Forest Green Rovers is the Club the Football League deserves.

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Today Forest Green Rovers take on Grimsby Town for a place in the Football League and the contest between the two is a good example of the wider problem at the top of the Non-League Pyramid itself. On the one hand you have ex-Football League Grimsby, with it’s significant levels of support who have only just missed out on promotion over several seasons. Whilst the other represents the nouveau riche of Non-League, with FGR having spent oceans of cash on their village team to get them to this point.

With the Football League continuing their ridiculous protectionism of their worst clubs and even expanding it by increasing the financial doping relegated sides obtain next season in a bid to guarantee their return, the top of the Non-League has been left in a situation where clubs such as Grimsby, Wrexham, Lincoln and others are left to stagnate or risk bankruptcy to compete. The fact that there is no real gap between the top of the Non-League and the Football League has been able demonstrated by Bristol Rovers securing back to back promotions since falling into the National League two seasons ago. Sweeping aside the best League 2 had to offer, Bristol Rovers makes a farce of the firewall that the Football League has put in place to supposedly protect it’s weakest teams.

Despite reaching the play-off final last season, Grimsby Town FC posted a loss and may very well do so again this year. The fact that the third highest supported club in the League (just behind Tranmere and Wrexham), with attendances far higher than several Football League clubs, have to run repeated and sustained losses just to compete shows how bankrupt the Two-Up Two-Down system really is. The stature of clubs in Non-League and the bottleneck that is being created by clubs like Maidstone United, Darlo and others re-emerging means that the National League will have potential fan-bases as large as League 2.

However, by only having one automatic promotion spot they have created a system where clubs have to spend huge resources to have a sustained challenge at promotion and therefore moneybags clubs like FGR will be able to outspend a whole host of larger teams, who do not want to risk bankruptcy. In fairness to FGR, the fact there is only one automatic spot means they are incentivised to spend so much money instead of being able to settle for a runners-up promotion spot, piling more pressure on other clubs to keep up in the financial arms race. It also fails to reward smaller teams for one good season, as clubs like Braintree Town will have their squad gutted by the start of next season, instead of sneaking a promotion spot as they would’ve done in League 2 .

The fact is, the Football League has held on to a system which has been outdated for years and will only continue to look more absurd as each season passes. If Grimsby go up then the Football League have got their way of sneaking back in a ‘big side’ whilst having encouraged others clubs to run up mountains of debt to chase the dream. However if FGR go up they may finally get to see the monster they have created, in which clubs who would be a great addition to the Football League are left to rot whilst the vanity projects rise (and no doubt fall just as fast). So here’s to a Forest Green Rovers victory today, it might just get us the promotion reform or Football League expansion we’ve all been waiting for.

@eddyman00

Here we go again: Ticket Prices, gesture politics and the missed opportunity of @AFCLiverpool

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So here we go again. The depressing reality of ever increasing ticket prices at the top of English football rears it’s head again with the increase in prices for Liverpool FC. Liverpool fans will now face a majority of ticket prices (55%) increasing and the first £77 ticket. Although much has been made by the club of the £9 ticket, as Spirit of Shankly point out, the much vaunted £9 ticket is available for three matches with 527 a game. That works out as 1,581 from a possible 878,693 tickets a season.

Also, it sticks in the craw as the previous promises of the club to not raise prices after redevelopment has been thrown out the door and a large section of tickets which were supposed to be general admission are now called ‘low hospitality’ , largely to disguise the fact that actually a general admission ticket is now £175. As SOS point out, the club has either been dishonest about the dramatic increase in price for general admission or lied when they said the new seats would be split 50/50 between general admission seats and hospitality.

So once again a club has used fans as cash cows and once again a fans group, in this case the Spirit of Shankly, have pulled them up on it. However, the response has also been depressingly predictable with gesture politics yet again the chosen method by the fans and in the statements of the Football Supporters Federation.

A group of fans, whom the Spirit of Shankly have backed, have announced that in protest of these outrageous ticket prices they will show their outrage and disgust by… Buying a ticket anyway but leaving the game slightly early. In response to the fact Premier League clubs refused to approve a cap on away tickets, the FSF has again come back by asking you all to send a worthless email to big clubs.

