Is Football racist? No, just brutally meritocratic.

Clubs in the professional and semi-professional game aren’t racist. Why? They simply can’t afford to be.

Today, the BBC (here) has dutifully reported Jason Roberts stating that ‘”unconscious bias” at best or “possibly racism” at worst’ is what lies behind the lack of Black coaches and Managers (they use BME in the report, but no one is really talking about the lack of Managers from South Asian heritage background) in the professional game.

These claims are based on a four page report put together for the think tank Jason Roberts is part of, the Sport People’s Think Tank (which you can view here), which on the face of it contains some stats that would appear to be a damning indictment of the state of professional football.

Only 23 out of 552 (4.2%) senior coaching positions in professional football are occupied by BME backgrounds, BME folks make up only 8.4% of highly qualified coaches (which the study doesn’t state but I believe is from FA Level 2 and above) compared to the general UK BME population at 14%.

At the current rate of progress, it would take over 31 years for us to reach equality in the amount of Managers from non-white backgrounds. The explanation given for this is there are “processes of conscious and unconscious racial bias” which “constitute a form of institutional discrimination.”

So, should we be worried? Not really and there are several reasons for this, the main one of course being that Professional Football is a cut throat meritocracy. The only concern is to win and the benefit of meritocracy (which does have downsides) is that the only thing that matters is your ability.

No one at Burton Albion gives a toss what colour the Manager is in the same way none at professional clubs care what colour the skin of the player is, if he is the best. It is the reason why ethnic minorities are over-represented on the playing side (25%) compared to the general population (14%). If we were to just look at black people (which is really what we’re talking about) this would be an even greater over-representation.

The reason for this? Well without getting too technical and also acknowledging socio-economic factors (working class people are drawn to sport because they represent a meritocracy), black people have more potential to be faster and athletic then white people, period. It is why they dominate the rosters of American Football and Basketball, again competitions where hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line and players are picked for ability above any and all considerations.

No one is complaining about this for good reason because competition is king and in a sporting environment we want to see the best. If Jason Roberts is really as committed to equality as he makes out, I look forward to him calling for more white and Asian people to run the wing for Crystal Palace.

Call me flippant but many of the concerns raised have bugger all to do with skin colour at all. I accept that a lack of role models can be a genuine point but others don’t hold up to much water. For starters, ‘limited access to high level coach education courses’ is a problem which is down to the FA’s atrocious record of not creating enough coaches in this country, where we are dwarfed by a European neighbours.

Having a FA Level 2 qualification myself I can attest plenty of this is socio-economic. There is no way I could’ve afford this without grant money and as a high amount of black people are also likely to be found lower down the socio –economic scale, the eye watering costs of FA courses (used as a cash cow far too often in England) massively limits how many BAME coaches we’re going to have. This is a problem which is about the weight of your wallet, not the colour of your skin.

This is of course not a problem facing those ex-professional footballers like Jason Roberts, who do have lots of money and contacts within the game. I am dismissing the ‘unconscious racial bias’ point because it is the most pathetic form of sociology and pseudo-science, as being unfalsifiable, it merely grants authority to projectionism on behalf of the accuser.

The latest figures of BAME from 2014 to 2015 getting a Pro-License was 17% , which is actually higher than the population as a whole but does suggest a decent amount of those professional footballers do not take up coaching. Could this be racial bias?

I suspect it has more to do with the fact that footballers at the top level now are loaded with amounts of money meaning they never have to work again. The average salary playing at the Championship in 2006 was £200,000, in League 1 £68,000 and the Premier League £676,000 (here). That was nearly ten years ago and has only gone one way.

To become a Football Manager is to have to start from the bottom again; you can’t just expect a top job with no experience and have to earn the right by being prepared to make a long hard graft of it, probably starting in Non-League football.

Clubs would give their right arms at Step 5 and 4 to give these ex-players a chance to bring their professionalism to the table but I can’t really see Defoe, Zaha or even Jason Roberts being up for that and who could blame them? Going from playing in front of thousands, to managing an obscure Non-League side watched by hundreds on a cold Tuesday night when you could be spending your time on a sunny beach or get a cushy TV job. You’d have to be mad to want to be a football manager.

There is a reason why some of the best managers never played at a high level and that is because Management represented a chance to win something in football despite their lack of footballing ability. The same desire isn’t going to be there for people who must fall all the way down the pyramid and may not have any success.

Overall, despite the headline grabbing report and accusations of clubs not even understanding their evil racist ways, football and sport in general has little to worry about due to it’s relentless on field meritocracy.

However, when clubs are owned by those (such as Man City) who have arrested and locked up people in the past for opposing their atrocious regime, we might want to start talking about importing barbaric into the UK via the boardroom but somehow, I don’t think we’ll be hearing much about that any time soon.



BBC- Black Managers- 30 Years before Equality  

Sport People’s Think Tank – Levels of BME Coaches in Professional Game

BBC Sport – 2006: Survey Reveals Footballers Wages

In praise of @nonleaguedayuk and Enfield Town FC




I know what you’re saying about the Premier League Ed but you’ve gone the complete other way and watch shit football.

– Chris Snowdon

 As Enfield headed for a 0-0 draw over the weekend I couldn’t help but remember (albeit briefly) the words of Chris ringing in my ears. Why was I spending my weekend watching obscure Step 3 teams battle in out for a place in the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup? Where did it all go wrong?

Anyway, let’s step back. This last Saturday of football was that part of the football calendar where the Premier League teams take a break from making up the numbers (as an Arab Dictators team wins the league) for the International Break.  However, teams in the Non-League game still ply their trade over the weekend and give a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the depth of the English Footballing Pyramid.

Having been setup in 2010, Non-League Day has grown from a Facebook group to being a national campaign which has been embraced by Non-League and increasingly supported by clubs higher up the pyramid. This season, Everton advertised Non-League day to fans in their match programme encouraging them to support the smaller local clubs.

Many clubs offering schemes have seen significant increases in attendances on the Non-League Day over the years, from Wealdstone to Dulwich Hamlet, all have embraced the concept of promoting their clubs to a host of new fans.

