Is Fan Ownership Dying?




With the Telford United Supporters Trust voting virtually unanimously to relinquish their stake in the club and many other clubs struggling, are we seeing the end of fan ownership?

Last night, I trudged along to the Telford United Supporters Trust meeting for what felt like something of a funeral. The details of which I will cover later in the week, mainly around the lack of explanation (lack meaning zero) from the club board around how the club got itself into needing £50,000 and a share transfer or the club would die, leaving Trust Chair Steve Bowyer to take the brunt of the criticism from the floor (having only come in to the role when much of the damage was already done).

No, in this I’m going to discuss the much wider malaise in fan ownership (as I see it) and that I’ve gone from sort of being convinced that we were destined to be in the ascendency to seriously concerned that if things don’t change soon, it’s decline could be terminal. That’s not to say I still don’t believe in the model and having spent last Saturday at Enfield Town Football Club, it was a wonderful reminder of what can be built but it’s time for some honest and sober analysis. With the truth being, we’re in trouble.

So let’s start with the bitter reality: Outside of the fairy-tale of AFC Wimbledon, who do have several people willing to give them money and generous sponsorships, combined with the benefit of being in London, fan ownership is struggling. It’s worth noting that before we list other clubs even the organisation of Supporters Direct itself is in financial danger and could easily be allowed to wither, with the Premier League allowed to shift funding towards other organisations that can campaign to change things around the match day experience but keep their nose out of the boardrooms. Anyway, back to the clubs.

In League 2, three of the bottom four clubs are fan owned, with Newport County rooted to the bottom of the division and who themselves only reached the Football League backed by a lottery millionaire. Exeter City, one of the early adopters of the model and until Wimbledon the only fan owned club to be in League 1, are struggling to compete whilst running the club sustainably and second bottom of League 2 with Wycombe Wanderers just two places above the drop. If we drop down to the National League, we can see that a fan owned club is barred from promotion. The club that Newport County screwed out of promotion years ago at Wembley was Wrexham FC and have recently got rid of perhaps their worst Manager in recent times but whoever comes in simply won’t have the budget to compete. Chester FC, enjoying their best season in some time under a Manager who seems to prefer to work with the model unlike Steve Burr who, like Gary Mills, preferred to whinge about not having oceans of cash to throw at his team

However the reality of their complaint that the clubs cannot financially compete is true, if you are fan owned there is a new Newport County to dope themselves ahead of you every season (Forest Green, Fleetwood, Crawley) and once this is established it appears slow stagnation sets in. Can anyone really blame Hereford for throwing money up a wall to try and get straight back up when if you don’t it’s effectively your promotion hopes dead forever? The problem Telford had was when they reached the Conference and discovered that despite being well supported they simply couldn’t compete, I fear Darlo will have the same problem when they eventually reach the top of the Non-League pyramid.

If we go down to Step 2 , Telford are quitting the model and FC United may push on in future seasons but right now have their own financial problems. Even when they are on an even keel, they will have to deal with the stupid money of the Salford’s and AFC Flyde’s plus a plethora of ex Football League teams stuck at Step 2 as well.

This isn’t to say fan ownership isn’t having some success: Banbury United went from being fan owned having crashed to Step 4 to being rejuvenated and now pushing at the top of Step 3, Merthyr Town can expect to reach Step 2 at some point in the near future. Likewise, AFC Rushden & Diamonds are working their way back up the pyramid as will Scarborough Athletic (whose manager Steve Kittrick is as responsible as anyone for the situation Telford have found themselves in).

However, the general rule of thumb seems to be if you are an ex-Football League Club, Step 1 and no more and Step 2 for the rest. Once the big money kicks in: You’re barred. The reality is that many clubs such as Hereford have fallen prey to shysters precisely because they understood it really was boom or bust, bet the house and lost. A similar but smaller problem meets fan owned clubs at Step 5, where only one promotion place exists and as Runcorn Linnets found out, no matter how well run you are there’s always one club ready to dope their way to promotion and then go bust a few seasons later.