Richard Scudamore has consistently said that ticket prices are decided by market forces and the FSF continue to ignore this, precisely because to acknowledge the truth of his statement would mean they have to admit that their calls for nice little emails or 77th walkouts are worse than worthless.

The biggest problem for groups like FSF and Spirit of Shankly is the lack of ability to clearly lay out that they are calling for discrimination. For a large section of games, there will always be more people who want tickets then you can ever admit. As a result, you have to pick a way of discriminating between those who do and those who don’t get tickets. So regardless of the system you allocate tickets, whether it’s locality, age or money, you will inevitably be discriminating.

Currently, clubs discriminate on the basis of money which means affluent people are favoured over working class people. However, to be a member of the FSF you have to be “Promoting the cause of diversity and opposing all forms of discrimination”. The level of stupidity in this statement should be obvious to anyone with more than a few brain cells.

It should first be noted that the clubs who promote the cause of diversity are the exact clubs who’ve done the most to price fans out. Man United are the most diverse club in this country and perhaps the world, they have a global multicultural fan-base who are frequent visitors to Old Trafford. The result of this diversity is in many cases at the cost of discriminating against traditional working class fans who can’t afford the prices, due to Man United tickets effectively being in a multinational marketplace.

So if FSF really want to make a difference then they need to be honest that they are calling for discrimination in favour of working class fans at the expense of others, in some cases tourists, in some cases in favour of less money for the club. The fact that the FSF lacks the intellectual honesty to do this is what makes them so incoherent. This is what happens when middle class morality, with it’s overtly liberal values, interferes with what needs to be a serious movement. You get sad little statements asking you to sign a worthless petition or the gesture politics of a 77th minute walkout, having already purchased a bloody ticket.

So what could Liverpool fans actually do to make a difference or make a real protest? Well this leads us sadly to the missed opportunity (which by still hanging around probably prevents any serious chance of meaning protest) of AFC Liverpool.

AFC Liverpool were formed to be against precisely the sort of high ticket prices the club has introduced. However, right from the outset, AFC Liverpool declared that it wasn’t an “attack or rejection of LFC. It is here for the many thousands of Reds priced out of Premier League football.” Indeed, the club hoped it would be seen as a little brother.

To not be against the very people who are responsible for raising the prices in the first place is just morally bankrupt. If you are against the fact that local Liverpool fans have been excluded but have no issue with those who have done this, then what is the point of your existence?

As a result of this half arsed approach, AFC Liverpool has predictably failed to capture the support or imagination of even a tiny minority of Liverpool fans. I mean if you still support the owners of Liverpool but can’t watch the club then you might as well go watch the reserves.

Contrast this with those who made a real stand against what was happening at the higher levels of football in FC United of Manchester and the gulf is clearly there for all to see. FC United were formed 10 years ago and now average over 3,000, are two leagues off the Football League and have their own ground that the whole community will benefit from.

Eight years on from the formation of AFC Liverpool, they have no real long term plan of growing or being a focal point for protest and it’s really hard to see what the whole point of the club ever was. As a result, anyone who would suggest a real protest and showing how it could be different is going to be hamstrung as AFC Liverpool lingers on, who were a poor compromise, even from the start.

Overall then, this issue of ticket prices will be a yearly cycle which will continue to briefly fill a few newspaper reports here and there but the fact that so many choose the comfort of short term gimmicks, over the long hard slog of serious action, shows why it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

@eddyman00

The Fan Owned Non-League Half Season Review 2015/2016

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After a season of change for many of our clubs , with many moving up (or down) into new divisions and some like FC United hopping into new grounds, it could’ve been expected this season would be one of transition for many teams.

We had six promotions last season but only one relegation so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that (in the Non-League at least) the picture isn’t as rosy as last season. Despite this fact, it doesn’t mean that we do not have promotion challengers and by the end of the season we could be hailing a few more success stories.

So then, without further delay, let’s dive in…

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Hinckley AFC – Midland Football League Division 1 – Step 6

Well after a very strong ending to their first season, hopes would’ve been high at Hinckley they could take that sort of form into this season and give themselves a chance of getting out of this division. However, they are an ocean behind Coventry United and constant bridesmaids Bromsgrove Sporting.