Non-League Football does have a lot going for it. For a start, you can drink on the terraces without being arrested, you do not have your bags searched by some jobsworth who then removes a bottle of water because it can be a dangerous object or terrorist chemical, at which point you can buy the same thing for £5 in the ground.

Crucially, the atmosphere does tend to be better. Now this might seem ridiculous in many cases compared to the Football League but with all seater stadiums and ridiculous restrictions on people who want to stand up means that many Football League games are now played in soulless stadiums, with people paying £30 to sit in silence. The only people who should be watching football sat down are the old and disabled people because watching football sat down is perhaps one of the most boring things you can do in your life.

However, we’re in danger of canonising Non-League into something it isn’t. As this blog documents, poor ownership and in many cases downright crooked behaviour can be found throughout Non-League by owners, especially when it comes to the asset stripping of grounds in London for housing.

Nor, in the case of the Conference, can it even be considered to be of a Non-League spirit. You can’t drink on the terraces (if they have terraces) and prices are becoming eye-watering. Woking, who take on Wrexham this Saturday, will be charging £18 for adults and £13 concessions on the gate. Last season it would’ve been cheaper to watch Newcastle United.

Clubs who put cheaper prices on or a free game as part of their own Non-League Day (Eastleigh) can do so because they are backed by sugar daddies whose distorting amount of money forces clubs like Woking and Chester to jack up the prices. The Conference has in reality combined the worst elements of the Football League with none of the unpredictability that League 2 offers when it comes to promotion or play-offs, which is probably yet another argument to wish it well and send it on its’ way to be League 3 in the Football League.

Despite this, Non-League Day and Non-League Football remain worthy of supporting and I was off to support one club more worthy of it than almost anyone else, Enfield Town FC, in arguably the biggest game in their short but illustrious history.

Enfield Town were facing off against Hitchin Town FC and a win would mean they would go the furthest they have managed in an FA Cup since forming in 2001. Last season Enfield narrowly missed out on the play-offs in controversial circumstances and had won seven on the bounce before Saturday.

So a trip to North London was underway and after a quick kick-about whilst consuming suspect Polish Larger, it was into the ground to catch up with a few faces that I hadn’t seen in over a year. I was greeted by Jack Lucas, long suffering groundsmen at ETFC before catching up with Roger Reed, who has stepped back as Vice Chair to be just a plain Director but Roger still very much lives and breathes the club.


Having seen ETFC twice and both times they were underwhelming I was weary and sure enough, Enfield Town produced a tight 0-0 game with few clear cut chances for the Towners, with one player missing a great chance in the first half part preferring to head the floor, rather than the ball into the net.

However, if you are watching football at this level for the quality, you are probably missing the point. 883 people were in attendance, making it the biggest crowd ETFC have managed and for the duration of the game, those of us behind the goal generated more atmospheres then you will find at the Emirates all season. An unholy good natured racket was made, healthy amounts of abuse dished out to the opposition goalie and a host of young lads who you could see had come for the first time, were being made as welcome as those who’d been for years.

So at the full time whistle, despite the (fair) point made by Chris last month in my head I remembered why I’d still rather be at Enfield than anywhere else on that Saturday and what makes Non-League great. It’s the ability to enjoy yourself and stand on the terraces with a group of lads just as vocal as you, without all being bundled out by some steward. To be able to see directors and the press (in this case the BBC and Copa 90) mingle in the same bar as fans with no barriers and the sight of kids actually kicking a football around inside the stadium, without being told to sit down, is what makes Non-League great.

On Monday night, Enfield Town FC would win their replay 2-1 and now are one game away from reaching the FA Cup First Round Proper for the first time in their history. Hopefully, some of those young lads who joined into the racket versus Hitchin will be back throughout the rest of the season. Although clubs like FC United and AFC Wimbledon seem to get a lion’s share of the coverage these days when it comes to fan ownership it was good to see the club that started it all, who’ve gone about their business in a honest and humble way, get a moment in the sun.

In the aftermath of the victory (here), you can see exactly what Non-League is all about: Players jumping in with fans, sharing in the jubilation with the supporters and to cap it all off… There wasn’t a steward in sight.



Non League Day

ETFC Highlights

Enfield Town Football Club

Once Upon A Time In The West… Midlands




With Stephen Morgan putting the club up for sale, Wolves join the growing list of unwanted clubs in the West Midlands.

Aston Villa, West Brom, Birmingham City and now Wolves can be added to the list of unloved West Midlands clubs who represent, in many cases, a bad investment.  Just over a week ago, Wolverhampton Wanderers released a statement announcing that Steve Morgan, owner of Wolves for the last eight years, is to look to sell 100% of his stake in Wolves and step down from the board with immediate effect.

In many ways, Wolves merely represent the growing trend of people realising that it just isn’t worth bothering to own a football club. Under his tenure, Wolverhampton were promoted to the Premier League and stayed there for three seasons under the steady hand of Mick McCarthy before sacking him.

When it became clear no-one wanted a job that left them on a hiding to nothing, Terry Connor took the reigns as Wolves fell through the trap door. Disaster stuck the season after as a series of failed Managerial appointments led to Wolves falling into League 1, lumped with players on massive salaries who were despised by the fanbase, like Jamie O’Hara, who they struggled to get off the books.

Under Kenny Jackett, a successful resurgence has followed with deadwood cleared off the wage bill and an immediate return to the Championship was follow by a solid top half finish last season. So why sell now, with the club seemingly in resurgence?

In actual fact this respresents the perfect time to get rid of the club having purchased it for £10 with the promise to invest £30 million. He leaves the club where he found it and in good financial health compared to the baskets cases in the Championship (here), of which we will return to.

Firstly, after this year the parachute payments that Wolves have been receiving are up. Previously Chief Executive Jez Moxey has stated without them the club would have gone bust (here) which is an admission they wasted the money on useless players and it should also be noted that if clubs knew they weren’t rewarded for failure, they might be more sensible and write relegation wage cuts into every player’s contract. In the present time, all it means is that if the club is to have a competitive budget, it’s going to have to come out of Mr. Morgan’s own pocket.

