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!!