However, this is not to say the season has been in any way a disaster. Hinckley are still close to matching their points tally from last season at their current rate of progress. This was also the club’s first season back in the FA Cup which marks yet another sign of rehabilitation and Hinckley acquitted themselves well, going from the extra preliminary round through to the FA Cup 2nd Round Qualification.

The club is also averaging in or around 200 whilst still ground-sharing at Heather and for the club to make the next steps, finding a way to get hold of the old ground will give the club a stable future and chance to progress up the Non-League Pyramid.

Prediction: Top 6

 

AFC Croydon Athletic – Southern Counties East League- Step 5

Things are going reasonable well for AFC Croydon Athletic in their new league after last season’s promotion. Although there is a significant gap to the teams at the top, the Rams are in no real danger of going down and have a long term home at Thornton Heath which they can expect to be in for many years to come.

Although the team will be disappointed to find it’s struggling to break three figure attendances, it’s worth noting a lot of bridges were burnt when the old club went bust and I’m sure, in the fullness of time, AFC Croydon Athletic can look forward to brighter days.

Prediction: Top Half

 

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Fisher FC- Southern Counties East League- Step 5

Ok, so I am miles off in my pre-season prediction with Fisher struggling near the foot of the table but the only thing that really matters about this season is that before the end of it, Fisher FC will move into their brand new home.

It has been years of painstaking work by many people and a special shout out has to go to Ben Westmancott for getting a club, which no sane person would’ve predicted could survive, to within touching distance of a home back in Bermondsey.

With this, Fisher FC can re-engage in their local community and will provide a facility for use to the entire area all whilst enabling to challenge at the right end of the table. Things are looking up for the Fish and with stands going into place, it’s only a matter of time perform the Fish have a place to call their own.

Prediction: Stay up, with shiny new home.

 

Saffron Walden Town FC – Eastern Counties League Prem- Step 5

Another wildly optimistic prediction of a top 10 finish for yet another club who are struggling near the bottom of the league. With three relegation places in this division it looks like it could be going right down to the wire.

If Saffron can survive this season, you can be fairly confident they will build on this season and start pushing near the top of the league. Home attendances have been fairly health, with some 300 plus crowds for good measure, so I’m going to say that Saffron will have pulled themselves clear before the end of the season.

Prediction: Bottom half.

 

Newport (Isle of Wight) FC – Wessex League Prem – Step 5

This has been a pretty decent season for The Port, all things considered. A league that as soon as Salisbury were demoted into it looked like being wrapped up already could have the potential of demotivating teams but Newport have gone on a strong FA Vase runs which came to an end with a Fourth Round tie against Ashford United.

If the Port can build on this for the final portion of the season, they might be able to compete when Salisbury bugger off next year.

Prediction: Top 8

 

Congleton Town- North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Moving into the North West Counties Prem, this Step 5 League is rammed with fan owned teams and we begin with Congleton Town FC. A good run to the FA Cup 2nd Round Qualifying and getting to the 1st Round of the FA Vase has been met with poor league form.

Well I say that but due to the sheer amount of games they are behind others in the League (postponements being an occupation hazard at this level for many teams), Congleton look well placed for a top half finish even if they win just a handful of their several games in hand.

Prediction: Top Half

 

AFC Liverpool- North West Counties Prem – Step 5

They will finish mid-table, that is all. Another fan owned club in City of Liverpool FC is aiming to play for 2016 and whose irrelevance I suspect will be similar.

Prediction: Mid-Table

 

1874 Northwich

1874 Northwich – North West Counties Prem – Step 5:

These are fairly tough times for 1874 Northwich with extensive postponements denying the club vital revenue. Fortunately, the club does have other revenue streams including a highly enjoyable yearly beer festival.

In the FA Vase, the club had to withdraw thanks to FA incompetence at demanding they play a cup replay against Morpeth. The 400 mile round trip was not possible for the majority of the team who, at Step 5, actually have to work for a living. Yet another example of the FA doing sweet FA when it comes to developing the game and non-league football.

