A fortnight ago Forbes magazine announced the list of the 25 richest football clubs on the planet. Not surprisingly, the Premiership featured heavily with 9 clubs – almost half the league! – in that list. The Bundesliga was next best with 6 clubs.
At the other extreme, this week the news that, following a 0-0 draw with Chesterfield, Luton Town were relegated out of the Football League. But it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Luton started the season with a massive 30 point deduction imposed by the Football League administration. That they fought through the season and caught up to within 12 points of second bottom is a feat in itself. Based on actual results Luton would be in mid-table, well clear of the relegation threat.
The 30 point penalty was imposed in two stages, ten points for going into administration (for the third time in their recent history) and a further 20 points for failing to obtain a CVA (Creditors Voluntary Agreement), securing at least some funds for the clubs outstanding creditors. Bournemouth and Rotherham also faced points deductions this season for similar reasons, in both cases 17 points. In Rotherham’s case this deduction has cost the club promotion. Controversially for Luton though, the Football League chose to withhold their share of TV money (called the “Golden Share”) unless the club accepted the 20 point deduction and relinquish any right of appeal! So a case of “we will give you your money which you desperately need, but we will virtually ensure you are relegated out of our league”.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Luton, one of the few clubs who have played in every division of the league. They are finding out the hard way that football is no longer a sport, it is a business and there is no room for sentiment. It’s an odd way to deal with things though. When teams start to struggle financially they are heavily punished by authorities thus making them struggle even more. The Football League are obviously trying to force clubs to administer their affairs prudently but clearly, if three clubs in one season are in administration, then the game is in trouble. Businesses fail in all walks of life and football is no different. The Football League as governing body need to find other ways of protecting their members from the threat of failure. Some form of regulation is the way forward, but that regulation needs to be both fair and yet protective. If, for example, clubs attract players by paying wages beyond their means to try and secure success, why should they be protected? On the other hand we know at the start of every season there will be clubs relegated and struggling clubs will find it difficult to attract new fans and sponsorship – they will need assistance from the governing body. Perhaps its time that the league adopted measures such as a salary cap which if nothing else ensures that clubs can’t just buy success – they need to spend within a framework.
When I think of Luton Town, I think back to David Pleat’s famous run of joy at Maine Road after the club avoided relegation in 1983. I think of the Millwall fans riot at Kenilworth Road and I think of the famous “plastic” pitch. Great memories.
The gulf between rich and poor in England, it seems, continues to widen.