Naturally then, he is seeking to walk away but before people see this as an attack on a man not prepared to spunk his money up the wall it is to show why, on the contrary, I don’t blame him for getting out. When Wolves were promoted to the Premier League in 2009, the money involved in that struggle is unlikely to be anywhere near enough to make a dent in a promotion challenge.

With parachute payments increasing from the Premier League it is only going to get harder and at this point we will return to the ocean of debt Championship Clubs find themselves in. Deloitte announced earlier this year that Championship Clubs now had a combined debt of over £1 billion (here). This is astronomical amounts of money for a second tier football division and some clubs are in worse states than others.

Bolton have a net debt of £182 million and with the owner looking to get out, it seems only a matter of time until that a club with an average attendance of 15,000d either do a Portsmouth or goes bust and have to start again. Brighton who lie top of the league owe £62.5 million to poker player Tony Bloom, which shows the level of financial commitment (or madness) owners need to exhibit to give their clubs a chance of promotion.

The reality is many Championship Clubs are living on borrowed time and it’s no surprise that Mr. Morgan probably feels he has taken the club as far as he can without bankrupting himself to risk getting a club into the Premier League.

However, this same logic is the very reason no-one will want to buy Wolves and increasingly, any club not near London. The simply is no money to be made and better vanity projects to spend your money on. Wolves fans only have to look at the fact that no-one wants to buy West Brom or Aston Villa, both established Premier League clubs, to see they will probably be up for sale for a long time.

Although the money in the Premier League is astronomical next season (if you can stay up), the very types of multimillionaires who could afford those clubs are sensibly steering clear of these propositions. They are all aware that unless you are a billionaire all you can ever do is finish 12th, hardly an exciting prospect for the affluent and if you were to buy a club as a pet project, all the growth markets are in the USA or Australia, with better weather and greater prospects of glory from your vanity project.

So what does all this mean for the future of clubs like Wolves? Well as a fan owned advocate, it is probably good news for me as although the growth of football around the world continues apace, the days of people thinking they can bankroll a club to the top are coming to an end.  The bubble has burst.

At this moment, a Wolverhampton Supporters Trust has a good chance to gain momentum and try to get a share scheme off the ground to buy a reasonable stake in the club and remind Mr. Morgan of the wishes of Sir Jack Hayward, to have the ownership of the club in the hands of those who understand the club.

In the long run, we are going to see more clubs higher up the Football League turn to fan ownership. Not because owners are benevolent, not because they will lead to greater chance of success for the clubs but for the simple reality which is, when it comes to clubs like Wolves… No one else cares.



InsiderMedia- Championship Finances 2015

ITV News – Championship Clubs rack up £1 billion debts – 2015

Liverpool FC- The new Nottingham Forest



It is economics, not Brendan Rodgers, which is turning Liverpool into yet another also ran.

So yet another Liverpool Manager fails to deliver the impossible and make them a consistent title challenger. The usual lines are delivered that Brendan Rodgers was not up to the job or failed to push on from his 2nd place finish or any of the other nonsense.

However, there seems to be a mental blank or inability to talk about the reasons which make it boringly predictable that Liverpool will make up the numbers, let’s call it Sky Sports Syndrome. The two big points are ownership and location.

Firstly, there is the inescapable fact that the clubs with the most recent success are owned by an Arab Deputy Prime Minister of a dictatorship, who has people put down like animals for protesting against the family or for ‘blasphemy’ and an oil barren who has admitted in court he looted the wealth of the Russian people, in a rigged privatisation of mineral rights in Russia.

Both people who should not be allowed to step foot on British soil, yet alone own a football club, have transformed their respective clubs success. In the case of Man City, it is at once depressing and unsurprising just how little coverage has been given to how awful the owners ruling family is.

On the other hand, Liverpool has an owner in John Henry who has made his money in a free market and therefore is always going to be at a disadvantage compared to those who simply haven’t. Fenway Sports Group have had success with the Boston Red Sox but the way American sports are run (with salary caps, drafts, etc) means good player identification and long term planning are crucial. Being a big team counts but buying a World Series is not really an option.

No such problems in the EPL though and with the last pathetic whimpers coming from ‘Financial Fair Play’ (a rule full of so many loopholes to make it pointless) being extinguished, it will surely dawn on John Henry that unless he plans on finding a country which he can loot and then disappear parts of the nation’s population, he has no chance of winning anything with Liverpool.

People who point out just how much money Liverpool have spent, like Spurs, are ignoring the fact that there is no point in being the 5th or 6th richest club. Players will still sign for teams for whom money is no limit and the best players will go to teams with the most money as they know this is more likely to give them success. All that Liverpool and Spurs end up doing is paying massively inflated prices for average players.

The reality is that Liverpool has been consistently the 5th biggest team for several years by attendance, significantly behind Man United whose global power will always allow them to compete and Arsenal, who have roughly 60,000 in attendance.

They lie just behind Man City and ahead of Chelsea who, for already mentioned reasons, will dominate them. So in reality Liverpool should be finishing 5th, a long way behind the other four. However, it should be noted their regular competitor for this 5th place is Spurs and this comes to the other impact of the London effect.

Young men on £50,000 plus a week are always going to prefer to live in London then on Merseyside, this is just a fact. The only reason that a world class player like Gerrard stayed is he is from the city and with the influx of foreign players it is clear that to most London is the UK.

This trend to London is only going to get worse. Spurs are just four seasons away from moving into their new 61,000 seater stadium and crucially have secured the rights to a minimum of two NFL games every year for a decade. With London looking like having an NFL franchise in the near future, the purpose built NFL facilities will mean Spurs will be in the driving seat. West Ham, the taxpayer subsidised screw up ignored for the time being, will have a 54,000 seater stadium and will therefore equal Liverpool even post expansion. Again, West Ham will be in London and Liverpool will not.

The obvious outcome will be that Liverpool, barring an Arab takeover, end up struggling to make the top 6, let alone the Champions League which, fingers crossed, will be down to three places soon anyway. Brendan Rodgers in his three seasons at Liverpool reached 7th, 2nd and 6th whilst making two cup semi-finals last season. Uncomfortably for Liverpool fans, if anything Brendan Rodgers overachieved at your club.

