Time for football to look after its own

BURY’s recent expulsion from the Football League was a reminder that the overall state of English football is not as resilient as top Premier League income streams would have you believe.

The reality is that many clubs still live hand-to-mouth and revenues at the lower end of the 92-club structure are merely a fraction of what the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool enjoy.

Mismanagement is one thing and clubs need to do more due diligence on who they get to run their clubs, but why should any new owner continue to plough money into a lost cause? That’s not to say that benefactors who promise the earth shouldn’t try to fulfil the claim they made when taking over a club, but if the financial situation is dire and basically a case of burning money, then common sense and business ethics would tell you not to pour more cash down the hole.

Football fans expect owners to fund their hobby, often with no questions asked, and it has long been a cause for concern that seemingly successful business people who have made their fortune elsewhere then adopt a reckless approach to running a football club. Why should anyone merely maintain the status quo – that of poor financial practices – just to keep a couple of thousand people happy, whose claim to “ownership” is the fact they have turned up week-in, week-out to watch the team?

Hard decisions have to be made and as we all know, “austerity” is generally unpopular with the masses. Yet poor judgement, living beyond their means and careless fiscal policies can send a football club into oblivion. For too long, though, fans look upon a football club as some form of vocational institution and expect the people who prop it up to do likewise. If banks and other corporations didn’t fear the fall-out and negative PR that sending a club to the wall would bring, more clubs would have gone bust over the past 70 years.

Fans complain about the clubs that have received inflated investment, such as the Chelsea’s, Manchester Citys and Paris Saint-Germain’s of this world, but if a wealthy chap with money drives through the stadium gates promising untold riches, they invariably embrace the prospect of joining the elite.

Sugar Daddies (or Mummies) are bad, unless they’re at our club, that’s often the message. How often do you hear that the fans are calling for a new investor, somebody who will provide the cash to buy new players to make the club more competitive? It’s the same in non-league football, where reckless, attention-grabbing behaviour hits the headlines, but makes a club something of a laughing stock.

When bubbles burst, and they mostly do for high-spending can only go on for so long, clubs find they have to pick up the pieces. Too many people look the other way when there’s a car crash and a departed owner is blamed for everything. Very few people appear to be accountable when the extractor fan gets hit.

However, some clubs get into difficulties because of misfortune, lack of public support, ownership problems affected by macro-economics and declining sponsorship. Even a string of postponements can impact the cash flow of a club and make life very uncomfortable for players and staff, who are the real people affected by their employer disappearing. Football, overall, has no shortage of cash, in fact the top clubs are even making a profit these days, something that was almost unheard of 20 years ago.

If it is everyone’s interest to look after football’s eco-system, then why not use football’s wealth to protect the structure? In other words, create an insurance system that clubs contribute to in order to assist clubs who have temporary problems? Not unlike the national pension protection scheme?

Of course, such a scheme should not be a crutch for foolish behaviour or poor ownership and should not amount to a “bail-out”, but short-term assistance to enable a club to overcome existential setbacks. When you consider that a club from League Two may only have a turnover of less than £ 5 million and compare that to the income of Manchester United, there is surely scope for the big clubs to lend a hand?

Such a scheme would be difficult to put in place, there is a culture of the survival of the fittest in football and it is remarkable how little support clubs give each other. There are some that undoubtedly do their best to help, but the game still has too much schadenfreude when another club gets into problems. It should be remembered that football is a fragile game and for many clubs, it is money-in, money-out giving little scope for error. With that in mind, when Bury tipped into trouble, the now out-dated expression, “there but for the grace of God go I” should have been recalled. After all, how many Burys are still out there?


Photo: PA

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