This model doesn’t benefit anyone, least of all the Football League who maintain it or the Non-League who have to deal with the fall out. The whole of football would be better off if we increased the mobility between League 2 and the Non-League game to ensure that clubs didn’t spend money they didn’t have desperately trying to stay up but instead saw it as a place to rebuild and visit a few novel clubs, before assaulting the Football League again. Clubs in Non-League wouldn’t feel the incentive to spend millions securing the only promotion spot, meaning clubs like Wrexham and Chester could reasonably target a top 7 spot and a play-off push. Surely boom and bust for some with slow stagnation for the rest is no way to run the game of football?

Although fan ownership will emerge in some places it will be purely due to picking up the wreckage of many clubs who (perfectly rationally) bankrupt themselves to chase the dream and hit the wall, not because we’ve created a culture where fan ownership can succeed. Sadly, many of these clubs that do go broke won’t be saved and will die forever, remembered only by the road name of the housing developments that replaced them.

However, unless we can find a way to persuade the Football League that it’s in their best interests to double the relegation spots and thereby stop clubs from seeing spending a season outside the Football League as a death sentence, we’re going to have to accept that the argument that you can still compete under Fan Ownership will grow more hollow every season.


The Non-League Fan Owned Season Preview 2016/17


In what may very well be the last time I inflict this punishment on myself, it is time to delve into the ever growing list of Non-League fan owned clubs plying their trade next season. Many of you will have been here before but a quick welcome to those fans at clubs like Grays Athletic, who now get to see their club take pride of place in the fan ownership family.

Right, we’re going from Step 6 all the way up to the Football League’s League 3, which for some reason hasn’t been incorporated into the Football League already and it still known as the National League. It’s largely good news stories off the field this season for many clubs and with the foundations in place, many teams will be looking to progress. So fully aware that whilst some clubs haven’t kicked off yet and others are well into their season, here we go…

Hinckley AFC – Midland Football League Division 1 – Step 6

Last season: 5th

Hinckley occupy one of the worst Step 6 leagues in the country. Whereas many Step 6 leagues offer two or three promotion places, Hinckley are in the unenviable position of competing for just one, which creates the bottlenecks we are more used to seeing at Steps 5 & 1.

Last season saw a first for the phoenix club, including an FA Cup entry which ended in them getting through to the 2nd qualification round. Sadly this season the club have been knocked out to Heanor Town, who finished 6th in the league above last season, meaning the focus this year will turn to the league. Off the field, a struggle is still in place to get back to their true home of Hinckley which is being thwarted by certain elements and in many of these cases, it takes several years to find a way home.

This season, short of yet another moneybags team popping in, I expect Bromsgrove Sporting to go up and as a club playing well under their level, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the league. Still, Hinckley will fancy being a little closer to making an impression on the league and a top 4 finish is in their sights.

Prediction: 4th

City Of Liverpool FC – North West Counties Div 1 – Step 6

New Team

The first of several new entries to this list, City Of Livepool have been a long time coming, having been planning to join the league system for some time. Mercifully for them they enter at Step 6 of the NWC league and with two automatic promotion spots plus the play-offs, have plenty of chance to progress up the pyramid.

Regular reads of previous previews will note my scepticism for what happened at AFC Liverpool which gives me a little apprehension for this project, designed to be a club catering to both the Blue and Red halves of the city but the benefit of the doubt should be given for now. Currently they will be playing at Bootle but will need to find a ground actually within the City soon otherwise the legitimate question of why shouldn’t people just go and financially support Bootle or already established Non-League clubs will not have a good answer.

If they can secure somewhere in the city centre soon, then I think they can learn the lessons of AFC Liverpool’s mistakes and we could see some progression. If they can’t I don’t expect this project to survive long. We’ll get to see what sort of crowds they can pull in from Saturday and first season momentum might see them make the play-offs.

Prediction: Play-Offs

Peacehaven & Telscombe- Southern Combination Premier- Step 5

Last season: 24th Ryman League Div One South

Another new entry to this list, Peacehaven raised the £35,000 that was needed to enable the transition to fan ownership in June of this year. Having suffered back to back relegations and therefore falling into the nightmare trap of Step 5, Peacehaven may find the going tougher than expected. Still, a new dawn is on the cards and having ended too many defeats over the last 24 months, a chance to get back into winning ways and rebuild the foundations of a club must be taken as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

The facilities they have in place remain of Step 3 standard and the key challenge now will be to build on an average attendance that barely broke 100 over the last season. A return to winning ways and more community engagement could see the club prosper in a sustainable way from now on.

