Andy Holt, the owner of Accrington Stanley, is sitting in his office, his voice shaking with anger and frustration. He says he feels like walking away from the club he has rebuilt because he is so sick of the drip, drip, drip of betrayal that has been visited upon him and Stanley as the greed of the elite drives England's small clubs inexorably towards the wall.
'It's like having the air crushed out of you by a boa constrictor,' he says. 'Every time you breathe in, they squeeze you a little bit tighter. All I want is to run a cracking little club that can exist without going into debt in League One, League Two or the National League. But the harder I try, the more they do to make it impossible.'
The next big squeeze is coming on Tuesday night when Liverpool will field a shadow side for their FA Cup fourth-round replay against Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp and the first team squad of the champions-elect will be in the middle of their winter break and will not interrupt it. The prestige of the FA Cup, already diminished by degrees over the last 20 years, will take another big hit.
Jurgen Klopp has decided to not attend Liverpool's FA Cup replay, and will be fielding kids
Andy Holt, the owner of Accrington Stanley, says the greed of big clubs is like a boa constrictor
Klopp has not caused this crisis for the cup. His action is a symptom of the problems it faces. Not the cause. Tuesday night's masquerade will be just the latest blow in a prolonged bombardment of our most famous football competition.
But for Holt and the supporters of many lower league clubs, the Liverpool manager's refusal to attend the tie has become a cause celebre, a powerful symbol of how the richest clubs in the English game care nothing for the poor of the Football League.
Because even if the magic of the cup has been diminished for many of us, it still works a wonderful sorcery for many lower league clubs. It has the power to regenerate, even to resurrect, with the gate receipts it can generate.
FA Cup and Carabao Cup ties and replays against the big clubs are lifelines for lower league teams. Stanley built a new stand at one end of their Wham Stadium on the proceeds of a League Cup run four years ago. But now the competitions are being undermined and the lifeline is being withdrawn.
Below the Premier League, as Holt pointed out last week, there are more and more signs that our football culture is under threat. The 20 teams in the top division are bloated with television cash but more and more in the lower divisions are in acute distress.
There are signs that lower league football is under threat, with winding up orders and worse
Players' wages are not being paid on time, clubs are facing winding up orders, players are suing clubs to be released from their contracts because they are not being paid, clubs are selling their grounds and leasing them back, Bury have gone out of business, Bolton and Birmingham have been deducted points.
The idea of the 92, the number that has underpinned our professional leagues for so long, is at risk. More than at risk. After Bury's demise this season, there have only been 91 teams in the league. Bury will be replaced next season but more clubs will go the same way. And the more the Premier League turns the screw, the more certain it is that other lower league clubs — clubs at the heart of their communities —will bite the dust.
Last week, Pep Guardiola suggested that, in the interests of player welfare and easing fixture congestion, the Carabao Cup ought to be scrapped. In the next breath, he criticised Manchester City fans for not turning up in greater numbers to watch the club's FA Cup tie against Fulham. Maybe a man of his intellect ought to consider that demeaning competitions is unlikely to improve attendances.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has suggested that the Carabao Cup should be scrapped
There is still some sympathy for the Premier League stance. It seems absurd that when English football finally introduces a winter break, there should be FA Cup replays right in the middle of it. There would be more sympathy for it, though, if clubs did not take their players on long-haul pre-season