
“You have to say playing for England, playing in a World Cup and Scoring at Wembley for England. They are all pinnacles and it’s what every player dreams of doing and I was lucky enough to do that. At Club level, winning the league, doesn’t get any better than that. There is a culture about that says football didn’t exist before the Premier League but if you look at the likes of my Sky Sports Colleague, Tony Cottee, he has an incredible scoring record he isn’t a million miles away from Alan Shearer in total but because of the change of name mid-way through his career he doesn’t attract the same amount of recognition as perhaps he would have done if he had his breakthrough a few years later.
On the flip side, what do you regret…….
“I don’t really regret anything? I had a great time in football, I had won everything in the game bar the European Cup and played in a lot of games. Thank god, I touched lucky on injuries, I never had a bad injury, nah I wouldn’t change anything – bar Walsall.
“I would say to any non-league player, ‘work hard and every game that you go out be it in front of twenty or twenty thousand, play the absolute best you can, because you never know, that scout might be watching you. It’s not a cliché either, as I mentioned earlier, these scouts are out there, they have to be given the talent that’s floating around. There maybe someone who is not yet a scout but if you make an impression and that person remembers you then there you go. The rewards in the game are so great these days, you have to believe your chance will come, if it doesn’t you still know that you played well when you got the chance.
On that subject of the rewards in the game, what do you make of the money floating around in the game? There are talk of caps and of course there is the Chinese factor at the moment, clubs there trying to seriously attract players like Ronaldo, Neymar, Costa for example?
“Yes, there is a lot of money about in the game but it is now a global product, you talk about the likes of Ronaldo and co going out to the likes of China for the big money, but why would you want to? Ok money is great but you can stay at one of the world’s biggest clubs, play in front of 80-90 thousand every week and win trophies and be adored by the crowd.
“I believe the money should be capped for the young players, for younger players at the top level it can come to easy, especially for players not getting playing time. They get paid whether they play or not and it doesn’t sit well with me. I would, let us say for example a player has a £45k a week contract, you get £15k for turning up with your massive headphones on, £15k if you play and £15k if you score, encourage them to aim for something and live up to their potential, make them want it.
“If they’re just sitting on the bench, paid full pelt whatever happens they just tend to fizzle away, they just don’t work hard as they feel as if they’ve made it and the focus goes off the actual football, that’s the mindset these days.
We are just back after a reasonable break in the summer, what does a top game commentator/pundit/journalist do over the summer months?
“Months? More like weeks! I had a reasonable summer I went away and tried to get fit as I was taking part in the Super Sixes Tournament at the O2 alongside Steven Gerrard who is one of my favorite players to be honest, we didn’t do too bad either. I’ve been working out, trying a new diet and just getting ready for the new season. Working for Sky is a great job, I love doing it, I consider myself to be very fortunate to be able to do it.
“I haven’t done a hard day at work in my life, I played football and loved it and now I get to watch and commentate on the game which is an honour as the game is so well marketed and watched these days. I get asked whether I would go back into management, whilst I would never say never I’m enjoying my current role too much. I love doing the Fantasy Football on a Friday night and then on a Saturday I can do the Soccer Saturday with the lads and it is basically a group of mates who have played the game, giving an insight into the sport and having a laugh in the process.
A big thank you to Paul Merson for talking to the Bootiful Game

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