Prediction: Top Half

AFC Croydon Athletic – Southern Counties East League- Step 5

Last season: 11th

Their first season back at this level since reforming was a not too shabby 11th place finish, this season the aim will be to simply have more wins than losses in the league to allow them to improve on their position. This season also begins with a new Manager with Antony Williams, who has led the club in the four years it has reformed, moving onto pastures new to be replaced by Kevin Rayner.

Already out of the FA Cup, progress this season looks like pushing closer to the top six in the league and trying to improve attendances as they begin another season back at home in Thornton Heath.

Prediction: Top 10

Fisher FC- Southern Counties East League- Step 5

Last season: 17th

Two places but 17 points off the only relegation space, survival was really all that was needed to ensure one of the best stories in Non-League Football could come to fruition. That’s right, somehow, the mighty Fish have managed to swim all the way home. They’ve headed upstream from Dulwich back to the Surrey Docks in Bermondsey and have a safe and secure future, at the heart of their community, in a wonderful 3G facility.

So much credit needs to go to a whole host of people at Fisher FC but I’m going to single out Chairman Ben Westmancott for special praise, having kept the whole show on the road even when sometimes he must have wondered whether this would ever happen. Sadly, Fisher won’t be in the FA Cup this season due to the ground not being ready but that’s another treat the club can look forward to in the future.

With the League below now having a proper structure for promotion, Fisher FC will have to do better than last season if they want to survive but with their brilliant new facilities I think it would be a surprise if they aren’t competing for mid table positions come seasons end.

Prediction: Mid-Table

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

Last season: 8th

A terrible start last year led to a strong finish and if Saffron can take that form into this season, they could be a decent dark horse to challenge for promotion but the gap last season to the top three was a huge 36 points so it may be too much of an ask.

Meanwhile, attendances remain some of the strongest in this division and could survive a level above whilst a win in this seasons FA Cup extra prelim round gives them a chance to have a decent little run in the cup. Overall, another season of steady progress beckons.

Prediction: Top 6

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

Last season: 10th

After last season was effectively ruined by Salisbury going bust for the millionth time and reforming in the Wessex Prem, no other club really stood a chance to seriously compete. However, with Salisbury away for the next few years until their next liquidation, a chance has opened up for others to make an impact. A disappointing FA Cup defeat to lower league opposition is not a god omen but they will be setting their sights on finishing higher this time around.

Prediction: Top 8

Congleton Town- North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Last season: 6th

We head now into the North West Counties Prem Division where a whole host of fan owned clubs are plying their trade, beginning with Congleton Town FC. A very impressive 6th place finish last season could be bettered this season, with no club appearing to be able to throw oceans of cash at the league this time around.

Still, they were a long way off the top three the last time around and a 4-2 defeat in their first league match to fellow fan owned club 1874 Northwich may show the gap in class. A win in the FA Cup has set up another home tie against Farsley Celtic and how well Congleton can play against a team above them in the pyramid will be a good test of how far they can go this season.

Prediction: Top 6

AFC Liverpool- North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Last season: 17th

Avoiding relegation by nine points and with a limited fan base, I guess this wasn’t the vision for the club when it was first founded, being stillborn since the club decided to brand themselves as a little brother to Liverpool FC rather than as a clear defiant statement of what is wrong with top flight football.

Still, for some mysterious reason they are being tipped to do well and some players have been poached from Runcorn Linnets although the eyebrow raising signing is that of Shaun Tuck, best known for being racist on Twitter. How that fits in with the whole fan owned ethos I don’t know but whatever. There doesn’t appear to be any plan to get a ground of their own and regardless of how they do this season, in the long run they looked like they’ve missed their boat.

