ON Wednesday, two events happened within a couple of hours of each other. First, the Premier League issued a statement urging the Government to rethink its decision to prevent supporters from returning to top-flight football stadia, potentially for the next six months, warning of the dire economic consequences of such a move.

“Our national game is losing more than £100m per month,” said the statement. “This is starting to have a devastating impact on clubs and their communities.”

Then, before the ink on the Premier League’s comments was dry, Wolves confirmed they had completed the signing of full-back Nelson Semedo from Barcelona for an initial fee of £27.4m that could eventually rise as high as £36.5m with add-ons. One rule for one, a completely different set of circumstances for another.

Nobody is in any doubt that football clubs right across the country are on the brink of financial collapse as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. From teams in Leagues One and Two who are terrified of having to play out the vast majority of this season without any income from paying spectators to clubs at the lower end of the non-league pyramid who are not even sure if they can afford to open their ground this weekend, football is in a perilous position.

Yet, at the very top of the game, things continue if not as normal, then as close to ‘business as usual’ as it is possible to envisage given the current restrictions. Despite being in the grip of a global pandemic, Chelsea still spent more than £200m on new signings this summer. Tottenham still found the sums needed to re-sign Gareth Bale, who was reportedly earning more than £600,000-a-week at Real Madrid. Closer to home, while Newcastle United fans might bemoan Mike Ashley’s reluctance to invest in the club, the Magpies still stumped up £20m to sign Callum Wilson from Bournemouth.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, the National League, whose three divisions are home to the likes of Hartlepool United, Darlington and Spennymoor Town, says it needs £20m to ensure its clubs will be able to survive the season.

As an industry, football has called on the Government to help, but for all that football clubs play a hugely important role in the social fabric of this country, carrying out a range of functions from forging community cohesion to providing youngsters and adults with educational, social and sporting opportunities, and even accounting for the vast number of jobs that are reliant on the footballing sector, it is impossible to make a case for a Government bail-out while Premier League clubs are routinely spending sums on new players that could prop up the entire football pyramid.

A whole host of business sectors are beating down the Government’s door in an attempt to secure financial support, and while it would be wrong to portray football as a mere frivolity unworthy of assistance, the harsh reality is that the sport should take up a position close to the back of the queue. If the Government is to provide money to sports clubs and organisations in the next few months, it should go to the grassroots community groups and minority sports that are genuinely penniless and on the brink of extinction.

Football’s sums do not add up, but that is not to say that the money is not there. The sport has simply manouvered itself into a position where the way in which its funds are distributed is unsustainably skewed towards a handful of super-clubs at the very top end, and where a ridiculous proportion of income at all levels is ushered out of the game via payments on transfers and wages rather than reinvested into the grassroots. Football has made that choice; sadly, it now has to live with it.

The Premier League’s argument, as espoused somewhat clumsily by Burnley manager Sean Dyche in the last few days, is that the biggest clubs generate the most money via their global exposure and commercial reach, and therefore have every right to spend their income as they see fit. It is survival of the fittest, or as Dyche put it, “Should every hedge fund manager that is incredibly successful have to filter that down to the hedge fund managers that are not so successful?”

Such comments might appeal to advocates of market economics, but they fundamentally ignore the intricacies of how the football ecosystem works. The Premier League might think it is the be all and end all of the English game, but it does not exist in a vacuum. The levels below it are integral to its success and survival.

For all the changes to the top-flight academy system in recent years, lower-league and non-league clubs remain English football’s breeding ground, whether through the identification and nurturing of young talent or as the crucible for a young player’s development through the loan system.

Manchester United might be one of the biggest clubs in the world, but this week’s debutant goalkeeper, Dean Henderson, still honed his skills via loan spells at Stockport, Grimsby and Shrewsbury. Harry Kane, England and Tottenham captain, played for Leyton Orient and Millwall before breaking through at Spurs. Gareth Southgate’s 23-man England squad at the 2018 World Cup had completed a combined total of 46 loan spells at teams in the Football League.

One of English football’s greatest strengths has always been its depth and geographical spread. Football is the national game because it boasts clubs from the biggest city to the tiniest village, right across the country.

Directly and indirectly, the Premier League benefits from that, so rather than pleading for Government help, English football’s most profitable league should put its hand in its pocket and bail out the clubs beneath it. Fail to show solidarity now, and the effects will be felt forever.