The Grimsby Town FC

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The Price Of Survival!

By: Bill Osborne
Date: 10/04/2002

THERE has been a great deal of anguish suffered by clubs and supporters alike over the ITV Digital company's inability to fulfil its commitments to the Football League clubs. None more so than Grimsby Town who, according to media reports, are in a critical situation.

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But are we? Certainly there will be a great number of clubs who will not survive the fallout from the ITV Digital fallout. But Grimsby Town, says chairman Peter Furneaux, will not be among them.

For over a year now, Mr Furneaux has been driving home the fact that the club cannot survive forever with the limited gate receipts we get which are the lowest in the first division.

Despite that, the club has survived another season albeit carrying a loss of £2,467,086 from last season and the chairman had forecast a break-even figure for this year. It remains to be seen if that is now a possibility, but it must now be in doubt.

But steps were taken to prevent Grimsby Town from falling into the financial trap created by the promise of TV income.

From the outset, the chairman made it clear that the club would be run on its income without massive loans, excessive overdrafts, and more important, gambling with TV money in advance, which is the major cause of other clubs' financial problems in the ITV Digital fallout.

He has stood firm against any proposal that would increase the pressure on the club's finances and, despite catcalls and criticisms, such as in the Broomes affair, he has stood his ground.

Supported by his fellow board members, he committed the club to financial prudence and initiated a cost cutting programme in all areas to maintain that promise. A programme of cuts that will continue even more fiercely next season as the club's plans must have been based on receiving the next TV payment. They may get something from ITV Digital. If they do, it may be a lot less than was expected and, if that is the case, there will need to be even more stringent control of the finances.

Fortunately, the club is prepared for that to some degree. The policy of signing contracts with players that would take them no further than the end of the TV contract may help. Although that may seem to have no relevance now, it at least give the club some room to move with contracts coming up for renewal in a relatively short time.

The major problem to be faced is that even if there is a settlement of the TV dispute, it could be some time before clubs know exactly how much and when, which may stall the long term development plan particularly in regard to the squad. But as nearly all other clubs will be facing the same problem, Town will not be greatly disadvantaged.

".…If players are lost because no contract is presently on the table, so be it…."

Despite all this, there are still calls from sections of the fans for the club to start signing new contracts with people like Ford, Boulding and others who are out of contract at the end of the season on the grounds that "someone else might sign them."

That is the one risk the club cannot take. Although talks have been going on with a number of players, no firm commitments have yet been made and it seems that the talks so far have been to "sound out" the players with regard to their future plans. But, if players are lost because no contract is presently on the table, so be it.

Making commitments before the club knows which division it will be in next season and, without having some indication of the outcome of the TV issue, would be a major gamble and so far the club have quite rightly refused to do that.

It is not clear yet what effect the TV crisis will have on player's wages. If the current speculation proves to be right, players will not be able to demand the same high levels of pay they presently enjoy. The ITV Digital affair has highlighted how close to the wind some clubs are sailing and the greatest expenditure in every club is salaries and wages.

Those who have the wisdom to address this issue may survive. For others it is already too late and any settlement to the TV dispute less than the full amount and on the due date, will see a number of clubs driven into administration.

But the Mariners will survive. The effects however will still be felt and severely so. Things will have to change and whatever the board's plans are, only one thing can be certain at this stage. Savage cost cutting in some areas and price rises in others.

A complete restructuring of the squad must be seen as a priority and the retained list for next season will no doubt be drastically trimmed. This may also flow through to the Youth Development Programme.

An increase in ticket prices must be on the cards. Grimsby Town's position as one of the cheapest grounds to attend will probably change.

But if Grimsby wants a football club then, as in all spheres of life, the policy of user pays should prevail. There can be no doubt that the club cannot go on forever, bemoaning the lack of support. The income has to be derived from somewhere and on the current gate receipts, it is insufficient to support the aims of the club and the wishes of the supporters. The directors' financial support this season and their commitments for next have enabled the club to do more than was originally expected. But they cannot go on forever keeping the club afloat.

We may not like it, but the current policy of austerity is the correct one and we may have to bite the bullet a great deal harder if Grimsby Town is to survive and, under the present circumstances, that is not too high a price to pay to be one of the survivors.

Or is it?

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