Prediction: Top 3

Runcorn Linnets – North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Last season: 2nd

Spare a thought for the unluckiest fan owned team you are likely to see. The last three seasons Runcorn Linnets have been pipped to the post, finishing as runners up to teams who bluntly poured oceans of cash at it and went up instead. They missed out by three points last season and this near miss led to popular Manager Joey Dunn walking away from the club, followed by a large exodus of players. How different the story could have been if they managed to go up last year as their attendances would see them manage at Step 3.

The reality is, a rebuilding job is on the cards and after an FA Cup defeat it is going to be one of the hardest seasons Linnets fans will have to endure for a long time.

Prediction: Top 10

1874 Northwich – North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Last season: 4th

Although it seems like they would still be a mile off challenging to the untrained eye, this season looks like being 1874’s best chance of escaping Step 5 they are likely to get for many years.

Colne have gone up, Linnets team has disintegrated and they finished just six points off Atherton Collieries in 3rd. If someone was going to buy the league they would have done it by now and the closest to that actually looks like AFC Liverpool. Off the pitch, 1874 Northwich made their biggest step yet to gaining a permanent home of their own by bringing in sports stadium designer Frank Whittle Partnership, to assist in the initial plans of envisioning what a home of their own would look like.

Having a real tangible idea of what the club wants not only is something they can shows councils and funding bodies but also galvanises a fanbase, who looked like they might have to get used to sticking around in Step 5 for many years to come. A win in the FA Cup followed by an emphatic 4-2 win against Congleton Town has laid down a marker for the rest of the league and the rest of the season. They really won’t get a better chance than this for a long time to come and to let it slip away would be as criminal as Jim Rushe’s recent conviction on intent to distribute Class A drugs.

Prediction: Top 2

AFC Rushden & Diamonds – Evo-Stik Div One South – Step 4

Last season: 5th Southern League Central (Play-Off finalists)

As if to show how quickly the fortunes in football can change and how precarious the existence of Non-League clubs is, the tale of the Diamonds is a good one. Last season, they agonisingly missed out on back to back promotions and ending up in the Southern Prem at Step 3. A 88th minute equalizer by St Ives and eventual win against the Diamonds condemned them to another year at Step 4 but the really worrying news was off the field.

As well as being transferred to the Evo-Stik Div One South, horrible news came through that at the end of the season the Diamonds would have to find a new home, with their groundshare at the Dog & Duck with Wellingborough Town being ended by the landowner booting both clubs out. Wellingborough have stated this will almost certainly be the death of them, 149 years down the drain for some property developers to make a killing is as good an image of how depressing this country has become. It also brings into sharp focus how having a secure and safe home is probably the single most important thing any club (or any human being for that matter) can possess.

So barring a miracle, the Diamonds will once again have to decamp and say goodbye to the £1,000’s that were invested in the stadium, to seek pastures new. However, the club is not dead and will overcome this obstacle as it has already done with so many others, attendances will still be some of the strongest in the league and the Diamonds can look forward to facing off against a brand new set of teams. With the need to move soon, a cup run would be a Godsend.

Prediction: Top 8

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

Last season: 16th

Prescot enjoyed their best performance in the league for a long time last year, finishing oceans clear of relegation. The trick this time around will be to see if they can improve on that performance or find themselves dragged back to their traditional role of hovering above the relegation zone.

The league has been shorn of some of the stronger teams, with moneybags Warrington Town departing and Spennymoor Town doing the whole of British football a giant favour as the Darlo B team beat Northwich Victoria, who themselves are surely finished now. So they may be more chance to pick up points then previous years. Overall, I think this year will be similar to last in most respects.

Prediction: Mid-Table

Bamber Bridge- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Last season: 12th

After two seasons of play-off final defeats it was perhaps inevitable that Bamber would fall back and need to rebuild. They still showed flashes of what makes them such a strong competitor at this level but simply left themselves with two much to do to have any real chance of crashing the play-offs.

Hyde and Colwyn Bay may see themselves as challengers having come down but the losing habit is tough to get out of and with Witton Albion, who traditionally are strong at this level, being transferred out of the division it does mean someone like Bamber has a good chance to come through the middle of the field. Overall, I expect them to be competing for the playoffs with their season beginning against fellow fan owned club and last season’s horrific underachievers Scarborough Athletic.