In the league, the club is some distance behind Atherton Colliers, Colne and the Linnets but a top 4 finish should be the target and the top 3 is not out of sight yet. Off the pitch, progress towards a ground in Northwich is a painfully slow process but the more community work the club engages in, the more favours and friends should be gathered who will support them in the future.

At this point it is worth mentioning the other club, who thankfully were knocked out by Northampton of the FA Cup in the most painful way possible and now appeared to have choked despite having a massive lead at the top of the Evo Stik Div One North. Having lost their manager, it looks likely they will still only be one division away from 1874 Northwich for at least one season more.

Northwich are now established at the top of the Step 5 pyramid but breaking through from this level is notoriously difficult, just ask our next club…

 

Runcorn Linnets – North West Counties Prem – Step 5

So Runcorn Linnets find themselves in a familiar position at this stage, top of the league but with a team behind them with a ton of games in hand. Last season it was Glossop who ran away from them after an awesome run, the year before it was Norton United (who now no longer exist) and now it’s Colne breathing down their neck.

The Linnets are nine points clear of Colne who have four games in hand meaning that yet again, the Linnets could be locked in a title race that goes all the way down to the wire. The club beat Colne 4-0 when the sides met and got a last gasp 1-0 in their previous game, it is those type of results the Linnets will need to break the 100 point barrier and finally get promotion.

Prediction: Champions

 

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AFC Rushden & Diamonds – Southern League Central – Step 4

The Diamonds have made a great start to life at Step 4. The Diamonds continued this phoenix clubs trend of strong FA Cup performances, narrowly losing in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round in front of a 1,000 plus crowd and the club sits atop the league ahead of a mass of teams all breathing right down their necks.

Off the pitch, the club recently expressed their dismay at plans to turn the old Diamonds home (Nene Park) into a shopping and cinema complex, with no facilities planned for a club of AFC Rushden & Diamonds stature. You can read the full response here.

It is vital for the long term future of the club to have a secure home but whether that future may be at Nene Park (which the last time I spoke to the Chairman it wasn’t an option) or somewhere else in the area is another matter. Nene Park may not be considered viable for a club at this level but if Rushden continue their progress through the League then it could be maintained by a club a Step 1, due to the National League effectively having clubs of Football League stature and away followings.

For now though, the concentration will be on yet another title winning season but for a club to have made so much progress, off the field (with it’s impressive community work) and on it within such a short space of time, is a testament to all at the club.

Prediction: Play-offs

 

Banbury United – Southern League South & West – Step 4

Another club who have made a strong start to life at Step 4 is Banbury United. Having been relegated last season, Banbury have made a positive start back to life at this level with impressive performances putting them right in the play-off mix.

Disappointing cup performances can be put to one side with the club averaging the highest crowds in the league and scoring goals for fun, Banbury United will be hoping their impressive form can see them into the lottery of the play-offs.

Prediction: Play-Offs

 

Prescot Cables- Evo-Stik Div One North- Step 4

We move into a Step 4 league which promised so much for the fan owned clubs involved but has in reality been a major disappointment for the majority of clubs. One club who will be fairly pleased with their season so far is the Cables.

13 points clear of relegation and a couple of games in hand could see the club cement in the mid table pack. They are set for their best finish for several season and will be hoping this is a sign of a brighter future.

Prediction: Bottom Half

 

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Scarborough Athletic FC- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

A season of mixed emotions for the Seadogs, where on the pitch concern is met by off the pitch joy. On the playing side, having narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season an extremely underwhelming season has seen the joint management team resign and replaced by Steve Kittrick.

Steve Kittrick was fired by another fan owned club whose season and finances of the club have been damaged by him, after bringing in a host of players on contracts who put Telford rock bottom. We’ll return to this later but Scarborough represents a chance to rebuild his shattered reputation and it could work at well for both, provided the club keeps the financial leash tight.

Off the field, the club have finally taking the very real step of heading home to Scarborough, after work finally got underway at Weaponess Sports Village. The club are on track to be back home by the summer of 2017 in a 2,000 capacity stadium.

