Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Why my love for football is diminishing

In the last twenty years the game has changed. Since we came back to The Valley in 1992, the year that the Premier League was formed, the whole sport in England (and much of Europe) has undergone a transformation that makes it totally unrecognisable from what I started watching in 1981.

Some of those changes have been for the better. The stadia the clubs play in are fantastic, by comparison, the facilities for the fans have improved and the sport is both fashionable and respected in a way that would have been unthinkable during the dark times of hooliganism.

However, not all of the changes have been for the better. Football has developed many hangers on as the money into the game has risen. Agents, (and many players have more than one) mercenary players that will move to a club they've never heard of and will never care about for the vast sums of money they can earn, and owners that are not fans but buy a club hoping to make money or go on an ego trip.

The money into the game should have ensured that the 'industry' is as financially secure as any other. Demand from football fans, and their loyalty to 'their club' must be second only to drugs (if we exclude mandatory purchases - petrol, food, housing). The TV money has moved football from a working class 'disease' in the 1980s to one of the biggest leisure pursuits that Europe has ever seen, in terms of income and turnover. Yet, still, very few clubs are able to keep their costs anywhere near their their income.

The truth is that irrespective as to how much football players earn (and some of those in the Championship are earning much more than £200k) and how hard they try, they are bankrupting football for decades. Most, if not all, clubs have debts that they can never hope to repay, ever, and they will continue to run up these debts all the while none of them (well a collective all of them) dare to say “No more!”. When clubs like Bolton have debts in excess of £100m you have to assume that the players that have, for the most part, retired now, have spent money that Bolton will have hanging around their necks until they go into Administration or find a multi-millionaire that has £100m they don’t seem to know what to do with. The numbers are crazy!

Even with FFP, in the Championship the clubs are allowed (allowed!) to have a trading loss of £5m this season and £3m a year after that. All the while players in the Premier League are haggling over, and refusing to accept, £140k a week (£7.28m a year) because they know someone else is earning £160k a week and they want as much as him!

I suspect that most clubs in the Premier League have three of four top earners who earn more (between them) than most teams outside of the Premier League turn over a year.

In the Football League (celebrating 125 years this season) very few clubs can ever hope to break even and if you get into the Premier League the wage bill that is forced on the club by the players and their agents ensure that they cannot hope to avoid financial meltdown if they are relegated. In order to stay up they need to borrow c. £50m (on top of the Sky money) to hope to avoid relegation.

In recent years the list of clubs that have fallen out of the Premier League and ended up in the third division within a few seasons is ridiculous. Charlton, Norwich, Southampton, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Leicester and last season Wolves went straight through. They are in the third division with parachute payments for goodness sake. It is, frankly, a total disaster.

With the money coming into the game and with the vast majority of players unable to earn a fraction of what they get to play football it is disgusting that these levels of over spending are allowed to carry on.

The Government should announce that they are going to, literally, take all the Sky money and use it to clear all the debts of football clubs and then force them out of the league if they ever make a trading loss again. That would, soon enough, stop the debts.

If nothing is done, and I mean really done, soon (within the next ten to twenty years) I fear that we won’t have a football league in this country any more. All the clubs will be forced out of business and the football stadia will be replaced by housing that will be built to clear the ever expanding debts.

I believe, from what I read in the press, Cardiff that, until last summer had never been in the Premier League, had £83m of debt? £83m for a club that had never been in the Premier League – there is no excuse for over spending to that level. They hardly had to compete with Premier League clubs for players signatures.

When I look at Charlton I see a business that is running at a loss of c. £7m a year, nowhere near getting promoted and even if we did we would never be able to stay up and would come down with even bigger debts and much higher running costs as the Premier League players would be earning a fortune and wouldn't move on as no one else would pay them enough. Rather like what happened in 2007.

With that being the case I just can’t be bothered about the results of matches any more. Why should I care, whatever happens we are totally doomed unless we find ourselves a billionaire that wants to drop tens of millions on a football club that will, almost, certainly never win anything or manage to run at anything other than a loss.

And this is before the match fixing scandal that is clearly not a work of fiction. Sam Sodje had some very obvious red cards playing for Charlton. I’m not saying there was anything going on, but it is very hard, now, not to look at these things suspiciously.

I, almost, wish I’d never started following football. I wish I’d found something else to do with my time. I can’t think of any other hobby that would be able to disgust me like football does right now, and this is the thing that I have loved most in the whole of the world for the vast majority of my life.

Football is like a drug, once you are hooked you are never going to not be a fan. Watching matches often brings enjoyment from something that has no impact on the result - a great tackle or pass or run and dribble. These things still make me want to come to games, and, of course, it is a social event that I share with my Dad. I can't see me ever deciding to stop going, but I do think that my love affair with football is diminishing, and with it my enthusiasm for much more than turning up watching the game and then coming home to forget all about football again for a fortnight.

Maybe a takeover will sure up our financial position, but until the wider issues of over spending (mainly on players wages) are addressed I'm not sure that football outside of the Premier League will ever be taken of life support.

Up the Addicks!