Prediction: Chasing the play-offs.

Scarborough Athletic FC- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Last season: 20th

If I was an up and coming Non-League Manager and you could drop me in at any Non-League team, I would be choosing Scarborough Athletic 100%. This is a club with Football League history and the potential to head right back up the Leagues to the top of the Non-League Pyramid.

Last seasons result would not have you believing that, for it was truly horrific. Finishing just one spot above the relegation spots with just 10 wins from 42 league games, having been on the cusp of play-offs the year before. The average attendance was the lowest the club has had in its nine years of senior football, standing at a still impressive 332, whilst the club remains miles from Scarborough.

What that means is that actually, the club have bottomed out. Next year the club is finally heading back home to Scarborough, where the average attendance 10 years ago was over 1,600 (and that was after years of financial mismanagement), which would put Scarborough with attendances that can more that succeed at National North Level. Whether Scarborough will get that many through the gates straight away remains to be seen but in a few years a 1000 plus average attendance must be the aim.

The man who has got the chance to lead them there is Steve Kittrick, who made such an awful mess at Telford but he has found himself with one of the few jobs in Non-League Football with oceans of potential. So the aim this season will be to put in a mid-table performance as a minimum and identifying a spine of a promotion side, ready to begin what will be the new era for the club, when they finally get to head home.

Prediction: Top Half

Hyde United – Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Last season: 22nd Evostik Prem (Relegated)

One team who know exactly what the word horrific really means is Hyde United. The club have now had three relegations in three seasons, with last season being perhaps the most draining as in terms of stature, they are a solid Step 3 club but the culture of defeat is a really difficult one to shake. The club has had just 15 wins in their last 132 league games, a record that would drive even the most die-hard fan to despair and probably alcohol dependency.

The man in charge of stopping the rot is Darren Kelly, a man whose managerial career has flattered to deceive, with last season him losing six out of the six games he was in charge at Hyde United. This combined with his previous poor spells at both Oldham and Halifax leave a lot to be desired.

Off the field, a shiny new 3G facility has been plonked down, which as many will know can be a lifeline for Non-League clubs and should hopefully mean the club suffer significantly fewer postponements to. The club has levelled out now and although many are backing them for promotion I think three years of negativity will be tough to crack, when what is needed is simply a season where people can go down to watch Hyde United in the belief that more often than not, they are going to come away having won a bloody football match.

Prediction: Top 8

Lewes FC- Ryman Div One South – Step 4

Last Season: 23rd Ryman Prem (Relegated)

Like Hyde, the good work of the field at Lewes has never been matched by quality on it. Despite boasting strong Step 3 attendances even when being beaten week in, week out, the time for it to click together has simply never come for those at the Dripping Pan. The last three seasons were 16th, 19th and of course relegation last season by finishing 23rd.

So what is really required from Lewes this year is simply, like Hyde, to get back into a winning habit and have some optimism around the place. Nor will it be east to go straight back up even playing well with near neighbours Hastings United looking primed for a challenge along with Guernsey. Overall, a winning season would be a good reboot for a club who need to find some momentum.

Prediction: Top 10

Grays Athletic- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Last season: 15th

Title Odds: 25/1

This will be the first season for Grays Athletic under fan ownership, having raised over £45,000 towards their community share offer, beating the minimum target of £30,000 and pushing towards the £60,000 they originally aimed for.

On the pitch, they could be in for a rough ride as last season they would’ve only been seven points clear of the drop if Farnborough weren’t already being demoted for financial irregularities. Also, the teams coming up are stronger than the ones who went down and they will have a real battle on their hands for the first season under fan ownership to be a positive one. Still, in the long term the future of the club depends of finding a home of their own, back in their local community and only then will they have a chance to sustainable progress.

Prediction: Battling the drop.