Although not big enough for Football League criteria (which could be a problem in the future), Weaponess does give Scarborough a real future as a top Non-League side. Historically the club has managed to pull in around 2,000 when based in Boro and the club should be looking to fill the ground on a regular basis when they go home.

As a result, Kittrick has a real chance that most Managers don’t get, which is a genuine long term project to take a club back to their historic place to the top of the Non-League Pyramid. Provided he can keep them up this season of course.

Prediction: Survival

 

Bamber Bridge- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

A season of play-off hangover for Bamber Bridge, in the bottom half with an ocean of games in hand which could easily take them into the top half with just a few wins but with the play-offs well out of sight, motivation for the final part of the season could prove difficult.

A run to the play-offs is not impossible but extremely unlikely and with Bamber just missing out the FA Cup 1st Round Proper, this is probably going to be a season to forget for Bamber Bridge fans.

Prediction: Top Half

 

Hyde United – Evostik Northern Prem- Step 3

An absolutely horrific run of form in the league (with just three points in 12 games) has seen what looked like a comfortable mid-table season turn into a genuine relegation battle. Hyde made a decent start to life back at this level but they need to get a few wins soon just to move clear of the drop zone and build for next season.

Prediction: Survival

 

Darlo

Darlington FC- Evostik Northern Prem – Step 3

In a league which includes the rolling BBC lovefest that is the Man United C Team of Salford City, it is good to see their less moneyed rivals in Blyth and fan owned Darlo more than matching them. For Darlington, it has all largely been good news on and off the pitch.

Although yet again flattering to deceive in the FA Cup & Trophy, the league has been a different story. They are 14 points behind leaders Blyth with four games in hand but more realistically Darlo should comfortably secure a play-off position this season.

With a confidence boosting victory over Blyth just before the New Year and two games against Salford still to come, all the pressure is on the other two clubs when it comes to the play-offs. Salford for the sheer amount of money spent and Blyth would have blown the title if they end up in the play-offs. As a result, it could be back to back play-off successes for Darlo.

Off the pitch, the ongoing saga of will they won’t they return to Darlo seems to be coming to a positive conclusion but until there is a definite confirmation of a return it’s very much Darlo in a state of limbo.

Overall then, play-offs this season would be another season of progress and if Darlo were to just miss out, they could be confident of having less competition for promotion next season around. If they were to obtain promotion, it would see them have reached their peak until a return to Darlo is secured.

Prediction: Play-Offs, beating Salford in the final under the watchful gaze of the ex-Valencia Manager.

 

Merthyr Town – Southern League Prem – Step 3

I have to say, I expected better for the Martyrs this season but if survival is secured, it can still be seen as a step in the right direction. A hugely underwhelming defeat in the 2nd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup to a team two steps below them was followed by a respectable run in the FA Trophy.

In the league, a real concern about being relegated has largely dissipated with recent form and there is a chance to get on a decent run with upcoming home games. Attendances have remained solid if not spectacular, with Merthyr having the 4th highest attendance at 437. The Martyrs will look to finish the season having more wins than losses to set themselves up for a real assault on the league next season.

Prediction: Bottom Half

 

Dorchester- Southern League Prem – Step 3

Well this is more like it for the Dorch. After last season’s stabilisation job to prevent successive relegations, Dorchester now find themselves hanging onto the coat-tails of the play-off pack. With no real cup runs to speak of, the longer Dorchester can stay in the pay-off race the more people may find themselves heading through the gates and keep that average attendance above the 400 mark.

Overall, a good season so far for the Dorch and if they don’t make the play-offs this season, that will have to be the target next time around.

Prediction: Top 10

 

Tinbridge Angels

Tonbridge Angels – Ryman Prem – Step 3

Another club who stabilised last season to come on strong this year is Tonbridge Angels in the Ryman Prem. Three points off the play-offs with a game in hand, they are still in with an outside chance of claiming the title and with ex Salop player Nathan Elder pumping in the goals along with Luke Blewden, you wouldn’t back against them if they do make the top five.

So the foundations for this club are pretty solid and for as long as they stay in this division, they will always be threatening much like Dulwich Hamlet. Attendances are in the healthy 500’s and if Tonbridge can stay in the play-off picture it’s a chance to bring on a new cohort of fans meaning regardless of where the Angels finish this season, they should be in a strong position to build on next year.