So although the talk will be about team selection, poor player purchases and a million and one other events, it ignores the only thing that really matters: Economics. Jamie Carragher said over the weekend Liverpool are becoming like Spurs but in reality Liverpool are in fact becoming Nottingham Forest: A proud club with a great European heritage, who join the ever growing list of clubs outside of London where fathers will tell their sons “We were a big club once.”


Torquay United: Ready for Drowning


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Managerless and on the end of a 7-3 mauling from Bromley, Torquay may not even see out the season. Here’s what happens under the millionaires model when the money runs out…

It has been less than two years since Torquay United were a Football League team, being relegated at the end of the 2013-14 season from League 2. Flash forward to the present day and there’s a good chance Torquay could be playing at Step 2 (or worse) come the seasons end.

The clock started ticking on Torquay when Thea Bristow announced in March of this year that she would no longer be funding the losses the club were running and would be off in June 2015. Although early last season Torquay were pushing for the play-offs, they would slump to 13th in the league under Chris Hargreaves, who was unable to save them from relegation out of the Football League the season before and had previously stated he had no idea how bad the financial situation was at the club (here).

In the summer, the Torquay United Supporters Trust made an attempt to take over the club but a local consortium of ten businessmen would eventually take charge of the club. Since then it has been nothing but downhill for Torquay United.

Paul Cox took over in June when Chris Hargreaves and his staff were placed on gardening leave after refusing a pay cut. I have no problem with asking everyone at the club to trim back but when they said no, it would have appeared more financially sensible to keep them on, if only so that management costs don’t balloon.

However, management costs were controlled by Paul Cox apparently accepting an expenses only deal but just three months later, he would offer the board an ultimatum which they refused and he ended up walking out (here).

Paul Cox was in charge of Mansfield when they got themselves in debt up to eyeballs to get promotion from the Conference and having promised new players, perhaps Cox thought he could chuck yet more of other people’s money around. Whatever the circumstances, the reality is the club went into their fixture today without their Manager and probably hit their lowest point so far by being pumped 7-3 to a part time team.

I say so far because the off field situation means it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. The club are now down to six of the 10 original investors, whilst Director of Football cum Manager against Bromley Dean Edwards revealed if court decisions go against them, the club could still go bust (here), although the club has announced they are ‘making headway’, whatever that means.

Nor has their relationship with supporters got off to the best start, with the TUST releasing a statement  on the 10th September saying the club had stepped back from a relationship with the Trust, where in a meeting in late August the ‘relevance of the TUST was questioned’. Attempts were being made to buy the ground off the council without TUST support, despite having an ACV in place and the fact that if a council sold an asset to a group of people who are saying the club may not survive they’d have to be the dumbest people on the planet.

Now however, a statement from the Trust announced that a much more constructive meeting had taken place and perhaps both parties are making headway. The reality is you can ask a dozen questions about this whole sorry episode.

Why if the old owners cared about the club would they allow it get this indebted? What kind of legacy exists when the academy has been gutted and the club may not survive? Why do Football Club owners continue to demand that fans ‘do their bit’ and blindly chuck cash at a club without any return in terms of a stake in the club?

The only question Torquay fans need to be asking now is: Where do we go from here? The reality of the Conference is that unless Torquay do get another millionaire, they are never getting back to the Football League under the current system (here). This combined with being stripped of local derbies, a poor catchment area and fixed costs such as extensive travel makes it even harder. So the aim must be to have a sustainable club who can eventually be a solid mid table team like Chester.

Or, if attendances drop then the club will have to accept its position as a yo-yo team between the Conference South and the Conference, with runs in the FA Trophy and Cup being prioritised every season they are in the Conference Prem. The simple point to make here is if the aim is to make a sustainable club, which runs at a profit, then there is zero need for the private ownership model.

The long term future of Torquay, like so many other clubs (including fellow ex-Football League strugglers Kidderminster) has to be fan ownership. If the club really is in the bad shape that is predicted it may be better for the fans to put United out of their misery and build from the bottom. It’s a long road back but Chester show it can be done and who knows, in the 4 or five seasons it takes for Torquay to make it back to the Conference the Football League may have accepted the inevitable and increased the promotion spots.

As it stands, Torquay are having to restructure but the amount of money wasted and general incompetence of the way it’s been handled means it’s hard to see the TUST doing a worse job and with the club facing extinction, it feels like there’s a certain inevitability to Torquay United being fan owned in the near future.


(Torquay United Supporters Trust) 


Chris Hargreaves BBC Sport – April 2015

Paul Cox Resigns BBC Sport – September 2015

Torquay could still go out of Business BBC Sport- September 2015

TUST Updates

Forest Green Rovers and the triumph of money



With Forest Green Rovers roaring out in front of the Vanarama Conference (we’re not calling it the National League because it’s a stupid name), the trend that has been happening over the last few years has solidified.

The reality is that unless you have a shed load of cash, you are not getting out of the Conference and considering the Conference to be ‘Non-League’ is pretty outdated. Looking at the top eight of the Conference and it is a familiar pattern, only an always impressive Woking are upsetting the apple cart. The top eight runs FGR, Gateshead, Cheltenham, Woking, Wrexham, Eastleigh, Grimsby and Tranmere. Noticing a pattern?

Cheltenham and Tranmere came down from the Football League just last season, Wrexham and Grimsby are Football League clubs in stature and have narrowly missed out on promotion whilst consistently boasting two of the top three highest attendances in the league. The other three are the moneyed young beasts who are seeking to emulate Crawley and Fleetwood by buying their way into the Football League.

It was always thus you could say, but in the last few years the monster has really been unleased. It was in 2010 that Crawley purchased the league by finishing on 105 points, 15 ahead of AFC Wimbledon who would join them in the Football League after a play-off final victory over Luton. The season after, Wrexham would be denied by a moneybags Fleetwood side. In 2012/13, Mansfield broke the bank to risk it all to get back into the Football League and just managed it over Kidderminster Harriers. The play-off winners would be Newport County, backed by a multi-millionaire who would defeat fan owned Wrexham in a play-off final.