Hendon FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Last season: 19th

Title Odds: 40/1

Sometimes, life delivers a few miracles which you get to be lucky enough to witness and Hendon FC is one of those stories. When I went to see them play roughly three years ago, they were probably one FA Trophy defeat away from being wrapped up. Flash forward to the present day and Hendon are kicking off their first league game in a new long term home, back in Hendon. It’s a truly remarkable story and effort by many involved, including Hendon Chairman Simon Lawrence, who looked like a broken man all those years ago but still couldn’t bring himself to give up and generations of people in Hendon will be very grateful that he didn’t.

There are a dozen people who should all be thanked, including Rob Morris and others but for me having met him and knowing just how important it was to see a win in the FA Trophy that gave Hendon a few more months, Simon can be very proud when they open up their first home game in the league on Saturday.

On the pitch, the shiny new 3G pitch, Hendon will undoubtedly improve on last season’s performance and possessing one of the best Managers in Non-League, they are criminally undervalued in the odds. The real challenge this year is to start shamelessly promoting the club in the community and get those attendances breaking the 400-500 mark if good performances are coming. Gary McCann says he can get Hendon challenging for promotion, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Prediction: Top Half

Enfield Town FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Last season: 6th

Title Odds: 12/1

The most important football club in England will look to go one better than last season’s agonising near miss for a play-off spot, missing out by two points. The season before ETFC only missed out due to FA incompetence but sadly, if Hendon look undervalued then I am afraid to say Enfield Town look like they might be stepping backwards.

This is nothing to do with poor management and in many ways ETFC is a victim of their own success. Just like Hendon who had many players pinched when they had that great season two years ago, Enfield Town have lost some of their best players, with Bobby Devyne (13 league goals) heading to Welling United and Corey Whitely, who scored 20 league goals last season, was poached by John Still to go and play for Dagenham & Redbridge. John Still has always had a great eye for talent so don’t be surprised if Corey Whitely is playing in the Football League in the future. Replacing 33 league goals and a hatful of assists will be no easy task, which is what makes me sceptical they will perform as well this season.

Still, ETFC were one round away from the 1st Round Proper of the FA Cup and there’s every chance they could find themselves knocking on the door of a game against a Football League side next season, so there is lots to look forward to at Enfield. The club is in good financial health and with attendances that mean they will consistently be challenging, it’s probably going to be another good season to be an Enfield fan.

Prediction: Top 10

Tonbridge Angels – Ryman Prem – Step 3

Last season: 4th Play-Off semi-final

Title Odds: 9/1

Whereas Enfield Town have lost the services of two of their best goalscorers, Tonbridge Angels have kept hold of Nathan Elder and Luke Blewden, who put in above 40 goals between them last season. A season where both are half as prolific will still get them enough points one suspects to see them into the play-offs again.

Boasting healthy attendances which are only outstripped significantly by Dulwich Hamlet, who will again challenge for promotion, Tonbridge should fancies themselves for a play-off place and a decent chance of automatically heading back up to the National League South.

Prediction: Play-Offs

Merthyr Town – Southern League Prem – Step 3

Last season: 10th

Title Odds: 11/1

We head to the Southern Prem now and what is one of the two Welsh clubs on this list, Merthyr Town FC. Last season was a perfectly solid return to the level at which the old club folded, ending up 15 points off the play-offs in the end and I am sure most Merthyr fans will have bitten your hand off if that was on offer at the start of the season.

What would have disappointed them though was the Martyrs disappointing FA cup run (or lack of), going out to Step 5 Hartley Wintney 1-0 in the 1st Qualifying Round, so Merthyr will be looking to improve on that sorry showing. A crowd of 500 watched their first home game of the season which was played on a Tuesday night, showing that Merthyr will be one of the best supported teams in the entire league.

With a catchment area of potential players largely to themselves, this will be the Martyrs best chance of promotion to the level at which they can probably be sustainable (Step 2) for a few years. For if not this year, a reformed Hereford FC (still sadly choosing a private ownership model which had led to their collapse in the first place) will be sweeping the league next season, with Salisbury City potentially joining them too. The Southern Prem is likely to be the toughest league over the next few seasons at Step 3 to escape from so fingers crossed the Martyrs can get out whist the going is good.

Prediction: Play-Offs.

