Where will it ever end? A look at financial incompetence in sport

The McCain Stadium at Scarborough, another casualty of the financial woe of Football

IN A RECESSION, everybody feels the pinch. Costs go up and income for the majority of people either stagnates, decreases or even disappears completely. Most people have coped by cutting costs where they can. Businesses are doing exactly the same, staff are being made redundant and slashes to budgets are being made. Cuts are being implemented everywhere, apart from in professional sports clubs, leading people to wonder why their club is disappearing slowly down the drain like the floodwaters of Aberystwyth.

Neath FC, Portsmouth FC, Bradford Bulls RFC , Truro City FC and Kidderminster Harriers are all clubs that in recent years have come within a hair’s breadth of going down the drain- or, as in the first case, disappear completely, all seemingly in the name of chasing the dream of success for their club. The case of Portsmouth FC and Bradford Bulls RFC are the best documented cases in their respective sports of crisis clubs that struggled to keep their heads above water. Portsmouth famously threw money at top-level players like Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe, and Kanu, and hired Harry Redknapp as manager. With these changes, they successfully captured the FA Cup in 2008, a prestigious accolade for a club who only a decade previously nearly went out of business only to be saved by Milan Manderic. However, Redknapp left the club in the same year as their cup victory, everything slowly fell apart- the players left and the money owed to creditors rose. Administration and relegation from the Premier League soon followed.

It isn’t just football that has been afflicted with this problem at its highest level. Rugby league side Bradford Bulls faced a financial crisis in March this year with a plea that they needed one million pounds to stay afloat. Despite pledges, the side that won the Super League three times in the early part of the last decade went into administration in June and in the same week were threatened with liquidation. The reason for their problems? In chasing the dream, they were constantly living out of their means and when the Royal Bank of Scotland cut their overdraft facility- which they were constantly in- they needed money, and they needed it fast. Thankfully, they were bought out by a consortium including local Labour MP, Gerry Sutcliffe, saving their fans from the worry of their club disappearing forever, at least for a while.

Unlike the Bulls, some clubs do cease to exist completely, and in a case closer to home once again. Neath Football Club were formed in 2005 when Skewen Athletic and Neath FC merged. Within two seasons, they had reached the Welsh Premier League and began attempts to dominate Welsh domestic football. A move to full-time football before the 2009-10 season put them in a luxury rank of only three sides in the league with that status.

A link with Swansea City also arrived, but perhaps the most typical sign of them getting ideas above their station were the signings of Swansea City favourites Kristian O’Leary and Lee Trundle. Trundle was being courted by several financially secure English Football League sides, so the fact that Neath, with attendances averaging around 500, were outspending such sides should have set alarm bells ringing far earlier.

Neath were wound up in May of this year after failing to get a license in the Welsh Premier League, a particularly stern league in terms of finance. Problems with these stringent rulings have blighted Welsh domestic football in recent years. Cwmbran Town, the inaugural winner of the Welsh Premier League, have suffered the same problems, as have Ebbw Vale Town and Barry Town, all names of sides who used to be bastions and household names in the Welsh Premier League.

In the Welsh Premier League, the monies of the early qualifying stages of the Europa League and Champions League against obscure clubs from Moldova, fuels the overspending of clubs in pursuit of European glamour and the hundreds of thousands of pounds that comes with it.

So should all clubs just stop chasing the dream? Should they accept their place in the footballing hierarchy and get on with it, leaving their fans simply happy that they even have a club? Especially after the last few years, Football Conference sides chasing League football have attempted to burn the candles at both ends in order to reach the promised land of League Two, clubs like Weymouth, Canvey Island and Rushden and Diamonds all succumbing to this

Closer to home, Aberystwyth Town have tasted the champagne of European football before, playing Floriana of Malta in their first European foray in 1999 and Dinaburg in 2004, both fixtures in the Intertoto Cup. However, they suffered for their pursuit of glory in 2001 when they were struck by financial problems, with director and supporter Thomas Crockett admitting they probably ran an unsustainable model and had to cut the budget back in years after.

He also said, “While the temptation is great to increase the budget and go for European football, which brings in around £70,000 for the first qualifying round, as a director I’ve got to think about keeping the club in business in five, ten and twenty years time.”

Does this mean the end of small/mid-table clubs taking wild risks with their finances, with football in taking the chance to become more financially responsible? Probably not, it’s human nature to want success and it is rather a nice ego boost for businessmen in town when their funds earn the local side promotion. This doesn’t even account for many other factors, including the trickle down effect of the money spent in the top leagues. So, despite the examples of clubs that have been mentioned here, this will be an oft-debated issue for the foreseeable future unless measures are put into place.