Both Luton and Cambridge United would escape Non-League purgatory in 2013-14 which, as big ex- Football League Clubs, they were heavily backed to get out and last season the top 5 had three ex- Football League teams in plus moneybags Eastleigh and Forest Green Rovers.

“So, what’s the problem with owners throwing money at a small club? Do you just want the biggest teams to go up every season?” These are valid questions but unfortunately, the effect of this bottleneck is corrosive to football in general and all the clubs involved.

Bluntly, if all the other clubs in the League know they haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of competing unless you’ve got a sugar daddy, what on earth is the point of fans showing up? Let’s take Chester, an ex-Football League fan owned club who are trying to run the club in the way the Football authorities always preach as correct: Sustainable and not blowing cash.

The reality is they are punished by doing things the right way, just as Wrexham were screwed out twice by clubs engaging in financial doping.  By trying to be sustainable, Chester are forced to raise prices and thereby making it harder to attract a younger generation of fans, who don’t feel like parting with big sums of cash for the allure of a 10th place finish when they can watch Sky Sports instead.

How does Football benefit from the stagnation of great clubs like Chester FC and Lincoln City? It doesn’t. Well it might benefit the Premier League but it does bugger all for the rest of us.

The alternative is to go for broke and for many clubs involved that is exactly what happens. The year AFC Wimbledon went up Darlo were six points off the play-offs, now they are fighting it out in the Evo-Stik Prem, with the fans still unsure about when a  return home might be on the cards. Kidderminster rolled the dice in 2012-13 and ended up only 3 points off going up. Now the club is in serious financial problems and could be heading into Step 2.

Hereford finished 6th that season, ten points off Wrexham and after a mountain of debt find their phoenix team struggling in the Midlands Premier. To rub salt in the wound, as the club is privately owned and as the Hereford Trust inevitably declines, the ownership model is no different than the one which destroyed the old club.

Even the clubs who get promotion from the Football League are always praying for a miracle season to clear all the debts they took on to get into the Football League in the first place. If Mansfield were to drop, they’d be on course to join Torquay, who after the millions dried up now find themselves a few court cases away from liquidation.

And as Halifax fans will attest, even when you have a few good seasons as a small ex-Football League team and manage to make the play-offs, your reward is to get your squad absolutely gutted and then end up having your Manager get the sack. It won’t take long before fans of clubs like Lincoln, Halifax, Aldershot and a host of others start to wonder just what the hell is the point?

The solution is to get the Football League to bite the bullet and say that we need to go to four up, four down from the Football League. Then at a stroke, all the incentives change. A club who has just come down doesn’t need to break the bank as they know they can take a season to get their house in order but still have a serious chance to go up. Sustainable clubs like Wrexham can still have success which would encourage more clubs to follow the fan owned model, which is the only model which can guarantee long term sustainability.

Plus, smaller teams like FGR still have a serious chance of being involved in the promotion hunt without having to spend such eye watering sums of cash and those teams like Woking and Halifax, instead of being punished for their success, would finally have the chance to be rewarded for it.

The reality is that change will be forced on the Football League if they don’t bite the bullet themselves, as the Conference will only grow tougher as a competition. Moneybags Ebbsfleet are heading up from the Conference South and Maidstone (averaging 2000 fans a game) are not far behind. In the North, again it’s moneybags AFC Fylde in serious contention for promotion with fallen giants Stockport County back in the hunt along with FC United, who cannot be considered a normal Non-League club. Even the division below has ex-Football League Darlo battling it out with millionaire backed Salford.

As the Conference shuffles out smaller sides like Southport and Welling, they will be replaced by either clubs funded by millionaires or clubs who easily boast higher crowds then a host of Football League teams. In the long run, the good of the game will be served by just accepting the Conference is the Football League and sending it on it’s way.

For now though, it’s vital that the Football League preserves the integrity of it’s competition as being a cut above Non-League, the Conference stops having to deal with clubs going bust every season and both find a way to rejuvenate English football’s greatest strength: The depth of the pyramid. It may not be a long term answer but four up, four down represents a good compromise and for a host of non-league teams, the change can’t come soon enough.


Why the FA Cup still matters



Despite last year’s underwhelming final and the rebranding showing a tremendous lack of respect for the world’s oldest knockout competition,  the FA Cup is still of immense importance to the vast majority of the pyramid and especially to the Non-League clubs.

Of course, one major reason for the importance of the FA Cup amongst non-league sides is the cash that can come from a run to the 1st round or even the 4th Qualifying round, provided they draw a big team from the Conference (think Wrexham or Tranmere).

The winners of the 1st Qualifying round replays tonight will pick up £3,000 and a run to the 1st round will net a team £27,500 in prize money (if they enter at the 1st Qualifying Round). This of course does not include any gate receipts or the 5% split from subsequent replays, given to non-league teams who reach the first round proper.

Although it may seem too commercial to focus on just the money it can’t be understated just how much of a difference a cup run can do to a club’s profile and income streams. Even with the mega money at the likes of Salford and AFC Fylde, many clubs in the lower rungs of the pyramid do live a hand to mouth existence.

On a more non-financial side, it is the chance for players who will never make it professionally to taste the experience of large crowds and potentially pit themselves up against the players from a cut above. For the fans, it can represent a respite from a disappointing season but also a chance to visit grounds that as a humble non-league fan, your club would never normally grace.

Although clubs at the top levels may not give the competition the respect it deserves, those at the lower levels still value the competition immensely and the stories created, such as our fan owned Hinckley AFC beating Redditch United to become the lowest ranked club left in the competition, can be cherished all season long. Besides, it’s hard for clubs in the Conference to have a pop at teams higher up when a majority of the top Conference clubs treat the FA Trophy like a distraction from the play-off places.

On the fan owned side, the extra money can give a significant boost to clubs who are committed to living within their means and can represent the chance to clear debts or invest in infrastructure that would have been unobtainable on current budgets. Again though, the case of Telford (whose trust I’m a member of) being rock bottom of the Conference North despite a run to the second round of the FA Cup last season, means sometimes the money is not always invested wisely.

