In part 16 of the Richmond Years, how City’s controversial chairman tried to set up a Premiership 2 to include Rangers and Celtic.

THE idea of a Premier League Two, or the Phoenix League as it became known, was to create a buffer between the top flight and Football League.

The upper echelons of the Premiership had recognised the financial difficulties facing relegated clubs. Geoffrey Richmond had calculated a drop in income of £18 million between the two divisions “and that was on the low side.”

No wonder he was championing the proposal of a breakaway league to incorporate the bigger clubs in the First Division as well as bringing in Scottish powerhouses Celtic and Rangers.

“The problem with players’ contracts is that most are drawn up for three or four years,” he said at the time.

“When you go down and the money tap is suddenly turned off, you still have to find the cash to page these Premiership wages.”

In City’s case in 2001, that was continuing to stump up £40,000 per week for Benito Carbone after the Italian failed to draw any bidders following relegation.

Any financial cushion to cover the chasm between the two divisions was well worth exploring in Richmond’s eyes.

Six clubs were represented in the first meeting of the planned Phoenix League – City, Birmingham, Coventry, Manchester City, Sheffield Wednesday and Wolves.

One suggested the membership should be decided on selecting the teams involved but the rest agreed that there had to be promotion and relegation. The public would quickly lose interest in any closed shop.

The idea of inviting the Old Firm appealed to Richmond, who claimed there was tacit support from some quarters in the Football League – something they later strongly denied.

In a league conference in November, Richmond had also warned that ITV Digital would not be able to honour their £315 million, three-year television deal. Others did not believe him.

“I was rounded on for my pessimistic Doomsday views,” he said later. “We’re all doomed but don’t panic – it was like Dad’s Army.”

The meeting held at Notts County’s Meadow Lane that November was a stormy affair.

The secret talks about a Premier League Two had become public knowledge and other clubs were fuming.

One national newspaper ran four pages on the ambitious scheme to bring Rangers and Celtic to England and the effects it would have on competitions both sides of the border.

In Richmond’s words, there was civil war within the Football League, “the Rotherhams, Walsalls and Grimsbys of the world were spitting feathers.”

His argument was that they were up in arms for the wrong reason believing that this breakaway group would just go it alone. He insisted promotion and relegation were always part of the plan.

The Premier League made it clear they condemned the idea. At that point, the Phoenix plan was reduced to ashes.

City’s hopes of bouncing straight back to the promised land had also been flattened. Their fast start to life back in the second tier seemed a lifetime ago as they reached mid-season beneath mid-table.

With Jim Jefferies gone on Christmas Eve, Richmond chose New Year’s Eve to announce Nicky Law as his replacement at the Valley Parade helm.

It was not the big name that some might have hoped for to lift flagging fortunes but Richmond claimed there was support from a “sizeable minority”.

“Nicky was a hungry up-and-coming manager with plenty to prove,” he said.

“His name didn’t roll off the tongue but my choices of manager had rarely been welcomed by the majority. I was used to the cynical response so the reaction to Nicky was a surprise.”

Law’s managerial record at Chesterfield showed what he could achieve against a rocky financial backdrop, handy preparation for what he would encounter in his new job.

At City, he would face financial trials and tribulations on an almost daily basis.

At least there was a new theme tune to accompany home victories. The Clash belted out “I fought the Law and the Law won” as Portsmouth were beaten on his debut in the Valley Parade dug-out.

But the music man would be under-employed. The remaining 18 games of the season produced only five more wins as City limped home in 15th place.

The on-field position was irrelevant. The real battle now was off it.