Dorchester- Southern League Prem – Step 3

Last season: 13th

Title Odds: 100/1

Conceding six goals with none scored in your first two opening fixtures is never a good sign and would explain why Dorchester are bottom of the odds in teams to get promoted. Dorchester have gone from being nearly put out of existence but are now debt free, which is a significant achievement.

However, with Dorchester losing a significant amount of cash due to the Park and Ride Bus service which ran from DTFC ending, a significant budget cut had to take place. As a result, the chance to progress up the league and swell attendances that already put them in the top 8 of the league appears to have slipped away this season.

As a result of this significant money lost, this season Dorchester may struggle to survive but if a few loan signings can bring talent from the leagues above they may not be cut adrift. Overall there’s a long, hard season to come.

Prediction: Survival

Banbury United – Southern League Prem – Step 3

Last season: 2nd (Play-Off winners)

Title Odds: 14/1

Last season was the absolute best example of how fan ownership can rejuvenate a club. After relegation the season before, Banbury United would go on a ridiculous run which never really came to an end. 94 points with only 4 defeats in their entire league season culminating in a play-off final victory witnessed by over 1,200 people.

The club has taken that momentum into a new league, as promoted sides often do. A season of mid-table solidarity would be more than good enough for Banbury but as already mentioned, with Hereford and perhaps Salisbury heading back up soon, this isn’t a bad year to sneak into the play-offs.

Prediction: Top half

FC United of Manchester – National North – Step 2

Last season: 13th

Title Odds: 25/1

Last season, a season of mid table mediocrity which led to them safely maintaining their Step 2 status was in wild contrast to the off the field chaos surrounding the team. Some perhaps necessary blood-letting has taken place and hopefully much of the poison surrounding the club since their move to the new ground, with issues such as the Chesterfield FA Cup game and a financially darker situation then should’ve been expected, is seeping away. Still, the inevitable centralisation of power when one man remains in place for so long has now been brought to an end and the club can now look to move on.

This season, FC United have made an uncharacteristically good start with 5 points from 3 games, including a win over well fancied Stockport County and one more win from the next two games will leave FC United fans feeling a lot more positive about this season than many expected. This league however is the most fiercely competitive it has ever been and this season FC United have been joined by teams adding strength from all directions. Ex-Football League Kidderminster and Halifax Town have come down from Step 1, whilst wannabe Man United ‘b’ team Salford City have come up from Step 3 alongside yet another ex-Football League club in Darlington.

Off the field, the goal remains to fully complete the stadium and maintain their position in the National North for another season before looking to push on to the top of the Non-League game, another cup run could financially be a boost but many United fans may well wish to avoid the inevitable circus that comes with FC United reaching a 1st Round FA Cup game.

Overall, FC United will have to perform stronger just to stand still but with a lot of the initial teething problems experienced at this level out of the way, they should be safe for another year but with so many teams simply in a hugely stronger financial position than them, the play-offs look out of reach for a few seasons yet.

Prediction: Mid-Table

AFC Telford United – National North – Step 2

Last season: 18th and the biggest resurrection since Jesus Christ

If the job that Rob and Larry had pulled off was even one league higher, people would be eulogising over their unbelievable achievement and Telford would likely have had to get in a new management team. As it is, they happen to be at Step 2 and therefore Telford will get to start their season with one of the best duos in the business.

Telford United are one of the biggest victims of the National League becoming effectively ‘League 3’ of the English Football League. Unable to ever really believe that there is even a remote possibility to compete for promotion to the Football League after an extraordinary rise from resurrection, an understandable stagnation seemed to set in. Going from averaging 1,500 to dropping to just over the 1,000 mark now, a realisation that Step 2 is the cubs natural level and effectively the same standard of the old top of the Non-League pyramid before the ex-Football League influx has happened.

A relegation to Step 3 would have been extremely traumatic for a club that had such a quick resurgence but now the stats bear out that Telford are at the level they will likely ply their trade for a few years to come yet. Telford has spent six of their 12 years playing at Step 2 and after this season will have spent the majority of existence competing at National North level.

