Money Matters

‘Discombobulating’ takes a while to say and even longer to write but it’s a perfect word to describe the current ‘Points Docking In The Premiership’ saga. How long is that set to continue? How many new characters (ie clubs) will be sucked into its story? If Forest and Everton have been taking a leading role, Leicester City and Sheffield United seem set to join the ‘Docking Club’ and those giants, Manchester City and Chelsea, still cast shadows over the whole affair. With the end of the season in sight, supporters – understandably – are left bemused, confounded and confused.

It’s all to do with money of course. As the menacing Master of Ceremonies sang in that fine film, ‘Cabaret’, ‘Money makes the world go around!’. It also does a lot of other things, too. Remember the world financial collapse in 2008? Speculation trumping security, when banks got to play roulette with savings and investments for which we still pay. The Post Office scandal has ruined lives through most of the 21st century, and not just financially.

The figures involved in these high profile cases are hard to imagine for the lay-person, like trying to grasp distance in space. Or working out who owns our water and how we got to be in the current crisis. The Trent sweeps past the City Ground with grace, reflecting and refracting speckled floodlights during evening games and the sun on crisp winter afternoons but who knows what flows in it these days? If it was the Thames, we’d say ‘sewage’ without hesitation. Why? Because of serial under-investment in our waterways. Enormous profits have been pocketed by owners overseas.

One look at the amounts of money leaking out of our water companies would have any of us wiping away tears of anger, disbelief and frustration. Money – the sheer quantity of it gathering in some quarters – is reaching new levels of disbelief in society. And that includes football. The recent release of data on the financial state of clubs in the last year makes for arresting reading. This statistic, for example, snagged my attention: in the Premiership, over £400m was spent on agents’ fees. (For information, Chelsea – surprise, surprise – topped the charts at £75m and even Forest coughed-up over £13m.)

I remember when there were no agents in the game (well, not officially at least) and it’s a job title that can carry a whiff of suspicion about it – rightly or wrongly – in many fields of employment. This is not to say that football was better then. Until 1961, players operated under a ‘maximum-wage’ restraint and a ‘retain and transfer’ scheme operated by clubs restricted player movement. Former Arsenal and England player, George Eastham, called it a ‘slavery contract’ and took his case to court. He won the argument and players gained greater freedom, then money, then bargaining power … and then agents. It was a just cause and I recall my dad patiently explaining the intricacies of the ‘player strike’ and outcome to me in 1963.

Now we seem to have reached the other end of the salary spectrum. The player wage bill for Manchester City last year was £423m. Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea all exceeded £300m. Yet nearly every Premiership club has a current net debt. Tottenham’s stands at £670m. Forest’s is £186m. These are big sums of money.

The Premiership was established in 1992 to make money and there’s no doubting they’ve come up with a quality product. The total revenue for the ‘top six’ clubs (mostly from commercial and broadcast income) far exceeds the rest in the division but all have some outstanding players, and training methods, tactical knowhow and diet and health programmes have all become far more sophisticated than back in the Sixties. The riches have improved play on the pitch and facilities for for the fans.

‘Will it last?’ asks respected football punter, Hunter Davies, in a recent magazine article. Though he’s ever the optimist, his answer is blunt. ‘Of course not. These things come in cycles. Make the most of it.’ He’s right, it won’t last, unless there is change. The way football in England is financed is unsustainable and clubs cannot gorge forever. The worth of the game to people who follow it, who gain sustenance from it, is priceless. The Premiership needs to remember that their stewardship involves more than plundering every possible audience on Earth. An insatiable appetite has one outcome: self-destruction.

Football clubs might be privately owned but the game is public property. (Though we said the same of water once.) Too late, many will argue, the Premiership has established a code of conduct agreed by all participants. It hints at more responsible financial management in the future and is currently set on a course of punishing rule-breakers with points deductions. So far, that’s felt to be arbitrary to say the least.

Then there’s the matter of club ownership. Accountable? Hardly. Buying and selling, and talk of clubs for sale or being readied for asset-stripping or sports-washing, has become the norm. Project Premiership came under scrutiny, rightly, by the government and was threatened with external intervention. It is now in the process of the proverbial ‘putting its house in order’. The hope is for greater transparency, so that procedures are clear as … water. In the meantime, players play and fans support. Next up for Forest is a trip to Everton (who will be smarting after a 6-0 thrashing by Chelsea): a cup final of two ‘docked-points’ teams, fighting for three precious points on the pitch, aware they could lose more off it.

*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC Morgan Gibbs-White enjoyed a decent Easter fixtures return for Forest.

One thought on “Money Matters

  1. I think LCFC tried to avoid promotion so the pl could not doc them points. The EFL have no jurisdiction on what happened in the pl
    Surfice to say the whole situation is a mess.I can see a club being relegated only to get a reprieve when they appeal a points deduction

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