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Question of the Week

Should Russell Slade be sacked?

Yes immediately
Give him one more game


The Shame Of Football

By: Bill Osborne
Date: 03/09/2003

NOTTS County have six days to find a backer or go out of business. Barnsley, Oldham and a number of other clubs are on the brink of disaster and this season may see some clubs playing their last games in the football league.

Home > Features > 2003 Features > The Shame Of Football

In looking at the reasons for the financial situation these clubs are in, one may have to look no further than the directors of the club, some of whom have vastly overspent their club's income.

Coupled with that, the unexpected demise of the ITV Digital TV deal brought these clubs to the realisation that not only where they in trouble but could also be in breach of company law which they appear to have flouted previously in their financial dealings.

So some will say that their demise and disappearance from league football is no more than they deserve.

But the people who will suffer the most from their demise will be the fans and supporters. The very people who have paid their dues, mostly in cash, each week as they pass through the turnstiles.

The pity of it all is that these clubs could be saved if all those who are involved in English football were to consider the game as a whole rather than their own selfish interests.

Some would suggest that the richer clubs in the premier league who, in the past, drained the football league of the 'good' players for a pittance before they set their sights on the foreign market have ignored the plight of other clubs even though they acknowledge that the loss of clubs in the league will eventually affect them. Therefore they should pay a levy to a special fund to assist smaller clubs in trouble. But they are not all rich. Some premier league clubs are in financial trouble too, but some of the TV money the premier league get could be siphoned off before it is issued to the clubs.

But the main culprits behind these club failures appear to be both the Football Association and the Football League. Particularly the FA, (the fat cats of football who have more money than Manchester United) It is quite surprising how much money they take off clubs. A levy off each club every time they play, fees for registering players etc plus the lions share of the FA cup income, the what was the Auto Windshields cup etc. All this income plus what they get from the government they pour into their coffers from which they give their executives sky-high salaries and other benefits.

One would expect that these people would be thinking of the Notts Counties' of this world as they sit in the Premier League director's boxes watching the best of football. But no. They are too busy wasting almost 400 million on the new "Wembley" which proves even they could not get their sums right and had to look to the banks to save them.

Not only that, but their governance of football clubs has been so slack that there are no rules in place, no penalties and no comeback for clubs whose financial situation is simply through bad management. Prevention is always better than cure and the writing has been on the wall for many years now. Both the FA and the Football League have had the opportunity to prevent some of these problems occurring but have sat back and done nothing.

In other areas too the FA and League have obstructed some proposed rescue bids. The archaic FA rule that one group or person cannot hold control of more than one club is not only contrary to free trade in Europe, it also prevents wealthier clubs from investing in poorer clubs, thereby preventing them from assisting in this way.

(In regards to that, plans are already being drawn up to challenge this rule before the Euro Commissioners as was the case with the Bosman ruling)

Maybe the Football League, who are always claiming they are poor, should cough up and help them out. It was their negligence that allowed a TV contract to be signed without what one would expect to be standard guarantees. But maybe they were too busy at the time, spending the money before it arrived.

And we could go on, looking to allocate the blame for these failures whereas we should be looking for solutions.

But the sadness of it all is that there is no solution. Nor will there ever be until football stops being so inward looking. It could start by the controlling bodies in football imposing more rigid rules regarding financial control and management of clubs and introducing a system to help impoverished clubs in the meantime.

But I will probably be saying the same thing 10 years from now. I said it years ago before ITV Digital and the Premier League were even thought of. So nothing changes.

Nothing that is, except the creation of Football Trusts.

It is these trusts that in some cases are setting the pace in the administration of clubs and as their numbers grow, so too will their power, giving supporters a real voice in football (rather than some of the toothless pseudo committees the FA use to placate the fans) Some are already questioning the amount of money that clubs put into the FA and the league.

It is a quiet revolution that is taking place. But a revolution it is and it may well be that the future of football will be more secure in their hands than those who have has been in charge in the past.

In the meantime, if Notts County does go to the wall it will be the shame of football and a sad end to a founding member of the football league.

But who really cares?

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