So tonight, whilst all eyes turn to the Champions League, four fan owned clubs (Bamber Bridge, Enfield Town, Tonbridge and Dorchester Town) will look to join the host of clubs in the 2nd Qualifying Round, who know they are only two wins away from a trip to Sheffield United or Portsmouth.

For it is the FA Cup which represents the only chance to see a Warrington take on Exeter and win, the chance for Blyth Spartans to take Birmingham City to within a whisper of being knocked out in the Third Round and for me, it was the chance to watch a Shrewsbury Town side dump out Everton in front of a packed Gay Meadow over 12 years ago.

And if that isn’t a reason to be proud of the oldest cup competition, then I don’t know what is.



Fan Owned Football League August Round-Up



So one month into this season and six games in, the five fan owned clubs in League 2 are doing as many would’ve expected at the start of the season. There have been plenty of impressive results and worrying defeats for our five teams so let’s take a quick look at all in league order…

Wycombe Wanderers, far from having post play-off final blues, have made an impressively strong start in the league and find themselves second on 14 points, just one behind Leyton Orient. A narrow defeat to Fulham in the League Cup will have shown the fans the hard working mentality drilled into the club by Gareth Ainsworth is still there. Wycombe Wanderers remain undefeated but out of their six league games, Wycombe have only played one side not tipped to be at the lower end of the table (Hartlepool).

Their four September fixtures of Plymouth at home, Orient and Exeter away followed by a Tuesday night home game against an improving Cambridge United will give us a good indication of whether Wycombe are in the promotion hunt.  Off the field, the share scheme continues to make solid progress and if they good feeling around the club holds the long term future of Wycombe looks safe for the first time in many years.

Sitting just below them is Portsmouth in 5th on 12 points, who like Wycombe remain unbeaten after six games. An impressive 2-1 win against Derby in Round One of the League Cup set the standard and a 3-3 draw against Morecambe, having been 3-0 down and a last gasp winner by Matt Tubbs against Luton show that Pompey are made of tougher stuff this season and look well placed to start to climb the Football League. Pompey face tough away games this month against an also unbeaten Oxford United and a Bristol Rovers side who have made a good start to life back in the Football League. They wrap up September at home against our next club, Exeter City.

Exeter City fans will be very pleased with the start to this campaign, with some of those hardy souls making the trip to watch Exeter City compete against Sunderland evenly for 90 minutes before falling to a 6-3 defeat in the League Cup 2nd Round at the Stadium of Light. Unbeaten at home and coming off the back of pumping an up till then 100% Leyton Orient side 4-0, Exeter should be full of confidence of keeping this run going. A home game against Hartlepool follows whilst further ahead they face three fan owned clubs in a row in the shape of Wycombe, Pompey and Newport County.

Overall, development to improve the ground is taking place and finances are a lot healthier after the sale of Mat Grimes to Swansea last year. This current Exeter side is unlikely to fear anyone and will fancy being in the play-off race for the duration of the season.

AFC Wimbledon have made a comfy start to this season and sit just two points outside the play-offs with an away game against Luton, who they famously beat in the Conference Play-Off final to return to the Football League, being the pick of the bunch. With the League looking very open and with teams in League 2 traditionally evenly matched, if Wombles can string a run of games together they could be in with a shout.

Lastly we turn to a club who (everyone thought and now certainly knows) will be fighting for their Football League lives this season in the shape of Newport County. Just one point in six games and the joint lowest goals scored (4), means it’s going to be a long hard season for the exiles. A crushing 3-0 defeat against York at home has sapped any confidence they could take from narrow defeats to promotion contenders Leyton Orient and Plymouth. Three games coming up against Dag & Red, Carlisle and Crawley, all expected to be in the lower half, will be games where County will have to pick up points.

The real news though is off the field and the Supporters Trust needs to raise £195,000 (reduced after the £100,000 move of Regan Poole to Man Utd) by the end of September to fully own the club. The Trust membership has swelled and support is coming in both for shares and in attendances.

Staying positive, County aren’t yet adrift plus as we saw in Hartlepool last season there’s always hope but it’s a horrible time for the fans to take over and a tough job for Terry Butcher. One win will do wonders for County but it has to come soon or the Trust may very well find Newport facing the reality of another long, perhaps indefinite stay, in Non-League Football.


The Fan Owned August Round Up

As I have hours to kill on this train from Sofia to Greece, I’d thought it would be a good time to have a look at how the ever increasing amount of fan owned clubs got on in the first month of the season, starting at Step 6 (sorry Newark) and working up.


Step 6

Just the one club at this level in the shape of Hinckley AFC and they have picked up where they left off last season, picking up four wins from five in the league and also beating Bromsgrove Sporting to make a first ever appearance in the FA Cup 1st Qualifying round. The clubs next two games are in the FA Vase and Cup respectively, where a win in either will be enough to keep the momentum alive.

1874 Northwich

Step 5

A hatful of clubs at this level and we will begin with Newport IOW who season has only really got going a week ago, with their only win in five league games coming on the 22nd August. An exit from the FA Cup will be a disappointment but a win in their last two games may get them up and running.

Saffron Walden have also endured a poor start after promotion last season with 0 points in their first four games in the Eastern Counties League but two wins in the FA Cup gives them a chance of an upset against Hanwell Town , who are without a win in five games at Step 4.

There was no such good fortune for AFC Croydon Athletic or Fisher FC, who both lost their FA Cup game and plod happily along in mid-table of the Southern Counties East League. Finally, we step into the North West Counties, boasting four fan owned clubs.

Only 1874 Northwich didn’t make it to the 1st Qualifying Round of the FA Cup after a poor home defeat but they remain undefeated in the league and are 2nd with a game in hand. AFC Liverpool have also made a good start after 5 games and are in the hunt as our Runcorn Linnets, who can count themselves very lucky to have had a game against fellow fan owned club Congleton abandoned when they were set to lose. They can go one point behind 1874 Northwich if they win their game in hand whilst Congleton Town remain in the bottom half.