Overall then, things are looking good for the Angels who will be targeting a ticket to the lottery of the play-offs.

Prediction: Play-Offs

 

Enfield Town FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

An awful start has been recovered from to leave the Towners with an outside chance of the play-offs. Just missing out on a trip to the FA Cup 1st Round will be a disappointment but again it’s another solid showing from the now established Step 3 side.

It seems unlikely to be this year and the calibre of teams coming up to the Ryman Prem next season means next year will be just as tough but Enfield will always be there or thereabouts for the foreseeable future.

Prediction: Top Half

 

Hendon FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Post Play-Off Blues has stricken Hendon with a season of reconstruction and still in a relegation battle. Being knocked out of both the FA Trophy & Cup by Step 8 side AFC Sudbury can’t have helped and just nine wins in 31 league games leaves Hendon in 18th place, nine points above the last relegation spot but with Brentwood Town (who occupy it) having five games in hand over Hendon.

So cause for real concern at Hendon but things are coming together when it comes to getting a real home, after several years of a nomadic existence. Their soon to be permanent home of 3G facility Silver Jubilee Park, combined with the significant amount of youth teams, is a massive improvement from where the club were just a few years ago.

The facility is already being used by youth teams and progress looks good for Hendon to be in their new home for the start of next season, meaning improved crowds and a long term future for a club that was close to disappearing forever.

Provided Hendon can stay up, there are brighter days to come.

Prediction: Survival

 

Lewes FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Probably my worst prediction of the season, with a top half estimate being horrifically wide of the mark. There is no way to sugar coat just how dark this season has been for Lewes with just four wins in 30 league games and 13 points off safety, Lewes are definitely heading down.

Still, there are a few positives that can be found even now, the 3G facility has been built and is bringing in crucial revenue streams for the club. They will be playing in the Ryman Div One South which will most likely be sending two of it’s four biggest clubs up via promotion, meaning if there is a ‘good’ season to go down this will probably be it.

Lewes have consistently failed to match their off field efforts with on field success, having spent several years now fighting relegation and failing to win more games than losses in a season, it could do them some good to actually get back to that winning feeling in the league below.

So the building job for next season is probably already underway and hopefully it will be a different story in one year.

Prediction: Doomed.

 

fcunited

FC United of Manchester – Conference North – Step 2

It’s already been quite a season for FC United with a move to a new ground, off the field issues which would need a post all to themselves and the sort of boycott that wasn’t in the FA Cup. With all that going on, it is easy to not focus on the football but that is where we will start.

In the League, after a ridiculous 4-3 comeback win over the weekend, FC United are now seven points clear of the drop with a game in hand on a few teams above them. Finishing above now rivals Stockport County is a very real prospect at this stage of the season, which shows just how far FC United have come (and also how low County have fallen). A top half finish isn’t beyond the realms of possibility but after the poor start, FC United will no doubt be glad for survival.

In terms of the Cups, FC United couldn’t match their impressive Quarter Final FA Trophy run last season, being dumped out by AFC Telford United (a club with plenty of their own problems) but it was the FA Cup which gave FC United their best (and perhaps worst) moments of the season.

A great run came to an end against Chesterfield but it was the drama surrounding the game which ended up turning what should have been a good occasion into one which left a bitter taste in the mouth.

A warning of things to come had already happened when FC United rebuffed the BBC’s attempts to interfere with their game against Sporting Khalsa by turning into a soap opera but this was averted. However, the inevitable move of their game vs Chesterfield for TV (onto a Monday night) set off a sequence of events which left nobody happy.

The FA also attempted to alter the ticket prices which eventually was not carried out but the atmosphere got very poisonous between fans on whether a boycott should be held or not. Although I suspect plenty of people who would’ve gone refused to buy tickets (and the bizarre protest of not going to the first half despite buying a ticket), the official attendance recorded looks like a mistruth, to put it most politely.

Briefly, for me if you agree to enter the competition and take the prize money over several seasons (which is generated by the TV coverage) I don’t really see the argument against it. The club can always choose not to take part in the FA Cup and it is likely that anytime the club makes the First Round, they are more likely than not to be on the telly.

