Now many may feel I am way off the mark with my title. It is also true to say that the Premier League by in large flourishes with the TV money generated every time their contract is renewed. It is also true to say that parachute payments to teams relegated from the Premier League has increased as the TV money has increased, and the amount in general the Premier League gives to other divisions has also increased.
However this is only a small part of the story. I am will not be far off base by stating that the gulf between the cash rich top of English football and grass roots has never been wider. Teams in lower leagues struggle year in and year out to survive, constantly hoping against hope that this year is going to be the year of an epic cup run that will take in several premier league sides and maybe even a trip to Wembley (as a Bradford City fan I can confirm it does occasionally happen).
Focus then must fall on the recent plights of two famous old names in English football, Bury F.C. 2 time winners of the F.A Cup (1900 and 1903), and Bolton Wanderers, four time winners of the same competition (1923,1926,1929, and 1958), and members of the Premier League as recently as 2012.
Now in the case of Bury I must confess I always associated them as being in a tight financial situation for as long as I can remember, however Bolton I always assumed had been one of the success stories of a smaller team not the size of the big 6 in the Premier League continually punching above their weight.
So most recently Bury have been expelled from the league despite winning promotion to League One last season, as they failed to provide the league with sufficient proof they had the funds to complete the season. The first team since Maidstone United were expelled in the 1990’s (I seem to remember Aldershot suffering the same fate around the same time) to actually be expelled. This happened less than a year after a new owner (Steve Dale) bought the club for £1 from the previous owner (Stuart Day). Dale claimed the debts of the club were far in excess of anything he was led to believe prior to owning it, however instead of simply selling up again for aforementioned £1 he paid for it Dale was insisting on a large figure in order to relinquish control.
All of this after it had been reported Dale was also not subject at the time to the football leagues fit and proper persons test, a mechanism where by the league assesses the prospective new owner for fitness to own a football club.
Now contrast this with Bolton Wanderers who were thankfully taken over by the Football Ventures consortium at the 11th hour when they were also given a deadline to provide proof they had the financial backing to complete a full season.
Here the ownership of the club had latterly been with Ken Anderson after Dean Holdsworth’s company had gone bust. Anderson came in for sharp criticism from the administrators of the club after the sale with them stating Anderson had put many barriers in place to selling the club being out ‘only for himself.’
Contrast this to the estate of former owner Eddie Davies who wrote off millions of pounds in debt owed to them in order to help make the takeover happen (in fact I believe just before he sadly passed away Eddie Davies had loaned the club under Ken Anderson about £5 million to keep it solvent).
Thankfully enough was done in order to push the takeover through and happily (unlike Bury) Bolton survive in the league to fight another day.
Now in both cases 2 entities have come in for massive criticism for the plight of these 2 clubs. Firstly we have the respective owners Steve Dale and Ken Anderson, and secondly we have the football league themselves and in particular the fit and proper persons test that is supposed to protect clubs from bad ownership.
If I can start with Bury F.C. I will say in my opinion Steve Dale has done himself no favours in the way he has called the fans on numerous occasions and even admitted at one point that prior to owning Bury F.C. he had never been to the town or even knew where it was located. Listening to various interviews and reading commentary on various platforms it became clear all Dale was interesting in doing was playing down his part in the mess, and trying to express how hard he had worked to try and save the club via a company voluntary agreement etc… I will say here however that someone had sent something nasty to Steve Dale’s daughter and if that is true I do find this disgusting. Dale’s daughter as far as I know had nothing to do with the situation at Bury F.C. other than being related to the owner. This does not show compassion or sympathy for the club and only serves to highlight the problems in our society when idiots don’t think they can be caught (see internet trolls for more on that one).
Another point I will make is that the club had some very questionable loans already in place on assets such as the stadium that had been negotiated prior to the Dale takeover. This was highlighted by the consortium looking to buy the club at the last minute who confirmed as much.
It seems to have transpired that Dale had never even passed the fit and proper persons test prior to his takeover that doe nothing but raise a few eyebrows from fans.
Now in terms Bolton originally Anderson was part of a consortium that included Dean Holdsworth the former Wimbledon striker of the 1990s. His company went bust and the shares were bought out by Anderson. After that former owner Eddie Davies lent the club a further £5 million just before he sadly passed away and that should have set alarm bells ringing in my mind. After that it seems to have become clear from what the administrators said after the takeover by football ventures that Anderson was only in this for what he could get, and did not have the best interests of the club at heart. It seems clear he was less than willing to compromise if it meant what he received from the club was in any way diminished despite players and more importantly hard working administration and hotel staff being unpaid for months and Anderson was a secured creditor so was definitely going to get something.
In both cases the football league was supposed to have done due diligence on both owners to make sure they were ‘fit and proper’ to run a football club, however shortly after both reigns started they ended with the clubs in dire financial states, and they are by no means the exception but rather the rule.
To me clubs are community assets that have been around most of them since the late 19th early 20th century. Some fans put their hearts and souls in to supporting their teams through thick and thin, and a lot of owners (as Dale mentioned in one of his own rants) didn’t even know where the town or city was when they bought the club.
Every club no matter how big and small has a core of supporters who will always be loyal to their club. The size of this hardcore support varies wildly but it is there at every club.
To me some owners seek to fly in the face of the support in order to make money, or have so much money that multi millions of pounds will not be missed. Those in the Premier league who do not believe their club owner fits into one or other of these categories is in my opinion deluded. The fact is there is so much money at the top of football and so many greedy people who want a cut of that do you really think if the government suddenly made it difficult to make millions out of clubs in the Premier League that so many foreign owners would give their clubs the time of day.
Anyway to get back on track the examples of clubs being badly run in the football league is vast as teams continually overspend and are then playing catch up, and the football league seems to keep letting this happen.
Now I know some will say not only do we have the fit and proper persons test but also the financial fair play rules based on turnover, but the fact remains there are ways around this and clubs attempt to find more loop holes.
My thought is that clubs should also live within their means that would have a 2 fold effect. Firstly they would be closer to breaking even and spending would be more responsible, and secondly players would be unable to demand so much money if all clubs refuse to pay it. While clubs are willing to pay so much for transfer fees and wages players will continue to demand it. Should all clubs refuse such high wages then the cost of players will go down. Not going to happen but it is a nice thought.
In the end I do not blame the Premier League for not helping either club but I do believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that money has ruined sport and will continue to do so. Money talks but if ITV digital teaches us anything it is that it would take very little for football to collapse, should the cost of TV rights begin to diminish I think you would see clubs begin to fail higher up.
I also believe that the government should step in realise the history and lineage of sports clubs and insist on 2 things, firstly that clubs should always be majority fan owned (51% or above), secondly that investors should be legally held to a business plan for clubs, legally binding them to be financially responsible if a club fails and being forced to open their own wallets if we get to this situation again. It will definitely reduce the investment in football, but then those who do invest will be true fans. They should also limit what can be taken out of clubs through things such as consultancy fees.
As always my opinions are my own and thank you so much for reading.