Football is standing on the edge of a precipice and at present, there is still no clear outline as to how the help will be administered.
I find it desperately sad that the most read Lincoln City articles on news aggregator News Now in the last 14 days feature only two on the financial plight facing our game, and one of those was the official statement the club put out from the EFL. I’m not sure whether that is a lack of coverage from key news outlets or apathy from some sections of support. Indeed, our articles on the plight do not feature on the most read, and the only one that does is this from LSJ. The situation is not going away, and whilst we look to lighten the mood with kit world cups and matches of the past, the spectre of financial ruin is still there. As Clive told the Echo recently, “I think it [the rescue package] needs to come before January so, if necessary, we can take any action we need to in the transfer window,” which suggests although a degree of help has been agreed, there is no certainty as yet.
Misleading headlines from national news sources could serve to confuse and cloud the waters, so we wanted to offer some clarity as to what the current situation is with each of the parties responsible and where we, as a club, are affected by this.
The government stance is very clear – they will not bail out elite football clubs. In their eyes, elite football is Morecambe to Manchester City, Colchester to Chelsea and everything in between. To rub salt into the wounds of clubs who are struggling to see the future in a positive light, a rescue package was passed out to sports yesterday, with £300m allocated to protecting clubs in what Oliver Dowden called ‘the most generous single package of any country in the world‘. It’s not quite as generous as the £1.57bn he handed out to arts and culture earlier in the autumn though, but it is a start. only, it isn’t, not for us. Of the £300m, the Imps and other EFL clubs will get nothing. Rugby Union gets the most, £135m, whilst football does get £28m, split £11m for the National League steps 1 and 2 (levels which have already had £10m), £13 for steps 3-6 and £3m for the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship. For the record, nine of the 12 teams in the Women’s Super League are connected to Premier League clubs, whilst the other three (Birmingham, Bristol City and Reading) are connected to Championship clubs. Elite football gets nothing. Sure it is generous, but it is like feeding all of your kids, literally sitting down and putting food on their plates, but starving your stepson who sits and watches, whom you insist your ex-partner must feed.
Instead of help, they are insisting the Premier League bail out elite football clubs, and indeed are today said to be ‘losing patience‘ not only with them but also the EFL. Sports Minister Nigel Huddlestone (from Lincoln, educated at Robert Patt) is insisting it is not the government who should help elite clubs. He’s been accused of class bias, with racing and rugby union high on the list of funding, a claim he has denied. “There’s a whole variety of sports being supported by this and the very first sport was rugby league at the start of the coronavirus. The money is based on the need of clubs to make sure they survive, so it is not a north-south divide, Tory vs Labour area, you will see the money is being spread fairly well across the country. It is based on an assessment of need and I am comfortable with that criteria rather than anything else being applied.”
Julian Knight, MP for Solihull, claims that those governing our game are letting it down, rather than the government. “We are losing patience,” said Knight. “Fans have waited a long time for a solution that would safeguard their clubs but all they can see is squabbling at the top of the game. We’re putting the current leaders of the Premier League and the EFL on notice. We want to be kept in the loop about every discussion, every meeting, every call, every email, to save clubs at risk. Nothing should be withheld from the committee, and so that fans can see what’s going on, we’ll make these updates public.”
Remember, the government have pledged no clubs will be allowed to go out of business during the pandemic, but have not actually done anything about it. However, they are said to be investigating the return of fans into grounds, maybe even before Christmas. Whilst we welcome this, it won’t help the club significantly. Remember, with 5,000 odd season ticket holders, getting supporters back into the ground won’t be a big financial boost. Of course, it is a start and we desperately want to be back as soon as possible, but the real crux of our survival does rest on a bailout of some description, not a token gesture.
The Premier League
One of the conditions of the government allowing the Premier League to resume, apparently, was that they bailed out the EFL. After Project Big Picture (part 1) failed, a misguided and abhorrent power grab, they came back with a £50m rescue package, which was initially rejected by the EFL as it didn’t include Championship clubs. That offer came back a second time and was accepted as situations grew increasingly dire for amny club but as yet the money has not been forthcoming. Also, that £50m has been described as being £20m in grants and £30m in loans, which is pushing part of the problem further down the river, rather than resolving any outstanding issues now. Sky News reports that is a bone of contention between the EFL and the Premier League, in that it is loading clubs with debt. Remember, what the Premier League are essentially proposing is to give £1m for each member club, and loan £1.5m for every club. When you think about the amount each club spends every summer, that is not actually a huge amount at all, no matter how big it seems to us.
Before the money reaches the clubs, there has to be some agreement as to how that is divided up, and yet again we’re going to see conflict. If we finally get agreement between the EFL and the Premier League, the clubs themselves have to agree too, and that looks increasingly less likely also. For instance, Phillip Day at Grimsby believes the rescue money should be split 50/50 between League Two and League One, but if that were the case you could expect around £1m per club, in each division. With the greatest of respect, have Stevenage lost the same amount of revenue as Lincoln City? No, but some clubs want some parity. Bradford City have called for equal distribution too, with the director of communications and commercial Ryan Sparks saying: “Some clubs will argue that they should have more than others but why? We’re all in the same boat. With a club like ours arguably bigger in fanbase and sponsorship than others, it’s a case of the bigger they are the harder they fall.”
However, as well as the split between leagues, should the losses be managed on a pro-rata basis? Rick Parry has said that should happen, but should Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich, with bigger squads and higher wage bills, be given more money because they’re bigger clubs? It is a minefield and there is no real right or wrong answer.
There has been a discussion around owners being means-tested too, something Portsmouth supremo Mark Caitlin is not happy with. “I don’t think you can means test owners. That would be a crazy situation,” he told his local media. “The clubs are businesses in their own right and we’ve consistently said we operate a break-even model here. The safest, surest and most equitable way to deal with this is based upon lost gate receipts. The figure being mentioned won’t cover that, but it will go some way towards it – which is a great help to Portsmouth and clubs in League One and League Two.”
Where Are We Now?
As you may have figured out, although a deal has been accepted, the clarity over how to progress simply isn’t there. The government have seemingly washed their hands of the responsibility and personally, I feel a little disgusted that they could easily have moved to bail out League One and Two, and then moved to get recompense from the Premier League themselves. Maybe that’s me looking at it from a simplistic view, but clearly, money has been found for arts and culture, as well as other sports, but nothing for us. There was no demand on Formula One to bail out other motorsports, was there?
I find the fact money has flowed to big clubs women’s teams sad too, more so that they need a bailout when they are associated with big teams who could easily afford to do just that. I keep feeling the Football League is being punished, for something, I’m not sure what. I can’t work out if we are an innocent bystander in a war between the government and the Premier League, a casualty of the EFL’s wrangle with the Premier League, or if we are expecting too much from everyone and anyone.
What I do feel sad about, desperately so, is that a potential loan recall which can’t happen for two months anyway is taking up the headlines, whilst the real issues seem to float under many fan’s radars. I know that isn’t the case with a lot of our fans, but news outlets are almost going on ‘business as usual’, whilst 48 football clubs all teeter on the edge, all at varying stages of danger.