Be Careful What You Wish For…

Be Careful what you wish for……

I’m going to kick off my blogging adventure by writing on a topic that’s been in the headlines pretty much all season with Portsmouth and which again raised its ugly head in recent weeks with the news of Swindon Town being put up for sale and the threat of administration due to financial mismanagement. Through my football career I’ve had close dealings with the world of administration, firstly at Leicester City back in 2002 and then at Stockport County in 2008. I’ve seen basic business negligence ruin my hometown club Cork City as well as ravage the professionalism and credibility of Irish football. The question that continues to baffle me, is how can this continue to happen? In this day and age of stringent rules and regulations, how is it that football clubs are allowed to live beyond their means, endanger the livelihoods of employees and put the very existence of the club itself in jeopardy?

I signed for Stockport County back in January 2008 when they were 16th in League 2 signing an 18month contract. The infrastructure in place at the club seemed to be one destined for success and I was delighted to sign for such a well supported club, a club, dare I say, that appeared too big for League two at the time. Fast forward six months and we were promoted through the play offs at Wembley in front of 40,000 spectators. That summer, we sold our top scorer for near on £1 million and our then manager was allowed to renegotiate the contracts of several key players as well as spend in excess of £200,000 on two new signings. The mood in the camp was high, we were a club on the up and life was good or so it appeared. Fast forward to January and the bombshell was dropped that the whole squad was available for transfer. We were forced to sell two key players in January to ease the threat of administration. By March, we were still 7th and four points from the play-offs. However, despite the sales, we were entered into administration and deducted 10 points, our season was now a survival battle.

That season promised so much but looking back now we were effectively cheating! Like many clubs since and ridiculously, I’m sure, like many more to come, we were playing with money that wasn’t sustainable. That’s why I now feel it necessary to write about the plights of Portsmouth and Swindon from a players point of view and relate it to my experience.

We can see Portsmouth now seemingly operate on a month to month basis using a constant conveyor belt of temporary contracted players and loanees who enter and exit their doors on a monthly basis but is this fair to the other teams in the division? Is it fair that one team might play them when they have a strong eleven and another when they’re considerably weaker. Of course it isn’t! The calibre of player they were permitted to, and were able to attract to a seemingly ‘sunk ship’ was, in my opinion, outrageous, especially in the first quarter of the season. The funny thing was, they started the season reasonably well and if they maintained that form and somehow managed to get themselves eleven points clear of the drop zone and then enter administration, would it be fair on the teams that go down?

No, I hear you say, but that’s exactly what happened at Stockport, we dropped from 7th to 18th position due to the points deduction but survived. Four teams went down, four teams who adhered to the rules and the thanks they got was relegation. I have no doubt the whole Portsmouth episode has made a mockery of the integrity of the division and football in general but I find it strange that the footballing authorities have handled it so badly and have appeared publicly to be so indecisive on the matter. I wonder what Luton Town fans think when they see Portsmouth’s current situation? It’s not that long ago they got hit with a minus 30 points deduction but I suppose if you don’t laugh you’d probably cry so best off leaving the past be the past. I really hold no malice towards Portsmouth, just the footballing authorities who stood by and allowed this to happen. Whatever happened to the “fit and proper persons test”? Having experienced the Fratton Park atmosphere this season it would be a tragedy for football if the club were to dissolve. I really do feel for the supporters because they’ve obviously been misled by the moneymen that ran the club over the last few years but when the cash was being splashed, surely even they knew, in their heart of hearts, if the moneywell ran dry their income (ie. gate receipts, sponsorship etc) wouldn’t balance the contracts being dished out.

