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'We wanted to hold the Carabao Cup draw in space': ousted EFL chief reveals failed plans from his reign

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 09/10/2019 Ben Rumsby
Shaun Harvey holding a sign posing for the camera: Shaun Harvey and Carabao CEO James Huang take part in the draw for the Carabao Cup in Beijing - something that took place at 4.15am UK time  - Getty Images Sport © Getty Images Shaun Harvey and Carabao CEO James Huang take part in the draw for the Carabao Cup in Beijing - something that took place at 4.15am UK time  - Getty Images Sport

It is not the things he did but the things he didn’t do that Shaun Harvey regrets most about his time running the English Football League.

Like failing to convince its clubs to back a rule change that might have saved Bury, or being forced to scrap plans to stage the Carabao Cup draw in space.

“Genuinely, we opened up discussions with the International Space Station,” Harvey says in his first interview since being ousted as EFL chief executive.

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But it is not the Carabao Cup – or its comically-shambolic draws – that has convinced Harvey to break his four-month silence at a hotel close to the Preston headquarters of the world’s first football league. It is instead the most serious of the many things he has been vilified for from his six years in charge of the EFL, the expulsion of one of its oldest clubs.

And while he admits “nobody can be completely blameless” for Bury’s “tragic” demise, he wants it to be known he did propose measures to clubs that might just have prevented it. Namely, the EFL being given the power to take control of financially-stricken sides and, if necessary, find them a new owner.

He even went public with the radical plan two years ago before it was debated by the league’s then-72 members as part of what was dubbed an Owners’ Conduct Review. But to no avail.

Shaun Harvey wearing a suit and tie: Harvey was EFL chief for six years Credit: PA © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Harvey was EFL chief for six years Credit: PA Now, he hopes that doing so again in the wake of the Bury scandal will prompt a rethink, claiming clubs “owe it to themselves as a group to look at how they can protect the game”.

“I don’t think anybody would argue that Bury wouldn’t have warranted it,” he says of his plan, which would give the league the right to “step in” when owners like Steve Dale fail to pay wages and bills or provide proof of funds.

But what about stopping the likes of Dale buying an EFL club in the first place, something the league has been castigated for failing to do?

Watch: 'I have a responsibility to Bury' (Sky Sports)

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Harvey admits its much-derided owners’ and directors’ test “can definitely be strengthened” if clubs want but also warns: “The majority of the sales are forced and they need to happen for the long-term survival of that club. And if the eligibility test is too severe, you could actually bring about the finishing of the club – which is the very thing that you’re looking to try to avoid.”

Harvey claims he is unable to discuss decisions taken about Bury while he was still at the EFL – or the launch of a fraud inquiry by police into the club’s demise – and refuses to criticise any made since, including that to expel them three months later. But he does say: “I feel deeply sorry for all those impacted by this, and particularly the fans.”

Whether those fans think his efforts to prevent a Bury from occurring were enough remains to be seen. “People will blame you because they need somebody to blame,” he says. “But the problem at Bury wasn’t created by the league, wasn’t created by the regulations. It was created by a period of overspending and the club not having the money to meet the financial commitments that it made.”

a person holding a sign: Before Bury's tragic demise Harvey wanted the EFL to be given the power to take control of financially-stricken sides Credit: Action Images © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Before Bury's tragic demise Harvey wanted the EFL to be given the power to take control of financially-stricken sides Credit: Action Images

It is not just fans of Bury but those of many other clubs to have faced – or still facing – a similar fate who have found somebody to blame in Harvey. So much so that, on his final day at the EFL, the hashtag #SHAT began trending on Twitter in the UK after someone posted the sarcastically-titled ‘Shaun Harvey Appreciation Thread’.

“I got hammered by supporters for actually doing the job I was paid to do, which was to run the league for the benefit of the clubs,” Harvey says.

Even Steve Gibson branded the Harvey regime “absolutely hopeless”, a barb the latter refuses to rise to – instead hailing the Middlesbrough chairman as one of the league’s best owners.

Watch: Fans 'lost for words' after EFL expulsion (Sky News)

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Which brings us to the other current crisis to have begun on Harvey’s watch: the legal action by Boro over stadium sales by Derby County and others.

Harvey denies a 2016 rule change opening the door to such a practice for the purposes of complying with Financial Fair Play regulations was an “oversight” and says it is for clubs to decide whether they close it again.

But he adds this should be in conjunction with other reforms to improve competitive balance across the professional game and help curb mounting losses by sides. They include slashing parachute payments to relegated clubs and introducing mandatory wage cuts for their players, cuts that could be repaid as a “bonus” to the same players in the event of promotion.

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Harvey also stands by the decision which ultimately cost him his job, the EFL’s signing of a £595 million five-year television deal with Sky Sports that even now threatens a Championship breakaway – one he does not think will happen, despite admitting keeping 72 clubs happy “is an impossible task”.

He believes his short-lived ‘Whole Game Solution’ – the plan to revamp the professional game into five divisions of 20 teams – “didn’t get the opportunity I personally thought it deserved” and that “history” will vindicate the bitterly-divisive admission to the then-Checkatrade Trophy of Premier League youth sides, which he insists is working from a player-development perspective”.

And he says his only regret about taking the Carabao Cup draws overseas was staging one of them at 4.15am UK time.

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“Part of all this was: could we get the draw done in space?” he adds, stressing he is deadly serious about a plan to hold the 2017-18 semi-final draw on the ISS, saying he even mentioned it in his programme notes for that season’s final.

He describes his biggest achievements as boosting the number of home-grown players on team sheets and “making more money for clubs than they’ve ever had centrally before”.

“I’d like to think the league was a better place when I left that when I arrived,” he adds, insisting he is not “bitter” about how his time there ended.

And after what he says has been his first significant break from the game for 26 years, he is ready to return – and with few regrets. “I think [former Crystal Palace owner] Simon Jordan said, ‘You should never regret the things that you did’, he adds. “‘It should always be the things that you didn’t do’.”

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