Ian Ridley: Football is fiddling while the finances go up in smoke

30 January 2010 10:41
A friend of mine let it be known to certain movers and shakers lastsummer that he might be interested in investing in a football club ifthe right opportunity arose. Since then, around a dozen have beaten apath to his door. He is currently resting in a darkened room.

These dozen are quite apart from another 22 that he has heard are up for sale but who have not yet heard about him.

Actually, such is the desire for many owners to get out with theirhealth and sanity while they can, the number of clubs up for sale inPremier, Football League and Conference is probably closer to 100.

The price is usually not a problem. Debt is. Any buyer has to takethat on and, being football, debt oozes out of the woodwork daily, nomatter how due the diligence.

Last week, Britain officially came out of recession. The game hasnot yet, however. Indeed, it is only just feeling the full impact afterignoring it for most of last year.

Pointing to disaster: Storrie and Portsmouth

Leading basket-case Portsmouth is growing ever more ridiculous, withchief executive Peter Storrie saying his position is untenable as he isbeing excluded from transfer talks. Since Pompey are in such a messpartly due to him conducting many such talks, then the new owners,whoever they are, may have a modicum more sense than previous ones.

In fact, it has come to something when Colonel Gaddafi's son, Saadi,is linked with a takeover at Fratton Park and sounds a pretty goodoption.

  More from Ian Ridley - Mail on Sunday Sports Reporter. IAN RIDLEY: Forget Neville and Tevez, cocky Cook is the real villain here23/01/10 Ian Ridley: Steven Gerrard must stick or twist at Liverpool as Rafa Benitez wavers on the brink16/01/10 IAN RIDLEY: After Togo shooting, let players decide if they go to World Cup09/01/10 IAN RIDLEY: Smarten up, Carlo, or risk becoming a fashion victim02/01/10 Ian Ridley: Protect Lionel Messi and he could become greater than Pele and Diego Maradona26/12/09 IAN RIDLEY: Don't blame Wolves manager Mick McCarthy, greedy Premier League are the problem 19/12/09 IAN RIDLEY: Why salary cap would stop Premier League ship from sinking12/12/09 IAN RIDLEY: Don't believe the hype as Fabio Capello's England could still make a mess of it all in South Africa next summer05/12/09 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE Meanwhile, Crystal Palace enter administration, having seen theirhopes of quickly finding a buyer dashed when David Sullivan and DavidGold bought West Ham.

Lower down, King's Lynn, of the Conference North, have gone to thewall because of an unpaid bill to the taxman, while others face similarwinding-up orders.

Chester City, Accrington Stanley, Notts County and Cardiff City are staving them off, or doing staggered payment deals.

And these form just last week's list, as the majority of clubsendure a horrendous January with cash flow hit by postponements, on topof dwindling sponsorship, advertising and merchandise revenue.

Probably talking more about the juggled and alarming economics ofManchester United whose £716 million of debt is 33 per cent more thanthe £544m of the top 36 clubs in Germany combined even the PrimeMinister felt moved last week to warn that some clubs' debts were toohigh.

And while the obvious analogy here is of pot and kettle, he does have a point.

It is futile for the game to urge Gordon Brown simply to call off the dogs of the Revnue and give clubs some breathing space when it comes to tax. Patience might help and football does contribute hugely to public coffers but the Revenue also have a duty to chase up what the state is owed from dilatory payers. If the game rightly resists Government intervention, it cannot expect sympathy and hand-outs. Besides, the banking industry has had it all.

Rather, it is for the game's authorities to act. The Football Association, Premier and Football Leagues, and Conference are doing their finest Nero impression of fiddling while the flames around them grow fiercer.

The Premier League have been curiously quiet on the Pompey case, as have the Football League on all their struggling clubs. It is as if the market is king and whatever it dictates, all are powerless to change it. Where is the debate on salary caps on the fairer distribution of television and gate money as they have in American sport, home of the free market and where are the FA's ideas to help clubs by redistributing Cup money?

What about smaller clubs being fleeced after developing players only for the big clubs to pounce on them for a pittance? What about the haphazard sums being paid to agents, when set fees could apply?

And what about clubs taking responsibility for better management, and the authorities monitoring them and their administrators properly so that the dangerous tactic of borrowing vast sums against future sponsorship deals and season ticket sales is curtailed?

Where is the leadership? The game will go on, as it always does, but in what shape and heading where?


Source: Daily_Mail