The Swindon Town situation appears to be a delicate one. The ‘Football League Paper’ recently printed an article headlined “Swindon Town: The cheats who really prospered”, outlining an opinion that Swindon Town committed “financial doping” and “virtually cheated” their way to the League Two title last season. The article obviously ruffled some feathers as the paper has since retracted the story and has subsequently issued an apology to Swindon Town Football Club. This being my first blog, I think it wise to avoid this potential minefield only to say that I hope the stories are unfounded as football doesn’t need a Lance Armstrong type story where instead of drug injections, a club has been using cash injections to satisfy its goals to the possible detriment of the club itself.

We, as fans, need to be careful what we wish for for our football club. We all want a future littered with promotions and have the best squads with the best players available to choose from, but that of course comes at a cost. My hometown club Cork City paid the ultimate price for wanting the then chairman to step aside and be replaced by an investment group who promised to invest heavily in the club. What they had was a passionate Cork City fan, a Corkman and a guy who had the best interests of the club at heart. As a player, we got paid on time every time and wanted for nothing. What he got was abuse. Enough was enough and he eventually stepped aside, bowing to the fans wishes and what happened should be an eye opener to every fan out there who thinks their chairman has shallow pockets. The club went into receivership in 2008 and was eventually liquidated in 2010. I’ve seen both sides of the fence as a player and would much rather be at a competitive, stable, well run club that pays its employees on time and has a guaranteed future, as oppose to one that gambles with the livelihoods of its employees and it’s own very existence, and I’m sure, or at least hope, that you’d all much rather support one!!

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26 Responses to Be Careful What You Wish For…

  1. kevin ashwell says:

    Iinteresting to get a players perspective.Good job for your first blog.You probably read the orient messageboard and this is a good indication of fans differing views on chairman and how to spend their money.I think it proves your point of what fans expections are of their clubs owners.
    Well done

    • sweeneymc83 says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, as players we’re happy and fortunate to play for such a well run club and you should be proud to support Orient as that’s exactly what it is…whether you like or loathe the chairman you can’t help but respect him and the way he conducts business, IMHO we’re lucky to have him overseeing things but again that’s just my opinion and by the way, NO, I learned very on in my career that viewing messageboards can be detrimental to a players psychological state hahaha

      • Perton Pitman says:

        A very well written blog. Sadly, as you say, too many football clubs fall into the hands of self-publicists seeking glory and adulation. They are seldom in it for the long haul or the good of the club. I’ll keep doing the lottery and maybe one day I can buy Hednesford.
        Good luck to you, it’s always good to see an ex-Pitman doing well in the football league.

  2. OrientSteve says:

    Interesting to hear your views on this Leon, what with being a current player (same division even!!).

    At the O’s the fans are split on Barry Hearn / Matchroom, half love him, and whilst i don’t think he should be held up with a god-like status, he has helped our club along nicely. We play in a tidy stadium, in Central London and by all accounts all the bills are paid well on-time. So are all the staff and we spend well within our means.

    The other half loathe him for not going ‘big’ and lobbing money at the cause to get us in the ‘bigtime’ and by all accounts this sounds similar to the experiences you’ve had at Stockport and with Cork.

    I suppose the frustrations lie with those who seemingly distort the market (Ball Mouth & Swindle) to the detriment of the others in the league.

    I’m not really sure where I’m going with this but i suppose it’s along the lines of.. ‘be careful what you wish for’ when looking for ownership and guidance.

    Nice blog too. Hope to read more from you.

    • sweeneymc83 says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, as players we’re happy and fortunate to play for such a well run club and you should be proud to support Orient as that’s exactly what it is…whether you like or loathe the chairman you can’t help but respect him and the way he conducts business, IMHO we’re lucky to have him overseeing things but again that’s just my opinion.

  3. Russell Dore says:

    Great read nice hear from some one with so much knowledge . Up Os

  4. ijgolding says:

    Wow! For a first post, that is not a bad effort!! As an Orient fan, I may appear to be biased, but I am genuinely incredibly impressed at the articulate nature of your exploration of a very sensitive and controversial issue. I hope your efforts get the exposure they deserve!