As already noted, this league is harder than ever but bar Blyth and perhaps Scarborough Athletic in the future, this is as difficult as it will get which means the process of resurgence can begin again, starting from this season. The squad was largely gutted meaning Rob and Larry have their own team in place and already look tougher to beat then they ever were last season. Still, the strength of this league will be a struggle and mid-table would a be a significant achievement and improvement so I am going to undersell and predict simply survival.

Prediction: Survival

Darlington FC- National North – Step 2

Last season: 1st (Evo-Stik Northern Prem)

Title Odds: 16/1

Since their formation, Darlington have simply flown. They’ve had their own dark moments but with three promotions in four seasons, including making short work of the league with which FC United had such a hard time with, they are on the verge of getting back to the top tier of Non-League Football.

Off the field, Darlington will at some point this season finally return to their own town and into the facilities at Blackwell Meadows, which has taken them a relatively short five years to get back to. The inevitable boost in attendances, sponsorship and community involvement that comes from being back in a proper home

The team possess one of the most able and professional Managers in Martin Gray, who will relish the chance to take on the likes of Stockport, Halifax and FC United this season. Entering the FA Cup one round later also gives them the best chance they’ve ever had to make the 1st Round Proper  and being just three games away from that prize, I wouldn’t put it past them to improve on what has been disappointing Cup performances.

This season then is one largely of enjoyment and optimism, with no pressure on Darlo this year to do anything other than put in some good performances to attract a new generation of fans. A mid-table season with a real focus on some cup runs would be the order of the day.

Prediction: Mid-table

Chester FC- National Prem- Step 1

Last season: 17th

An absolutely horrific run of form led to the sacking of Steve Burr before he could take Chester down. Having spent so much money at Kidderminster (and deserving more blame for their eventually financial problems than he ever got), his constant sniping about the budget was masking some all to obvious problems in his own performance.

Chester suffer from a similar problem as Telford but just a league above and it is perhaps slightly more painful for Chester , having previous tasted League football. Short of a potential Football League reorganisation or a much needed expansion of promoted teams, it’s probably going to be a long time yet before Chester have a realistic short of challenging for promotion. Of course, the issue is once you stand still you’re already going backwards and this stagnation could be a concern in terms of crowds.

Last season, I said the FA Trophy should be the focus and the eventual winners of Halifax would beat Chester in that completion but also suffer relegation. I’d be interested to know how many Chester fans, if offered that deal of a cup final triumph at Wembley for a temporary relegation, would take it.

With North Ferriby looking nailed on for the drop and other traditional Non-League teams like Southport struggling, the process of the National League becoming a fully-fledged League 3 is almost complete. For the time being through, Chester should be targeting the cup competitions with relish and looking to win the FA Trophy, a completion that many above them will treat as an inconvenience.

Prediction: Bottom Half

Wrexham FC- National Prem- Step 1

Last season: 8th

Title Odds:

A nightmare run over the Christmas period last year left them with way too much to do and although last seasons 8th was their highest finish for a few years, thanks to watching Dover and Braintree make the play-offs instead whilst throwing away a chance to play Shrewsbury in the FA Cup 1st Round after choking against Gainsborough Trinity, it could also be considered one of their most disappointing.

The stature of the club is demonstrated by the absolute heroic tenacity of Wrexham fans to put disappointment behind them and show up in their droves. The first game of this season had 5,600 show up and the longer Wrexham look like they are in a play-off race, the more those crowds will swell and the virtuous circle can grow.

Wrexham have also finally taken back control of their beloved Racecourse Ground with a 99 year lease signed in July, meaning their long term future is secured and money spent in the bars of the ground can find their way back into the clubs coffers. The short term dent in Gary Mills budget will be filled quickly if Wrexham fans really feel the club is on the verge of another crack at the play-offs. A last minute 3-2 victory over Guiseley is exactly the sort of game they through away last season but I still think that there are simply too many nouveau-rich teams with budgets for Wrexham to really compete

Prediction: Top Half and a decent FA Cup run.



Forest Green Rovers is the Club the Football League deserves.


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.


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



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.


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


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…


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



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



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



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



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.



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



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)



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



The FA Cup: Spare me your Fairytales


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.



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.”