Step 4

Five teams at this level across three Step 4 leagues and it’s a mixed bag. AFC Rushden & Diamonds sit in second place in the Southern Central and remain undefeated whilst having a FA Cup match they will be expected to win against a Step 6 side. In the Southern South and West, Banbury United have started fan ownership with nine points from six games and lie tenth in the table.

In the Northern Div One North it’s a very mixed bag. Prescot Cables have taken up their usual position near the bottom of the table but with losses of 4-0 to Glossop, 8-0 to Trafford and being dumped out of the FA Cup, the management has already changed but it’s hard to see Prescot defying gravity any longer and they look set to be in Step 5 next season.

At the other end of the scale, Scarborough Athletic have continued their solid finish from last season and have maximum points whilst not even conceding a goal. They have a game in hand on Northwich Victoria, who also have a 100% record.

Back to back Play-Off finalists Bamber Bridge have not had the best of starts and are without a win in four games but three of those have been against Warrington, Lancaster City and Northwich Victoria. However, a win in the FA Cup has given them a winnable game against Goole and Bamber won’t be far away from the playoffs.

Tinbridge Angels

Step 3

An ocean of clubs at Step 3 spread across all three leagues, with some clubs flying and others flattering to deceive. In the Northern Prem, Darlo have made an impressive start to life at a higher level and with a big win against early leaders and pre-season challengers Blyth Spartans, Darlo have two winnable league games coming up to cement a place in the playoff race as the table starts to take shape.

It’s two wins, two draws and two defeats for Hyde United, who got a win against moneybags Salford City. So Hyde lie slap bang in the middle of the league, three points off both the play-offs and relegation so Hyde fans can finally stop worrying about being spanked each game.

In the FA Cup, Darlington will be up against Hyde United and then face each other directly in the league. You’d expect a Darlo win but we’re guaranteed another fan owned club at the 2nd Qualifying Round whatever the result.

Moving down to the Southern League, both Merthyr and Dorchester have made good starts to this season. Both have 11 points from seven games and Dorchester have already chalked up a win against local rivals Weymouth whilst Merthyr have a 100% record at home and should win their 1st Qualifying Round game in the FA Cup. Both clubs will feel they can be there or thereabouts in the play-off hunt this season.

Finally, we go to the Ryman Prem with four clubs and largely it’s been a disappointing start. Lewes find themselves second from bottom, without a win in seven games and have conceded the most goals in the division. The budget isn’t huge as Lewes move towards financial sustainability but they will need to pick up wins soon to relieve their long suffering (and still brilliant) support.

Enfield Town have made a surprisingly poor start, especially after their great finish last year, just one win from seven games has left them with four points and already they could find themselves cut adrift of the play-off race.

Hendon FC lost their first home league game since forever in August and have lost three on the bounce leaving them nine points off the top and Hendon will look to snap back into form against Canvey Island.

Lastly, Tonbridge Angels have made an impressive start to this season after the retrenchment of last year. Three points off Grays Athletic, who lie top and Tonbridge have won their last two home games 4-0 and 7-0 respectively. The crowds have been impressive and so have the results, if they can keep this form up Tonbridge will have every chance of winning a very open division.

Looking towards the FA Cup, both Hendon and Lewes face away games against opposition from Step 4, whilst Tonbridge Angels have a home game against a Folkestone Invicta side who are top of the Ryman South and remain undefeated. Enfield Town find themselves away to fellow Ryman Prem strugglers Billericay Town.


Step 2

With just two teams at this level, this should be a quicker review but Telford have given us plenty to talk about. Steve Kittrick bit the bullet after an awful start with just one point from five games. In many ways, he took over at a time when Telford were doomed to relegation from the Conference and with crowds falling away action had to be taken.

His replacement is the charismatic duo of Rob Smith (who managed Telford from 2006-10) and his assistant Larry Chambers. They came close to getting Telford out of this division last time around and will look to go one better, having already rung changes in the player personnel.

With their first win under their belts and a game against bottom club Bradford Park Avenue up next, there is a chance to close the nine point gap to the play-off places. Seven games in, it feels like Telford’s season has finally started.

Another club new to this division but from the opposite direction is FC United, who have finally escaped the Northern Premier after years of near misses. Fears of a typical slow start for FC United were raised with one point from the first seven games but seven points from nine, including a last minute fightback for a 3-3 draw against Curzon Ashton has left them just five points off the play-offs.

Also worth noting is the crowd against Curzon which at 3,830 has pushed them to getting the highest gates on average at this level, even above rivals Stockport, shows the potential for FC United to push into League 3 (or the National League as it’s still called)

Overall, a good start for FC United means the fans should be able to enjoy a season of mid table comfort at worst and a play-off push at best. Hopefully FC United can make another impressive Cup run in either the FA Trophy or Cup.

Finally, a big shout out to Bath City fans, who’ve raised over £300,000 to buy their club who currently sit top of the Conference South with 19 points from seven games.


Step 1

Again, two clubs at this level and both have made impressive starts. Chester FC find themselves just three points off the play-offs, despite a blip in their last game against Guiseley. Just one defeat in seven coming against an always impressive Woking may have raised expectations in Chester fans.

Those expectations are about to meet reality with the toughest set of fixtures in September a club could get. Chester face 100% moneybags Forest Green Rovers followed by a trip to rivals Tranmere. After that, it’s back to back home games against Grimsby and Eastleigh. September looks set to show us whether Chester will be a side cut adrift from the top clubs but even two wins from those four games will show them to be serious contenders.

One club who do look like real play-off contenders is Wrexham, who Gary Mills seems to have finally awoken with home crowds going from 4,700 for their first home game to 5,662 in their 3-1 victory over Halifax.

A shock first game defeat against Bromley led to a five match winning run only coming to an end with a 2-1 defeat to Cheltenham where a draw was probably a fairer result. Still, they lie only six points behind Forest Green Rovers and if Chester can do Wrexham a favour in their next game, that gap will be closed.

Whatever the case, with the highest attendances in the league and pulling in as many fans as my hometown team of Shrewsbury in League 1, Wrexham are very much back in business.