  5. That made for good and interesting reading.
    It’s good to get an insider perspective on these things, an underrepresented perspective I think – looking forward to reading what’s next

  6. Frank Reid says:

    What an interesting and very honest read Leon.

    Regards
    Frank Reid
    HARTLEPOOL

  7. Ronnie Chambers says:

    A very interesting and well written blog

  8. David Usher says:

    Good blog Leon. It was obvious from your Twitter feed that you have far more about you than many of your peers. Since following you and as an O’s fan, I am always pleased when you are picked and I hope that whatever was behind your mysterious omission from the team is in the past know. With regards to your blog I agree whole heartly with yourself that some clubs are cheating. And to be fair to Barry Hearn he has always made his position clear on the matter which should also be applauded.
    I look forward to your next blog and I will see you Saturday(hopefully). Well I will see you and if you scan the North Stand I will be there with two of my little ones.
    David

    • sweeneymc83 says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, out with a foot injury sustained against Doncaster so nothing mysterious about my omission. Hopefully back soon, keep supporting as we’re fortunate as players to be playing for a well run club and you should be proud of supporting it.

  9. Stuart Crawford says:

    Honest and true words Leon, especially regarding my club Stockport County. Realistically County we’re in trouble even before promotion at Wembley. Certain employee’s within the Football Club forgetting to pay HMRC costing the club dearly!! I just hope County can become a force in the Football League very soon?!

    • sweeneymc83 says:

      Chased the dream with resources they clearly didn’t have, a club very close to my heart that’s hard to see where they are now, but hopefully now with a new manager and new chief exec things can start moving forward. You’ve been there before I know so only time will tell, thanks for reading and commenting!!

  10. Simplyanosfan says:

    Totally agree with what you’re saying.

  11. A good read Leon. Some will look at TV money, the poor trickle down effect, the transitional arrangements protecting relegatees, the new arrangements for selling on young talent, players wages (sorry – It’s a market I know) and their ringfencing and first call on failure etc and feel that these reinforce the divide between haves and have nots. We have two very different products – corporatist elite football and community centred lower leagues. I prefer Orient and vote for tradition over limelight but want some hope that we can have a moment of pure joy. The pressure is mounting on the convenient debt-wiping process of administration it seems. If we wish to pretend to ourselves that there is still a dream of success (a la FA cup romantic stylee) then shouldn’t we at least expect the authorities who guard the sport to ensure more fairness? Will the cheats just get round the new 65% rule with spurious overpayments for bovril or sponsorships? Am I too nostalgic?

  12. Interesting to see a player’s point of view on this matter. Of course, Portsmouth are already in administration and face a further 10-point penalty as and when they come out of it, and still face the threat of liquidation. Their large support and season ticket sales meant there was cashflow to support the short-term contracts, and now they’re relying on gate receipts to cover month-to-month contracts.

    As for Swindon, there certainly seems to be more going on there than meets the eye, with chairmen coming and going like loanees. That they’ve already had sanctions for spending beyond the new 65% rule shows that there is a will – at least for now – to enforce the new wage cap.

    I’d be interested to read your views as a player on the effect players’ salary expectations have on the sustainability of clubs. There has undeniably been a huge wage inflation that has taken place since the Premier League came into being, with an obscene amount of cash flowing into that League. It appears from outside that the agents have been creaming off tons of cash as they engineer moves for their clients every year or so, with salaries for Premier League players becoming larger and larger for doing the same basic job (i.e. playing football!) as a League One player like yourself. That now seems to flow down to the lower leagues, and while every player is of course entitled to have an agent negotiate a pay package, it does seem like lower league clubs are forever paying more and more in salary costs because of what’s happening at the top of the pyramid.

    The way forward has to be clubs run on a sustainable basis, living within their means and doing their best to attract the local support. It’s the model that Supporters’ Trusts (and Supporters Direct, their umbrella organisation) have advocated for years. It would also help Orient particularly if we occasionally won whenever there was a ticket promotion! 🙂

    Keep on writing!

