Sunday, 28 March 2010

The administration phenomenon – does the FA care about the future of the game it should be protecting?

Portsmouth’s recent descent into administration shocked fans throughout the country, who laboured under the delusion that the creation of the Premier League had meant that financial difficulties were a thing of the past. Few supporters would deny that from its inception the Premier League was a money-spinning experiment that has since been deeply successful, at least in a financial sense. However for those such as myself that believe the creation of the Premier League signalled the death knell for the divisions left in its wake, Pompey’s recent suffering is particularly sad. As a relative newcomer to the Premier League party, Portsmouth have fallen victim to grave mismanagement and the utter lack of concern demonstrated by those in charge of the top league in English football for any difficulties suffered by the teams within it. In many ways one shouldn’t feel sorry for Portsmouth Football Club; after all it has received tens of millions of pounds in transfer fees, reached an FA Cup final a few years ago, spent recklessly on wages, and afforded lavish bonuses to directors and ostentatious dividends to shareholders. It is by no means a well-run club suffering from a problem it is incapable of resolving, and whilst this doesn’t mean people shouldn’t care, particularly about the unfortunate redundancies inflicted upon members of staff, there are many more clubs throughout the Football League worthy of your attention. A total of 53 football league clubs have entered administration since 1992, a highly shameful and regrettable statistic for the Football Association and fans of the game alike. Whilst many news outlets have spent their time focusing on the financial situations at Manchester United and Liverpool, clubs such as Southend have been comparatively ignored.

Now forgive me for having to ask this, as the answer is rather obvious, but are Southend Football Club less worthy of our attention and the assistance of the governing body of this great game of ours? No, of course they are not. Southend’s debts amount to a mere £411,000, a mere drop in the ocean compared to those of the aforementioned Premier League giants, but with the club having been afforded just 35 days to pay said debts back on March 10th, there is a significant possibility that given Southend's precarious position in League One, they may still face a winding up order. Of course there would not be hundreds of millions of fans crying in the Far East or Africa if the Essex side were to fold, as there would undoubtedly be if the same fate were to befall United, but Southend is a club that matters to its own local community. It seems the FA has lost its way somewhat, as beneath the glamour and untold riches of the Premier League lies a whole host of clubs with their own histories that may not interest the powers that be, but are of unparalled importance to the fans who have can remember every goal in the 1967 cup run, or haven't missed an away game in twenty years. If clubs like Southend were to disappear with any regularity, it would be reasonable to say that the heart and soul of football in this country will be gone forever, to be replaced by a closed Premier League, with no relegation or promotion, and a host of sides simply putting on a show for a television audience, with Sky Sports the hosts. What a grim future that would be.

Even clubs such as Cardiff City, who let us not forget, were FA Cup finalists in 2006, on the same day that Southend were given their 35-day deadline were handed one of their own, this time a grand total of 44 days to pay back £1.9 million. Now with Peter Ridsdale in charge I’m sure few of a footballing persuasion would have expected any different, and given the Welsh FA’s willingness to bail out its most prized asset, perhaps they are not worthy of an inordinate amount of sympathy. However Cardiff are another club that may have to secure Premier League football merely in order to continue operating, a sorry state of affairs I'm sure most would agree. For many clubs in the Championship and even in League One, the Premier League has essentially become a life-raft, where those that are drowning can cling on and achieve financial stabilisation. Recent newcomers to the Premier League Burnley were able to finance additional improvements to their Turf Moor ground through their slice of the television money pie, whilst many have been able to see their debts all but disappear following just one season in the top flight. Now forgive me once again for stating the obvious, but would it not be a far more equitable and effective system for the money accumulated by the top division of English football to be filtered down the leagues? Then perhaps all clubs could ‘get away’ with a little financial mismanagement, instead of merely the richest ones, and administration really could become a thing of the past. However that would require the biggest overhaul of the sport since the creation of the Premier League in 1992, and unfortunately once you’ve got a bit of money, you don’t tend to be disposed to hand it back.

I end this sorry tale of financial agony, an uninterested FA and the curse of television revenues with undoubtedly the saddest story of all. Chester City, a club with a 126-year history, found itself wound up as the gates to its former home, the Deva stadium, were locked for the final time. I cannot honestly say that I’ve ever looked out for Chester City’s results, I’ve certainly never been to the stadium, and it will not change my life in any way now that the club has ceased to exist. However Chester City’s demise must still be considered as a loss for football itself. As an FA spokesperson stated upon hearing the news, “the winding-up of any club is a loss to the game and in particular to the supporters of that club”, thereby proving itself as an organisation to be more adept with words than tangible actions, Chester City’s fall from grace should be seen as a stopping point. The moment at which fans wake up and say ‘no more’, no longer will I idly stand by watching Arsenal on Sky Sports whilst clubs up and down the country are struggling to survive. Perhaps the only way to make the powers that be take interest is to go down to your local club, cancel your subscription to everybody’s favourite premium sports channel, and put something back into the game from which everybody seems to be willing to take so much. My club Queens Park Rangers were weeks from going out of business, and everything may be financially rosy now, but I remember the days of buckets outside the ground as do most fans, and as such we should all treat the winding up of any other league club as the end of our own. Perhaps if the decision-makers at the FA and the Premier League did the same, we could have our game back as the fair, just, equal enterprise it started out to be.

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