The state of English football’s finances should terrify us all…
February 14, 2010
Apologies in advance, I feel a rant coming on as my nerves have been jangling for weeks now over the future of Notts County, and the facade of the Munto Finance era. Fortunately, it looks like the club has been rescued after Ray Trew’s investment, although our grand plan has to be culled.
Whilst some of us feel disappointed, angry or just plain broken-hearted over the whole affair, most of us are at least relieved that the club will live on. But Notts are by no way unique in their plight, and it is only a matter of time before one of the 92 clubs is officially wound up. But just how has it got so bad?
Well, the birth of the Premier League brought about a new era, with a bold ambition of becoming the ‘greatest league in the world’. Some would argue the aim was achieved (coincidentally, I wouldn’t. La Liga all day for me, but I can see the merits of both arguments) but at what price? The Premier League was to have more television coverage than ever before, more cameras, and ultimately, more money. And with it, the game officially moved from a sport into a business.
Now I’ve argued with people for years that football is more than a business. Indeed, I truly believe in the romance of the game. The idea that a tiny club can climb the leagues and survive with the big boys, or maybe sneak a cup win here or there, that fans of every club will one day have their day in the sun. Fortunately, there are some that agree with me. Others call me naïve or an idealist at best, or something I’ll not publish in a family friendly blog at worst.
I’ve had rants before about football ‘no longer being the game of the people’. Ticket prices in this country are getting to the point where they are simply disgusting, but that’s true in most sports. Indeed, I was quoted £120 for a Six Nations ticket recently, so it isn’t football alone. But now, the clubs themselves are truly suffering, and the recent court cases truly illustrate that.
Now the big issue here is that clubs are riddled with debt. Indeed, Manchester United, the biggest club on Earth, have a total debt of £716m. This is quite simply because when the Glazers bought United, they were able to buy them with borrowed money, which was financed against the club. As a result, the most profitable club of them all is hemorrhaging money. It is little wonder that United fans are so unhappy.
And then there is Liverpool. A club like United, purchased by American owners. Greedy American owners, at that. Another great institution of the English game, saddled with horrendous debt. Clubs like these though will never go under because there will always be somebody who wants to own them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case with the less fashionable clubs.
Indeed, as well as Notts, Portsmouth, Southend and Cardiff are all finding themselves going through her majesty’s courts at the moment, and Crystal Palace may find themselves heading that way in the not-too-distant future. Now I hope that these clubs are rescued, I really do, as the last thing I want is for any club to go out of business. But we need to stand back and look at the game, and take off the rose-tinted specs Sky have so kindly given us.
I know this next sentence will get pelters but I really don’t care, so here goes. Platini is right. There, I said it. (Although if Platini was consistent then I think all of us would have more respect for him. What about Real Madrid’s debt, for example? But that’s for another time, let’s worry about English football for now.) I would actually support sanctions against clubs who spend too much of their annual turnover. Platini has suggested an idea that clubs should be banned from European football if they overspend. It is certainly worth considering if applied consistently.
I’d also suggest that the Football League and Premier League work together to drive debts down. It is fair to say that now the only way clubs can succeed is if they have a ‘sugar daddy’, especially if you think about small clubs. Gone are the days when clubs could work their way up the leagues on footballing ability alone. And this in itself is sad.
Indeed, we have managers in today’s game who would rather finish 3rd or 4th than win the FA Cup. I find this preposterous, but it is of course the entry into the Champions League and all it’s riches. But the ownership here has to be questioned. The Football League, Premier League and the FA need to ask potential owners what their intentions are when they come into the game. Are they there to make money (the Glazers) or do they wish to stabilise clubs and win trophies? Owners who come in with the intention of making cash, and without any real interest in the game should not be able to buy football clubs. Indeed, had there been a better ownership system, Manchester United would never have been bought. I do like to contrast United and Liverpool with Aston Villa, who have a fabulous owner. But I digress.
In summary, this ultra-capitalist era of English football will undoubtedly have casualties, but the powers-that-be need to act to minimise these casualties. It is time for a change in ethos, a time to ensure the future of the game, and a time for football to become a sport again, and not solely a cash-cow. In the process, they might attract the working man back to the ground, and stop the steady switch of the man in the street to becoming an ‘egg chaser’.
I never want to see my club in court again. I’m sure fans of Pompey, Cardiff, Southend and Palace feel the same way. We need action to ensure that’s the case.
As always, I’d appreciate your feedback.