  13. Steve says:

    Nice article with some good points, thanks for posting.

  14. Techno Trousers says:

    Good article Leon, and appreciate your honest views. I think Barry gets a lot of flak from the home support, a lot of it unjustified. However, he has a thick skin and I’m sure he doesn’t let it get to him. Maybe when he first came to the club, he kind of ‘bigged it up’ a bit too much, and perhaps people believed the hype. Here’s looking forward to a good end to the season and hopefully another 3 points against Swindon.

    TT

  15. Steven Hodges says:

    Very interesting article. Even though the financial turnover rule has been introduced this year, I still do not think it is fair or accurate. When Swindon violated it they received a one month transfer embargo. It also seems to have a negative impact in clubs like Orient that have a smaller base than those like Sheffield who get 16,000 a game. Orient will never have their turnover and never get the players they can. As it is Orient has a great team and great prospects this season.

  16. kevin ashwell says:

    Another well written piece.Your definately getting the hang of this.The fact of players having a point to prove i suppose is a great motivator and the gulf of wealth amongst leagues enough to spur anyone on.
    The new crop of primadonna’s and ballboys definately dont like it up em.I remember someone asking Alex inglethorpe if he looked out for his previous teams results.His answer why would i they let me go.
    The greatest example must be the old crazy gang.That they suceeded was purely about attitude and surely a lesson for anyone.
    Once again well done

  17. Jim Dale says:

    If anyone has not seen, ‘Orient: Club for a Fiver’ on Youtube, then I suggest you watch it. Not only does it have some fantastic John Sitton meltdowns and outrageous half time team talks but it shows the state of the club when Barry Hearn too over. The most telling moment was when the coach company refused to take the team to the next away trip unless the money was paid up front. If you compare that situation to how Orient are now I think you can say that Hearn has done a good job. I’m an Orient fan and season ticket holder, and while of course I would love to see the team scale to even greater heights, you wont see me bemoaning the Chairman. I believe he is genuinely passionate about the club and always has it’s best interests at heart.

  18. Steve Bailey says:

    Leon – Well written and articulate article from an intelligent and well educated professional footballer – a rarity indeed. I had the pleasure of meeting you when you were at Stockport. I had been appointed Financial Controller there three months before the club went in to administration! I was impressed with how you spoke back then, so I’m unsurprised you can pen such worthy prose. My tenure there took me through the full gamut of owners – the well meaning but hapless, the hopeless (the administrators), the people with no money allowed a free hand to run the club (twice!). Fortunately I got out before the current regime who possibly fit in to all the afore mentioned categories. You are spot on with your questioning as to how the so called “authorities” can allow clubs to get to the stage of financial meltdown. Obviously clubs do not have a monopoly when it comes to inept management. What baffles and annoys me is the contribution that the HMRC make to football clubs’ financial state. They allow clubs to get months in arrears when I know from current experience that they come down like a ton of bricks on a similar small business the minute ANY arrears occur. Clubs know this and so, when money’s tight, they start taking credit from HMRC. They are allowed to continue racking up the “credit” and by then the debt becomes unamanageable. Portsmouth, Rangers (in spectacular fashion) all did it. And HMRC then are prepared to do deals so as to not lose the whole debt to them – Hearts have just been given three years to pay £450k of tax arrears – very galling for those of us in business trying to get a couple of months leeway from them. To me they are all complicit in what seems to be an ever growing number of clubs in financial trouble – inept or foolhardy club mangement, poor corporate governance from football authorities, inefectual approach by HMRC. The only ones blameless are the fans and the players, who almost definitely suffer the most. Welll Leon, glad you’re at a stable club, hope you get fit, stay clear of injuries and get lots of games under your belt. Steve

  19. Jason power says:

    Hi Leon, great blog…great to see that someone knows what they are talking about, great perspective. Keep well buddy.

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