Just last week the owner of Chesterfield announced he had put in an extra £500,000 just to keep the club going (here) and the Chief Executive has stated the club would need to reach the Championship for the debt to become manageable. This follows on from the eye watering amount of money that Bolton are in debt (here) and whose owner Eddie Davies is prepared to sell. Who would buy such a money draining business, up to its’ eyeballs in debt and with no serious chance of getting back to the cash cow of the Premier League is another question.
Trawling through the clubs of the Football League and it’s hard not to notice just how many clubs are deep in excrement: Birmingham are in a permanent crisis thanks to the ownership of the club, Bolton we’ve mentioned, Blackpool are rooted to the bottom of the Championship after the owners continue to take money out of the club, Cardiff are now at the mercy of a bond villain, the list goes on.
Portsmouth are a club who through mismanagement and profligate spending, squandered their Premier League inheritance to hurtle down the leagues, administration following administration. However, since the Portsmouth Supporters Trust took over the club has now become debt free two years ahead of schedule, has raised enough money to buy its’ own training pitches in the city of Portsmouth after a crowdfunding campaign and work is ongoing to increase the capacity of Fratton Park to 20,000 plus.
On the pitch the club is three points off the playoffs and have every chance of being in the hunt come the seasons end. If they don’t go up this season, with the debts all paid off I am banking on them to go up in 2015/16 and I expect them to have got to the Championship before the end of the decade.
In short, Pompey offer the greatest example of why the fans are the best people to own and run their football club. The message to take from this is that being a Pompey is no bad thing but it does involve hitting the very bottom before climbing back up.
So who is the next Pompey? For this we are not looking at teams who could drop into the Conference and go bust like Hartlepool or Mansfield but big teams who fall far below their level and hit the wall. So I’ve got three prospective Pompeyesque clubs to have a look at.
Blackpool FC made it to the Premier League and the owners completely squandered the vast amount of money gained, as instead of using it to invest in the infrastructure of the club, trousered the money themselves. As the Guardian reported (here), the Oyston family have granted themselves £11.5 million in salaries and £24 million in interest free loans and it seems to have been one appalling example after another on how to run a club this season.
Just eight players on the books ten days before the start of the season, a pre-season tour cancelled and the Director Karl Oyston touting around the Managers job whilst Riga was still in charge, who Oyston has now fired for underperforming.
Just how on earth is a Manager supposed to achieve anything when he doesn’t even have a team together a week before the season? It takes weeks of pre-season training to get a team ready so you can basically write off the first two months of the season right there. Blackpool owner and convicted rapist Owen Oyston had these excuses for the clubs management and you can read them for yourself (here).
I have no problem with clubs running within their means or prudently, that is in fact one of the key benefits of fans owning their own clubs as they act prudently. The difference between this and Blackpool is that profits are reinvested back into the club in terms of building its’ infrastructure or securing assets like a training pitch (ala Portsmouth) and not stuffed into someone’s back pocket.
Blackpool lie bottom of the Championship with six points and are going down with attendances falling fast, so there is every chance they struggle to get back up from League 1 but as the excellent post from Tangerine Theory states: If you want Blackpool to have a bright future, why would you want them to do well on the pitch?
As already stated, being a Portsmouth isn’t a bad thing but for that to happen and the long term recovery to begin some short term damage must be inflicted. That’s why the Blackpool Supporters Trust should ballot its’ members on a boycott of the club and also ask fans not to buy season tickets for next season. Instead of buying season tickets, fans should put this money into a share scheme or trust fund which will only be used to buy a significant stake in the club.
The BST should make it clear that the boycott does not end until the conditions of the Trust (Oyston out, security of the ground to the trust, ring-fenced funds to go to the Manager) are met. No ifs, no buts. It may take the rest of the season and a good chunk of fans not renewing their season tickets in the summer but it would be very likely to work.
Up next is Birmingham, whose decline has been excellently covered by twohundredpercent and on the Birmingham City fan website Often Partisan. The share price of Birmingham International Holding Ltd, which owns Birmingham City football club, has collapsed 65% in one year and the company has a value of just over £20 million pounds unless I have screwed up my maths. Who on earth would ever pay this figure in reality for a failing football club is anyone’s guess and with Carson Yeung jailed for six years in March for money laundering (here), he may not be in a great bargaining position.
The club has seen a decline in attendances of several thousand and are averaging roughly a similar amount of that Pompey were getting when there descent down the leagues began. It is always amazing just how many fans stick by clubs when they are ran like this. Gary Rowett has taken the reigns but arresting the clubs decline will be no easy task and they will struggle until they are free of their current owners.
A meeting was held Tuesday 28th October where Steve McCarthy of the Birmingham City Supporters trust said “We need tangible things that we can protest against, things that don’t damage the Club (but target BIHL)”. Well I don’t think you can seriously make that distinction, the Club is owned by BIHL and therefore BIHL is the club.
So my final club and there are just so many to choose from. I could go for Bolton with their eye watering debts or maybe QPR, whose owner has dropped hints about walking away from the club after seeing the Premier League dream sour. However, we’re going to go for Cardiff City.
It was less than two years ago that Cardiff City had sold their soul by dumping their traditional blue kit and badge to be replaced with the design Vincent Tan would impose. The deal with the devil appeared to have paid off with the club going up to the Premiership as Champions of the 2012/13 Championship.
Until, of course, it didn’t. Cardiff got relegated back into the Football League with only 30 points and seven wins all season. Ole Gunnar Solskjær paid the price for a slow start this campaign and now Russell Slade is tasked with sending Cardiff straight back up.
It does seem a case of do or die for Cardiff, much like QPR last season. This great piece from Wales Online (here) lists the promises that Vincent Tan has failed to fulfil, in terms of turning the eye watering loans he holds against the club (over £100 million) into equity. This is the main reason why the club has a stated net worth of -£64,037,000 (here). QPR managed to go back up by the skin of their teeth and with so many teams in the mix Cardiff may find it hard to make lightning strike twice and if they do stay down, they could join Bolton, Blackpool and Birmingham in deep trouble.
All of these clubs show the folly of being beholden to one owner and the cult of the strong Leader. At best, they will be a good dictator and at their worst they will drag British institutions through the mud and to the wall, which is why it is vital when clubs like Blackpool have a crisis, the Trust seize the opportunity to push meaningful change and harness that anger. I’d advise everyone whose club is in the Football League to join their Supporters Trust.
The truth is even focussing on higher ranked clubs I have countless options: Blackburn, Leeds, and Reading being just a few. The reality is none of our clubs are safe whilst we have no ownership over them and clubs continue to be engaged in an arms race of spending money they don’t have or asset stripping the club out of existence.
If we don’t do something now to prepare for the inevitable then we may just find, when the music stops again, it’s our club that is the one heading into the abyss.
On Twitter @eddyman00
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