A Solution For Football’s Debt Crisis?

Credit Graham Burrell

As the Derby County saga rumbles on, the debt crisis engulfing football is once again brought to people’s attention, with no serious action being suggested.

I had so much hope for the future during Covid. The argument about the PL payments highlighted the dire need for football to take a long look at itself, but here were are, two years later, and there are still clubs doing everything they shouldn’t be in the hunt for success. In our division, some spend beyond their means, hoping to affect a ‘buy now, be rewarded later’ approach. It’s the sort we’ve seen over and over again in the past, from Rushden and Diamonds to Darlington, Sometimes it works, some teams do overspend and reach the promised land of the Championship. For some, the aim is League One, and the money flows until they get there.

However, for every success story, there are ten teams that have failed. For every team that overspends in the hope of future success, there are ten who end up with mountains of debt, who end up being dragged down by an owner who can’t or won’t fund their non-sustainable lifestyle. Two less obvious ones that spring to mind are Sunderland and Scunthorpe. Charlie Methven, an unpopular figure at Sunderland, claimed in the Netflix documentary based on the club that all they used to do was spend, and send the bill to the owner. Over at Scunthorpe, they operated a model of bringing a striker through, selling him on and using the funds to keep themselves going. When their benevolent owner stepped aside, and Peter Swann came in, he seemingly wanted to reduce their reliance on handouts, and in the transition has taken them (seemingly) out of the Football League.

Pompey – £107 for every £100 earned – Credit Graham Burrell

There will be more. In recent weeks, it’s been revealed that Portsmouth spend £107 for every £100 earned. Peterborough spent £103 on wages for every £100 earned in their hunt for promotion last season. Last night’s opponents Fleetwood spend £130 on wages for every £100 earned, and just today it’s been revealed Salford City spend £140 for every £100 they earn. In the past, MK Dons were spending £107 for every £100 earned, but I don’t have the current figure. In the Championship, Forest spend £202 on wages for every £100 earned. That’s just utterly ridiculous. Here at City, we spend less than our earnings on wages; it’s a tight model, but it is sustainable. The problem is we’re not on a level playing field, are we? We’re trying to work within a proper budget, one that doesn’t threaten the football club’s future, and we see numbers like this being thrown around. Think about it this way; how long could you spend £107 on groceries for every £100 you earned, before trouble kicked in?

I don’t like the unfairness of the system on clubs that try to do things the right way. Our spending went up in the summer, and there was a train of thought that we got less bang for our buck than the previous season. That’s how it has been for years now; you have to move forward just to stand still. The salary cap helped, but it was soon swept away and football went back to the unsustainable model of spending more than you earn in search of success, thus making other teams either suffer and remain sensible, or chase the players and get in trouble just like everyone else. That’s not why Scunthorpe are in trouble, but if Peter Swann had sunk some of his wife’s riches into the club, I’m sure they wouldn’t be where they are now.

£103 spent per £100 earned, plus whatever this ‘penalty’ cost them (jokes) – Credit Graham Burrell

I don’t know what the solution is, but until this trend of spending beyond a club’s means is addressed, there will be no end to the situation. It got me wondering about financial fair play, and whatever the system was in the lower leagues that mean so very little. None of it targeted a club in terms of their points tally, not properly. The deterrent was simply not up to tackling the scale of the problem; that’s clearly still the case now. What if a club were deducted a point for every pound they spend over their income? Okay, it might lead to creative accounting, but it would surely send the message out that this ridiculous trend that is slowly throttling football has to stop? Okay, it wouldn’t do much for Forest starting next season on -102 points, but it would make teams think twice, especially the likes of Salford and Fleetwood, who have artificially inflated wages for a few seasons between them.

Sadly, it’s not a suggestion that will ever be taken seriously, and as a club, all we can do is keep working within our strict system, keeping our integrity and let those around us, who outnumber us it seems, lose theirs.