Updated: Jun 29
Coronavirus has brought about a postponement to the football season. While this means all clubs lose money, who will it hit the hardest?
English football is something of a finely tuned ecosystem. You have the 6 biggest clubs at the top of the Premier League; Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United & Tottenham Hotspur. Below them, you have the midtable sides, and on & on it goes down through the leagues.
There are actually over 20 levels in the English football pyramid. The top four tiers being fully professional (full-time), the following four being a mixture of professional clubs and semi-professional (part-time) clubs, and below that, they’re usually amateur (unpaid) with the odd semi-pro team in there.
The problem facing football clubs at the minute is they simply have no revenue stream. However, they are bound by their staff contracts to continue paying wages. For the Premier League clubs, while this does mean a tightening of the purse-strings, they should survive with minimal damage. Indeed, the clubs who will be hurt the most by this ban are the full-time, professional clubs in the lower leagues of the professional game. By this, I am alluding to the teams in the third and fourth-tiers of the pyramid.
At the best of times, these clubs are scraping by. Usually, in the EFL (the organisation who governs the second, third and fourth-tiers), clubs are paying around 75% of their revenue towards staff costs. Without revenue, this will create masses of debt.
In fact, we saw at the beginning of this season, one club, Bury FC, go out of business entirely because of debt defaults. Another, Bolton Wanderers, would have gone into liquidation at the same time had it not been for an eleventh-hour cash injection by a new owner. These two clubs played in the third tier at the time.
So, you see that running a football club is about the finest of margins. Rarely does a club make a profit in the lower-leagues – they’re just happy if they can break-even.
Therefore, we are going to bear witness to a number of smaller clubs go out of business within the coming weeks and months. To many onlookers, that may not seem like an overly disappointing thing.
The Premier League will be fine & all I watch is the Premier League. Who cares if Northampton Town, Plymouth Argyle or Accrington Stanley go under?
Well firstly, the staff and players care. When Bury FC went under, the players had been playing without receiving a wage for 6 months. We’re going to be looking at a similar state of affairs soon – just en masse.
Moreover, for some, the Premier League is too expensive & they prefer going to their local club. Local clubs have a very different feel to their Premier League counterparts. Sure, you won’t see 50,000 people all celebrate a goal at the same time. You’ll be lucky to catch 5,000 people at my local team. Though, you get to know the staff there, like the lady at the tea counter, or the steward near where you sit. There’s a more community-minded attitude at smaller clubs, which the game would miss if it lost.
Further, there are so many Premier League players who have come through at smaller clubs – or, if they weren’t developed by their academies, they spend some valuable time on loan in the lower leagues.
Look no further than Harry Kane, the Tottenham talisman and England captain. Kane spent time on loan at EFL clubs Leyton Orient, Millwall & Leicester City before he became the player he is today.
Similarly, Jamie Vardy came through the non-league system (levels 5 & below) before going on to become a household name for catapulting Leicester City to an unprecedented Premier League title in 2016.
As I said in the opener, English football is a delicate ecosystem. If you lost the little clubs, you’d diminish the capacity of the big clubs, you’d lose the cornerstone of communities and you’d see thousands of honest workers lose out on pay.
So, what can be done?
Now is not the time for the Thucydidian mantra: “The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must”. Now is a time for a world united & thus, a footballing community united.
The bigger clubs know that they rely on, to some extent, littler clubs – for the reasons I have laid out in this piece. Knowing that they had ought to share out some of the surplus capital they undoubtedly have at the moment. In particular, clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, whose owners are worth astronomical amounts of money.
Finally, as a supporter of a small side that has announced they are unlikely to survive this crisis, I genuinely hope that the footballing community rallies around and helps itself out.
These clubs should not be a primary concern for the state, due to the sheer fortunes circulating within the game. Football can sustain itself here. I hope very much that it decides to do so.
The Politician will be continuing its news & opinion stories as normal throughout this crisis.
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