Covid-19 and the financial future of English football
A Cambridge United fan during the social distancing at football trial 
(Photo by Catherine Ivill - Staff/Getty Images)

English football was already in a precarious position before the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been increasing numbers of clubs entering administration and, with the likes of Bury and Macclesfield Town, some have already fallen victim to the financial strain which football puts clubs under and have subsequently been liquidated.

With the addition of a global pandemic, which is preventing fans from buying tickets and attending matches, the main source of income for a lot of clubs has been stripped away, leaving even the most financially stable clubs in the English Football League in a desperate battle to make it through the crisis.

  •  Football must learn to adapt during and after the pandemic


Football sleepwalked into the current situation by assuming the finances generated from within the sport would be limitless and growth would continue, no matter what situation the world outside of it was going through. Now, if they are to learn anything from all of this, it is that the business model as a whole needs to change. It has failed and, so far, it has no protection in place to recover. It would be difficult to come up with a fool-proof solution for something so unpredictable, but in future the hierarchy must develop a solution for when even the most unexpected disasters occur.

  • Football after Coronavirus
     

The financial situation within football was already becoming more and more extreme without the recent crisis, at both ends of the scale. The Premier League is so far ahead of the Football League now that relegation from England's top flight can cripple a club for years, if not worse. History has already shown that with well established clubs like Leeds United, Sunderland and Nottingham Forest, to name but a few. The reasons vary, but generally it's due to mismanagement off the pitch. Chancing businessmen have been creeping into the nation's favourite sport for nothing more than financial gain, and once the money has been drained, it's left to the local communities around the country to pick up the pieces.

Football clubs who have been in existence for over a century are being liquidated, leaving generations of fans with nothing more than memories derelict stadiums. Bury and Macclesfield Town were traditional football clubs, built from the streets of working class Lancashire towns. Now they're just a page in the history books, but this could happen to any club, in any city or town around the UK.

The money thrown at the Premier League, especially the clubs currently competing at the top of the league, is getting bigger and bigger, while the clubs languishing outside of the top division all face the same burden of struggling to make ends meet.

  • Communities continue to be the heartbeat of football clubs


Accrington Stanley chairman, Andy Holt, is very vocal about how unrewarding and ruthless it is to be a chairman of a club in League One. He has regularly posted the club's accounts online for all to see, and it's eye-watering how expensive it is just to have a group of men gather on a Saturday afternoon to kick a ball around for 90 minutes.

However, he understands the importance of the football club and what it means to his local community. The problem is that not all chairmen are as open as Andy, not as caring about the communities they serve and definitely not with the best interests in mind. At all levels of the sport, there are businessmen out to make a quick buck and bail at the earliest opportunity, leaving whatever is left to the people who have been there from the start, the fans.

We are growing ever closer to a European Super League breaking away from Europe's top divisions, as the world's elite play their hand at ruling the world's most powerful club. The EFL have struggled to help protect clubs from facing administration and liquidation, with their Fit And Proper test, aimed at making sure a football club is run by owners on sound financial grounds and be self sufficient enough to operate successfully.

Ask any fan of Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers or Charlton Athletic about their opinion on this test and it's clear to see it has failed, miserably, and continues to do so. In the same way Financial Fair Play was designed to prevent clubs throwing cash at their squad and help to balance their books through more regular means of income, self operating and without a need for large cash injections, clubs are just finding loopholes to work around the restrictions put in place.

The salary caps introduced this season are no different, stories are surfacing on a regular basis about clubs using sponsorship deals to lure a player to them while making sure their wage falls within the guidelines set out by those in charge.

  • Germany has the winning formula


There is hope, though. Germany has a reliable model which is the envy of every English football fan up and down the country. The 50+1 rule means that the association or club has to have a controlling stake, commercial interests can not gain control. So ultimately, the members (fans) control their football club.

This is to counter exactly what is happening here in England. Their ticket prices are considerably lower than England too, with season ticket prices in the Bundesliga averaging £207 compared to £468 in the Premier League. It's a matter of policy to look after their community, valued by those in charge who understand what football means to their people. This is what is being lost in England most of all, the identity of football itself. Fans in stands are increasingly being swapped out for TV subscribers.

A revamp is needed but until the FA, Premier League and the EFL come up with something to help protect clubs and allow football to be played on a level playing field, the financial gap from top to bottom will continue to get wider, taking more and more casualties as time goes on.

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