We will have a round-up of the five (yes five) Football League Clubs after their games over the international break but for now, that’s your lot.


The Fan Owned Football League Preview


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Now I can grab a moment on my trip around Eastern Europe, I’d thought I’d finally get around to finishing this bloody preview for the fan owned Football League teams, now with one more club in the family.

So, four games into the season, let’s take a look at our five fan owned clubs…

afc wimbledon

AFC Wimbledon  

Last season: 15th

Title Odds: 50/1

A solid mid-table finish last season, 17 points clear of relegation and 13 points off the play-offs, has finally established in most people’s eyes AFC Wimbledon as a bona fide Football League team after previous seasons of being at real risk of falling through the trap door.

Although he was only on loan, Matt Tubbs made a big impact last season and when he left for fellow fan owned club Pompey last year, a big source of goals went with him. Has he been replaced? Well three forwards in the shape of Andy Barcham (from Pompey), Tom Elliot (released by Cambridge) and Lyle Taylor from Scunthorpe have come in but none have the record of a Tubbs.  Former Millwall stalwart Paul Robinson has been brought in to strengthen the backline.

In reality, there is an outside chance due to the nature of League 2 itself that AFC Wimbledon have a slight possibility of being in a play-off chase or a relegation fight but you feel the clubs growth has now hit the limit till they can move to a bigger ground in the area of Wimbledon. For now though, there are too many teams in a worse financial position for the Wombles to be worried and another season of mid table safety beckons.

Prediction: Mid- Table

exeter city

Exeter City FC

Last season: 10th

Title Odds: 50/1

Well what a difference a year makes. This time last year, a poor financial position and a transfer embargo left many of us (me included) predicting a long hard season for the Grecians. When a shameful FA Cup defeat to Warrington happened, we all thought Tisdale would do the decent thing and walk away.

However, after this result there was a dramatic upturn in form and the club cashed in on Matt Grimes who went to Swansea last season for a cool £1.75 million. Investment in the ground is being made and with no pre-season tour of Brazil (and the spate of illnesses caused) to worry about the club will fancy being in and around the play-offs.

The club has started with two wins from three in the league and have actually won a cup game also, leading to a trip to the Stadium of Light (and the decent ticket revenue that will bring) at the back end of August.

Overall, with plenty of clubs in weaker financial situations and clubs in transition Exeter fans should look forward to a decent season and I would argue have a right to expect better in the FA Cup then the atrocious display of last season.

Prediction: Top Half


Newport County

Last season: 9th

Title Odds: 200/1

Newport County, who like North Ferriby, have also beaten Wrexham at Wembley on the back of an unsustainable cash cow, screwed a sustainable club out of the Football League. Now with the money man in lottery winner Les Scadding leaving the club and with the Supporters Trust the de facto runners of the club, if not the owners yet, Newport County face one hell of a challenge to secure their Football League futures.

I’ll also note that the Trust have to pay the money that Les ‘loaned’ the club, another example of where there needs to be a rule change so if you want to blow your money on a football club fine but you should have zero right to a penny of it back.

With this is mind, a host of players left the club with the budget being brought to a manageable position and a host of non-league players coming in, including Lenell John-Lewis (his name is a shop!) getting an opportunity to re-establish himself in the Football League.

Some would suggest that taking over in a period where County will have to retrench for the next few years and fight a desperate rear-guard action to hold on to their Football League status, the Supporters Trust have been given enough rope to hang themselves and are on a hiding to nothing.

One point in three games shows how hard this season will be and with odds of just 3/1 to go down there’s every chance it will be a season to forget for county fans. At any other level I’d say take the relegation but with it now impossible to climb into the Football League unless you have cash (largely thanks to the actions of clubs like Newport County), this isn’t an option.

This season is vital, stay up and securing Football League status is achievable. Go down and it’s highly unlikely County will be back in the Football League under the current system. If any club needed a good FA Cup run and survival, it’s this one.

Prediction: 20th-24th



Last season: 16th

Title Odds: 3/1

Another disappointing season last time around for Pompey means yet another managerial change, this time in the shape of Paul Cook, who comes in from a Chesterfield side which he (or anyone else) has probably taken as far as they can.

Pompey has brought in a man who has got a team out of League 2 in previous years and with the quality of signings coming in, such as Ben Davies and Adam McGurk to go along with the always prolific Matt Tubbs from last season, Pompey will pack more than enough firepower even with the loss of Jed Wallace, who they could’ve let go of far too cheaply.

Undefeated in three league games with a win against Derby in the League Cup a statement of intent, it’s going to be third time lucky for Pompey in League 2 as they begin their rise back to the Championship.

Prediction: Promotion

wycombe wanderers

Wycombe Wanderers

Last season: 4th (Play-Off Finalists)

Title Odds: 12/1

Probably the most agonising play-off final defeat I have ever witnessed and I’ve seen Shrewsbury Town lose play-off finals… Twice.

The majority of the squad has been kept intact by Gareth Ainsworth, who lots of people didn’t like for the perceived antics and roughness of Wycombe in last season. However, if clubs are going to insist on cheating off the field by spending money they clearly can’t sustain and bleat it’s in the laws then I see no problem with Wycombe doing all they can get away with to even out the odds and Wycombe actually scored the joint 2nd most goals (67) in the league, so it’s not possible they were ball hoofers.

Plenty have predicted the play-offs and with a 100% start in the league, it’s a fair bet but I’m slightly sceptical. Of the last four play-off final losers before Wycombe (Torquay, Cheltenham, Northampton and Burton), two are now in Non-League and Northampton retrenched the year after.

Plus, the clubs below Wycombe will be stronger. Pompey won’t be as weak, Luton should challenge and Northampton, Cambridge, Oxford and newcomers to the league in both directions (Orient and Bristol Rovers) could threaten. Going from a final day survival to a play-off final, Wycombe know the fine margins in this League but a top half finish should be the target.

Prediction: Top Half

So that’s your lot for now. I’ll be back for proper in September but we’ll be having monthly round-ups this season of all the steps to give more of a rolling overview and I’ll see some of you on the terraces. Cheerio.



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