Still, the FA Cup money should allow for the final few touches to go into the stadium which include completing the terracing behind one of the goals. Only one game in the league has pulled in less than 3,000 and if FC United secure their Conference North status, then attracting a higher calibre of player should allow them to challenge near the top over future seasons.

Prediction: Mid Table

 

Telford

AFC Telford United – Conference North – Step 2

The next three clubs are all victims of the sheer amount of money needed to challenge at the top of Non-League to various degrees, with Telford being the most extreme example after a season from hell.

Steve Kittrick was left in charge and allow to blow through a budget despite a less than impressive record in the second half of the AFC Telford United 2014-15 Conference season. It is criminal that a fan owned club allowed a manager to go over budget and the results meant he got the sack after five games of this season, with this season being a desperate attempt to control the wreckage of his time in charge. It seems all the money from the 2014-15 FA Cup money has been blown and a vote was held to look for options other than fan ownership.

However, I feel the need to say again: What other model is there? There is no money in owning Telford and calls for investment are really calls for someone to throw lots of money at the team for no return. Telford are largely victims of the fact the Conference is effectively the Football League, with some teams like FGR spending millions to buy one of the limited places into the Football League.

Still, despite the absolutely awful season Telford are still pulling in 1,000 plus and their current form (with a recent crushing loss against Hednesford included) is midtable. The problem is the cub are so far behind they need to go on a run of wins just to give themselves a chance of staying up. Telford lie rooted to the bottom of the league, three points off survival with the clubs above having two games in hand.

And yet, it still isn’t curtains as we approach a time of the season where an increasing amount of clubs have little to play for, Rob and Larry can still find a way to get out of the drop and fellow fan owned club FC United could do fan ownership a huge favour by gifting Telford three points in their next game.

Prediction: Survival… Just

 

Chester FC

Chester FC- Conference Prem- Step 1

Chester, like a host of ex Football League teams, are a victim of the disgustingly rigged two up two down system between Non-League and the Football League which is slowly killing a host of football clubs.

The reality is, unless you spend an obscene amount of money, you have zero chance of making the play-offs in the Conference and the financial arms race to gain those limited places has turned the Conference into the worst football division in this country.

For fan owned teams like Chester, it is even worse, with the club charging £15 for a standing ticket just to have a budget which allows for a mid-table side. On the pitch, what looked like another season of mid-table meandering is rapidly becoming a serious relegation battle, just seven clear of Boreham Wood who have two games in hand.

Chester have just two points in their last five league games and one win in 11 games, this is relegation form but it is in the FA Trophy which represents Chester’s only chance of glory this season (and in reality, their only chance until the joke of two up, two down is finally destroyed).

Chester have gone on a great run in the Trophy and have a difficult but winnable away tie against a resurgent Halifax Town. The reality of being just three rounds away from a trip to Wembley, which due to the FA Trophy and Vase being held on the same day should lead to a significantly higher crowd then last season’s 15,000, should be more than enough motivation for Chester players to give the fans something to cheer.

Prediction: Survival and trip to Wembley (hopefully)

 

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Wrexham FC- Conference Prem- Step 1

If I had been writing this a month ago, I would have had Wrexham nailed on for a play-off appearance but now they will be lucky to finish in the top half. A truly awful run including loss to relegation threatened Halifax sandwiched between losses to bottom half Southport has meant that Wrexham went from being in the driving seat for 5th to probably also-rans.

Their next game is up against financial dopers FGR but after that they are facing teams either looking at relegation including Alty and a now doomed Kidderminster, plus Welling and Bromley. Those losses to Halifax and Southport have damaged them immensely but bar FGR, all those games are winnable and 10 points from those four games will give Wrexham an outside chance of making the playoffs.

Off the field, it highlights yet again the financial challenge facing clubs that are run properly and the cancerous effect of the FA doing sweet FA about the indefensible promotion/ relegation system being run by the Football League.

