Ups and Downs 1
Posted by John Beech on April 7, 2010
Like virtually every football fan, there is really only one football result each week that matters to me personally – I have to know it almost as the whistle blows (thankfully possible in the age that we live in). The rest I could easily wait to read in the Sunday papers. With my particular perspective on the game, it’s perhaps not all together surprising that my focus broadens considerably once we reach that critical point in every season, the appearance of the BBC’s Ups and Downs webpage. The financial impact of either relegation, or for that matter promotion, on a club which is already struggling can prove critical.
The financial impact of relegation is the more obvious of the two. Broadcasting rights decrease significantly, matchday revenues (both from falling gates and lower ticket prices) decrease, and any new sponsorship deal will be at a reduced level. In other words, the club’s budget takes a dramatic hit. Unless players are on negative performance-related pay, i.e. contractually lower wages in the case of relegation, a demoted club is not well placed to cope in the lower league. Even when there are parachute payments, these may already be committed to alleviating current debt problems. If there are already serious debt problems, these will only increase. Think Bradford or Leeds.
Promotion also puts particular pressures on a promoted club. To compete effectively at a higher level budgets for player purchases and player wages need to be increased. Sure, revenues will be increased, but you are hardly on a level playing field since all those clubs already in the higher division have the same order of revenues too. The apologists for the Premier League like to put it out that the new boys arriving from the Championship have an extra £46m to spend, ignoring the fact that it is not ‘extra’ in the sense that it is over and above thye revenues of your new competitors. What is needed in this case is rocket payments, a much more equitable idea than parachute payments, which reward failure and give relegated clubs an unfair advantage over clubs already in the division which the club has dropped to.
As with every season, many of the kind of clubs that I blog about feature on the Ups and Downs page, and their results excite me in a way they simply do not in early or mid-season. Here then are my thoughts on this year’s crop, starting with the Conference Regionals and working our way up.
Conference North and South
Potentially coming up to this level are Nuneaton (now Town), Boston United, and Bradford Park Avenue, all of whom might be seen as rehabilitating themselves from previous financial crises, albeit a rather long rehabilitation in the case of Park Avenue.
At some risk of facing the drop are Hyde United and even Northwich Victoria. [Club links are to previous postings on the particular club]
Potentially coming up from the Conference Regionals are Hinckley United, and definitely coming up are resurrectionist Newport County.
Virtually certain to drop to this level are Darlington, which will only add to their financial woes.
Among the contenders for promotion for the Conference are Luton (hopefully in a stronger position that reflects the new ownership’s determination to get the club back on an even keel), Rushden & Diamonds (in trouble with HMRC as recently as last summer) and Oxford United (who see themselves as ‘transformed’ ).
Dropping down will almost certainly be deeply troubled Stockport, and they could be joined by Southend. Whether that would prompt Chairman Ron Martin to finally wake up and smell the coffee instead of pressing obsessively on with his ten-year preoccupation with a new 22,000 seater stadium (almost as big as Darlington’s when it opened) at Fossett’s Farm remains to be seen. He does of course have the distractions meantime of a winding-up petition from HMRC, due back in court in just a week’s time, and the late payment of wages (2).
Definitely some interesting clubs vying to gain promotion to League 1. Notts County and Bournemouth are currently in the top three, the former being one of the most blatant cases of ‘financial doping’ this season and clearly in breach of the spirit of the mandatory salaries cap. Both have fans who must feel badly let down by the recent run of management they have received. Bournemouth have managed, in spite of the problems of a crippling transfer embargo, to turn out the results on the pitch, for which their manager and players deserve considerable credit. In both cases though I would see promotion as a highly risky venture.
Comong down are likely to be Plymouth, who seem to have learned everything they know about football management from Ron Martin.
Coming up are likely to be Norwich which might encourage their sale.
Coming down are almost certainly Portsmouth, and probably two from Burnley, Hull, and West Ham. Of these four, only Burnley seems even remotely geared up strategically to face the rigours of the drop, unless of course the mystery owner sniffing round Portsmouth turns out to be the Sultan of Brunei, a scenario which I consider somewhat unlikely. I would guess that only Burnley’s departure might be mourned by the other Premier League Chairmen.
Newcastle are of course already promoted, and this will prove an interesting club to follow off the pitch next season. How this will impact on Mike Ashley’s personal strategy regarding the club remains uncertain. Cardiff City still have serious promotion prospects, but off the pitch the focus is very much on the rest of this season – the seemingly forever toted Malaysian investment, a ‘final’ appearance in court against HMRC on 5 May, and the suggested departure of Spinmeister Ridsdale as a condition of investment.
At the top end there will be plenty to follow off the pitch before the start of next season following the generally poor showing in Europe, with Liverpool’s ‘Laurel and Hardy’ under increasing pressure (not to mention the position of their manager – I’ll leave you to think of your own metaphors from the world of entertainment).
I’ve numbered this posting ‘1’ as I plan to return to the theme at the end of the season when the certainties of promotion and relegation have been decided.