In theory, a salary cap in League One and League Two makes perfect sense.
In practice, it doesn’t work. Technically, right now, there is a salary cap in place. The EFL’s Salary Cost Management Protocol, the current version of Financial Fair Play in our division, broadly allows each League One club to spend 60% of its turnover on wages, or 50% in League Two. It sounds like a fair system, but it is easy to circumnavigate, as the likes of Fleetwood and Forest Green have shown, and it isn’t policed tightly enough at all.
The recent pandemic saw football take a long, hard look at itself and for a brief moment there appeared to be some sort of unity as uncertainty ravaged the lower leagues. We didn’t know when we’d play again and for a brief, fleeting moment, there was an air of ‘we’re all in it together’. It was brief though, like the moment an arguing family raises their glasses at Christmas and toasts goodwill, before retiring to different rooms to slag each other off.
I won’t go into PPG finishes and all that, not again, but the salary cap has had the same divisive effect. Those that have the means argue they should be able to spend what they make, whilst those who do not are behind a levelling of the playing field. To go back to a Christmas analogy, turkeys are voting to change the menu to chicken this year and the chickens are voting not to. There is a middle ground, a group of clubs such as ourselves who wouldn’t be adversely affected by a salary cap, nor would we particualrly benefit hugely. In a division where on club can spend £1.3m on agents fees and another probably has that has their whole budget (I don’t know Accrington’s budget), there is always going to be an advantage to cutting the tail of the big boys, but is it fair?
I’ve discussed it on here, some feel that if clubs like Sunderland wanted to spend freely then they shouldn’t be relegated, whilst others think if the money is earned organically, rather than artificially, then they should be able to spend it. For instance, why should Peterborough want to sell Ivan Toney for £10m if they can only spend £2.5m of that on their squad? However, why should rich owners be able to put their own name on shirts at inflated rates and get around the rules to chase ‘progress’ that doesn’t match their status? As an indication of what I mean, Accrington had the lowest average attendance in League One last season and are often quoted as being one of the ‘have nots’, but Fleetwood only had 250 or so more supporters per game and yet they are one of the sides with inflated means.
Should a rule take into account the source of the income? Or is it just jealously from clubs with 10,000 fans per week that they can be run sensibly and struggle, whilst a rich benefactor can push what is essentially a fourth-tier side, at best, towards the Championship? By the way, five clubs in the National League average more fans per week than Fleetwood Town, who are one of the finest examples of why clubs want a salary cap in place.
The problem is that now, even the EFL seem unsure about what to do. The promoted clubs were set to be allowed to vote, with relegated Championship clubs not having a say, but the EFL recently made a U-turn on that decision. One minute, the voting pool had three chickens in it, now they have had their vote taken away and three turkeys have entered the vote instead. Whereas only those with big turnovers and the means to spend were going to vote against a cap, they’ve now received some key reinforcements, whilst their rivals have seen possible allies snatched away. Were the EFL scared that the proposals might actually go through?
Then there’s the ridiculous rules which has seen a number of clubs spending, including us to be fair. Initially, any vote would have meant that players signed after June 30th would have been subject to the rules, should they come in. The vote has now been shifted to August 6th and with it the cut-off date for signing players. Any players signed between now and then, plus those already at clubs, would be assumed to be earning the average wages for a League One player; £1300. That means that for Bolton, the likes of Eoin Doyle and Antoni Sarcevic would count as £1300 per week for the duration of their contracts, as would Conor McGrandles and James Jones for us. I strongly suspect our business would have gone ahead anyway if Clive’s comments are anything to go by. He tweeted: “We were in favour of the salary cap concept but absolutely share the outrage in the way the EFL is handling the process allowing the chancers to benefit. A 30 June cut off date set out in the original documentation was emphatically reaffirmed at the 10 July meeting of L1 clubs.”
Basically, the salary cap which the likes of Newport County believed could save their club is now turning into the SCMP, with loopholes allowing those with means and not necessarily the turnover to spend big. That’s why Salford and Forest Green are two clubs in League Two already making lots of signings, despite having average attendances in the lower half of the division. Already, the very reason the protocols are being put in place is being avoided, diluted and ignored completely.
It is why, despite being firmly in favour of some form of restriction. I cannot see a way forward for the Salary Cap in its current format unless the EFL are decisive and firm in their implementation of it. even if they are, this auspicious start means those playing by the rules are already at a disadvantage, yet again.