Nobody wants Brentford to disappear from the top flight

BRENTFORD FOOTBALL CLUB have become a neutral’s favourite over the past couple of years and they have also been called one of the best-run clubs in Britain. They have provided an alternative to corporate football, although they do have generous ownership in the form of professional gambler Matthew Benham, who has injected over £ 100 million into the club. Benham, an advocate of Moneyball-style data analysis to build teams and identify talent, also owns Danish side FC Midtjylland.

Brentford, once something of a forgotten little London club, are now seen as progressive, extremely likeable and decent. They have a foppish looking Danish manager, Thomas Frank, who seems to embody the laid-back and approachable style of his compatriots, and they have become rather good at discovering talent and making a decent profit from selling players. On top of that, they have a new stadium that will hopefully ensure the rise of Brentford will continue into the future.

Brentford started the 2021-22 season as the 50th club to play in the Premier League. They opened the campaign with a 2-0 victory against hapless Arsenal and were unbeaten in their first four away games. They enjoyed exciting games against Liverpool (3-3) and West Ham and it all seem to be achieved with a smile on their faces. Since then, their form has evaporated and they’ve lost six in the last seven Premier League games. They could still survive comfortably as there are some very average teams beneath them, but the smiles are not quite as beaming.

Staying in the Premier League is a tough task for any promoted club, but Brentford seemed to have come so far in a relatively short space of time and a life of transition may be catching up on them. Week-in, week-out, they are up against Premier-hardened teams with experience of scrapping away at the foot of the table. It’s a big challenge, just look how teams like Fulham, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich and Watford have fared after coming up.

Let’s not forget, though, the top flight has been graced by the Bees before, completing four seasons before world war two and one afterwards, in 1946-47. The post-war boom saw average crowds of 26,000 at homely and much-loved Griffin (a pub on every corner) Park.

That’s all history now and the gap between the Premier and Championship is widening. Brentford are clearly trying to build something they hope will be sustainable and they moved into the Brentford Community Stadium in September 2020. Avoiding the drop is vital if they are to become part of the establishment and benefit from the substantial financial advantages the Premier and its lucrative broadcasting deal provides. 

The club’s financial statements for 2020-21, their promotion-winning season, have just been released and it is easy to see how the economics of football can be transformed by an extended run in the Premier League. As an example, Fulham when they were promoted in 2018, earned £ 38.3 million but in the Premier (a relegation year), their income totalled £ 137.7 million. Likewise, Norwich’s revenues when they were relegated in 2020 from the top tier were £ 119.4 million, but in 2020-21, they dropped to £ 57 million. Although parachute payments help to cushion the blow of relegation, the sudden change in financial status can be crippling.

Brentford’s turnover in 2020-21 was £ 15.3 million, an increase of 10% but way below what they can generate in the Premier and far lower than most of their Championship rivals. Given their matchday income was next to nothing, this was attributable to media revenue of £ 10.7 million and £ 4.5 million from commercial activity. Brentford made a pre-tax loss of £ 8.5 million, a reasonable deficit given what normally goes on in the Championship, a division renowned for excessive spending as clubs gamble on trying to reach the promised land. Brentford’s wage bill went up from £ 26 million to £ 41 million in 2020-21, but a big slice of that included promotion bonuses. This amounted to a wage-to-income ratio of 270%.

Nevertheless, Brentford have only made a profit once in the past decade and they are very dependent on player trading. In 2020-21, for example, they made £ 44.3 million in profits on outgoing transfers, notably in selling Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa for £ 28 million and Säid Benrahma to West Ham for £ 21.7 million. At the same time, they picked up 24 year-old Ivan Toney from Peterborough for a mere £ 5 million and he had netted 33 goals by the end of the campaign. He has scored six of Brentford’s 26 league goals this season.

Goals have been hard to come by in recent weeks and Brentford’s fortunes have taken a downturn. If other strugglers bolster their ranks in the January transfer window – Newcastle surely will for one – then the Bees might find themselves sucked into a relegation battle. Thomas Frank, who may be under more pressure than he was in August, has just signed a new contract that will keep him at Brentford until 2024-25, so his employer clearly has faith in him.

Nobody really wants to see their Premier League life fizzle-out after one season. If nothing else, we need the likes of Brentford to prove there’s room for all kinds of football institution in the modern game. Otherwise, what are we left with, a dozen top-heavy giants bashing each other around the head with their 24 carat gold maces?

Millwall suffer covid hit, but remain realistic

MILLWALL continued to be unprofitable in 2020-21, recording their biggest ever loss as the affects of the pandemic came to the fore. The Lions lost £ 13.8 million before tax, an increase on 2019-20’s £ 10.9 million deficit. However, because Millwall are generally a well-run club, the losses could have been worse in the circumstances.

Over the past decade, Millwall have accumulated pre-tax losses of £ 78 million, but the past two seasons have accounted for almost £ 25 million, largely due to covid-19. The club continues to make little from transfers and in 2020-21 the profit on player sales was just £ 0.7 million, arguably the lowest in the Championship. In the period between 2011-12 and 2020-21, Millwall spent £ 7.8 million and received £ 9.9 million, according to Transfermarkt. 

The club has tried to bring through young players into the first team, current first team players Danny McNamara and Billy Mitchell have come through the ranks at Millwall. They operate with a relatively small squad compared to most of their rivals and the overall market value of their players is estimated at £ 31.6 million. The squad has cost, in actual terms, less than £ 4 million.

While the club’s income went down by 24.4% to £ 12.5 million – the lowest since they returned to the Championship – the wage bill rose by just under £ 2 million to £ 20.8 million, a jump of 10%. This suggests Millwall’s wage bill is still too high for the amount of income they can generate. Thankfully, the club’s shortfall is covered by American owner John Berylson. Even though the loss for 2020-21 was bad by Millwall’s standards, Berylson commented that a number of clubs are likely to lose £ 20-30 million during the pandemic.

Even allowing for the difficulties of the past two seasons, Millwall’s wage-to-income ratio over the decade has been 110%, but in 2020-21, because of the near total absence of matchday revenues, the ratio soared to 167%. Income over 10 years has increased by 9% compared to a doubling of wages. Millwall were assisted by the league’s support loan, borrowing £ 8.3 million over a three-year period. These loans are in the name of the EFL, but secured against future solidarity payments from the Premier League.  

It’s easy to see where Millwall were hit hardest, their matchday income was just £ 1.4 million versus the £ 4.4 generated in 2019-20. Broadcasting monies were also down by £ 1 million to £ 8.4 million, while commercial revenues totalled £ 2.7 million, on par with the previous year, which was no mean feat in a challenging environment. Fortunately, the club is currently enjoying its best-ever sponsorship deal with Swedish company Huski Chocolate.

Millwall remain one of the most passionate clubs in English football and in normal times, they can call on close to 14,000 people at their home games. At present, retaining their Championship status has to be the priority and their performance this season suggests they should be secure for the 2022-23 season. But in the current climate, Millwall will need to maintain their realistic approach to financial management in order to get through the immediate challenges created by the pandemic.