Wrexham have posted their first profit under fan ownership for the season 2014/15 (their 150th year) of £11, 587 but repeating this success may be unlikely with crowds dropping off from peaks of 5,000 plus this season down to the 3,000’s, plus runs to the FA Trophy final and FA Cup ties against Stoke all would have boosted the coffers.

The current way the Football League has decided to make the Conference clubs act is to choose between running in a sustainable sensible way or actually competing in the league. Next season is even worse with the Football League, instead of reforming the system, choosing to increase parachute payments to clubs who come down fully aware that they are doing this to rig who comes back up.

The collapse of ex Football League clubs in the Conference such as Hereford and no doubt many more in the future can be laid at the door of Football League, who should now keep their mouth shut about the behaviour of the Premier League.  This rigged system, more than anything else, is why Wrexham fans will continue to be frustrated and will lead many to ask why their club (like all fan owned clubs) continues to be pushed for choosing not to cheat.

Prediction: Top Half

 

@eddyman00

The FA Cup: Spare me your Fairytales

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There’s nothing magical about teams owned by sugar daddies winning in the FA Cup.

One of the most vomit inducing spectacles over recent weeks in the FA Cup has been the almost limitless time given over to the ‘fairy-tale’ of Salford City. Going by the coverage, you’d think this was a plucky non-league club who some ex pro’s had taken a shine to and were now battling it out with the giants of the Football League.

Almost in all of the commentary on the BBC, barely a word has been mentioned of the actual owner of the club, Peter Lim, who is a billionaire who also owns Valencia. In fact, when the new job of Gary Neville as Manager of Valencia was discussed, we were told it was great that someone had taken a chance on a young English coach and not in fact simply an example of who you know being more important than what you know. He got the job because they are already in business together and due to him having zero experience of managing a team, there can be no other explanation.

In many ways, what is happening at Salford is actually a familiar story in non-league now. A club is purchased by people with lots of money; they bring in players from several leagues above on a decent salary and then proceed to buy the league. Whether this is good or bad for the game can be discussed another time (it isn’t) but surely what we can all agree on is that teams owned by people with lots of money beating those who aren’t is never a fairy-tale.

No one would describe Chelsea winning the league as a fairy-tale and for many of us, it would only be a fairy-tale if Chelsea screw up or someone like Leicester City win the league. Yet in the FA Cup we’ve seen far too many ‘fairy-tales’ for my liking.

Last round, as well as Manchester United’s future B team beating Notts County, we saw Forest Green Rovers, a club owned by a multi-millionaire who posted a loss of around £2.9 million and over £5 million in debt beat fan owned AFC Wimbledon. Eastleigh, another club backed by shed loads of cash knocked out Crewe Alexander, a club well known for their commitment to building on young academy prospects. In doing so, they have denied Stourbridge a proper FA Cup tie against a well-supported league club, who will now have to face a club with lots of money and few fans.

The ‘shocks’ continued when Whitehawk, a club also merrily engaged in financial doping beat Lincoln City but perhaps the most sickening was when Northwich Victoria won in the 1st Round and got a plum 2nd Round tie against a now rejuvenated Northampton Town. As some of you will know, Northwich Victoria is corpse of a football club whose ownership is responsible for the destruction of their old ground (one stand now being used by FC United) and is not fit to be playing in a pub league, let alone in the FA Cup.

So this week money will roll into that club and bail them out, albeit temporarily, as they buy their way with magic money back to Step 3 despite now being a shell of a football club whose soul and spirit presides at 1874 Northwich.

So for this round, I hope Northampton Town batter Northwich Victoria 15-0, I hope Oxford United dismiss FGR from the cup and I hope Man United are drawn against Salford/Hartlepool… Then Hartlepool smashes them out of sight. In this Round of the FA Cup, I hope they spare me the fairy tales.

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@eddyman00

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.

@eddyman00

Links

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

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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.

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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.

@eddyman00

Links

Non League Day

ETFC Highlights

Enfield Town Football Club

Once Upon A Time In The West… Midlands

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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.

@eddyman00

Links

InsiderMedia- Championship Finances 2015

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

Liverpool FC- The new Nottingham Forest

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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.”

@eddyman00

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.

@eddyman00

(Torquay United Supporters Trust) 

Links

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

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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.

@eddyman00

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