It’s very rare that when switching on the Ten O’Clock News, we hear anything that puts a smile on our faces. It seems that all we’ve had over the last year or so is financial woe here, recession there, crippling mortgages and inflation, inflation, inflation. The money that is pumped into football is often taken for granted. That said, clubs lower down the English football pyramid are really beginning to struggle financially. With many clubs lacking the investment they so dearly need and smaller crowd numbers at many grounds, it is hard to see when things can be expected to improve.
The collapse of ITV Digital hit many clubs very hard in a variety of ways. It was around this time that Plymouth Argyle were redeveloping their Home Park ground. Three sides of the stadium were completed but the main stand remains an antiquated affair, as their plans were abruptly put on hold. Many would say that as the ground stands presently, it retains it’s character and charm. That said, surely the club wouldn’t agree.
It would be unfair to exclusively label the collapsed television deal as the reason why clubs are struggling. It is widely considered that our own top flight is the best league in the world, with each team having an army of fans not only in their locality, or across the country, but indeed the world over. The interest today lies in the Premier League. Much fewer youngsters choose to go and support their local club (or indeed any lower league side) as opposed to resisting the lure of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres.
All of this means that crowd numbers are significantly smaller than in the top flight. This is of course understandable and is a trend the world over. However, the clubs of the football league still have players wages to pay, stadiums to maintain as well as staff to support. Of course it’s on a smaller scale, but the costs are still there and when clubs start to spend beyond their means, financial problems are just around the corner.
Solutions need to be found before some famous names from football start to disappear. In the last few seasons alone Leeds, Southampton, Luton, Bournemouth, Darlington and Rotherham to name but a few all faced uncertain futures owing to their financial states. Of course these clubs must take responsibility for their own futures. It would be foolish to suggest that these sides should be spoon fed. All clubs should be acting on their own devices, making their own decisions. The last thing we want is 92 clones playing out their Saturday afternoons.
An extreme measure, but one that does warrant discussion, would be the regionalisation of the lower leagues. Of course it is one thing to come up with an idea and something else completely to implement it. Any such measure could not be brought in overnight but there are definitely positives to such a suggestion.Firstly, with clubs only playing those in their region, i.e. the north or the south, we would see travel costs brought down as well as less of a need for overnight hotel stops, a luxury which not every club can afford anyway. Of course with easier travel plans for clubs, we would surely see an increase in the numbers of away supporters in grounds. For example, realistically how many Darlington fans are likely to make the trip to Torquay this season. It is a massive round trip and in these uncertain financial times and with both sides not performing as well as they might have hoped thus far, can we really expect a big crowd for this fixture?
Accrington Stanley have recently played two benefit matches in order to secure the money they require to pay a tax bill. The club face extinction if they cannot stump up the cash. Their average crowd figures have been well below 2000 and no club can realistically continue with such a lack of support. The problems often lie with the catchment area the clubs find themselves in. Geographically speaking, Stanley find themselves between two Premier League clubs (Blackburn and Burnley) and it wouldn’t take long to drive to the likes of Bolton, Preston, Wigan or even the big two in Manchester. Obviously, there is very little that can be done about such factors, but surely gates would improve if Accrington fans were only having to travel to clubs in their locality and of course vice versa.
It would be naive to suggest that such a ‘simple’ measure would solve all financial problems that today’s clubs face. However, surely this idea is worth investigating? There are of course negatives which can’t be ignored either. With derby matches taking place more frequently, policing costs would increase for clubs but could this be counter-acted by the benefits? This writer does not have a definitive answer but would like to suggest that such a concept should be researched further. The restructuring of our league would be a massive upheaval for all parties concerned and would not be as simple as has been suggested here. That said, with so many clubs facing administration and more heading in a similar direction, action needs to be take and just maybe this could be a solution.
News and views from the Football League
Keane for more time to prove himself – October 5
It’s a funny old game – October 8
A new owner does not guarantee success – October 12
Tied up in Notts – October 16
Climbing the Football League ladder – October 19
League structure in need of resuscitation – October 21