02 August 2019

Risking financial ruin to top the football league

Every football club wants to be top of the table. Most can only dream of being there, until later in the season when a few have a glimpse of being the top club. Tomorrow sees the start of the Football League season, and the tables are normally ordered in alphabetical order as all clubs have the same number of points; zero. Except that's not true in League One.



This season sees not one, but two clubs starting on -12 points. That's a millstone around their necks before a ball has been kicked. With 50 points being the widely accepted survival threshold from relegation, this means both teams must win four of their 46 games (nearly 10% of them) just to reach the same points level as their League One rivals.

Bolton Wanderers were the first English league club in six years to enter administration. With the players having not being paid since February, and a food bank set up for the club's staff, the situation isn't good. They've only got seven registered players on the eve of their first game! As for the fans, Bury fan James Bentley told the BBC Radio Manchester:
"I feel really numb. You never expect something like this to happen. After such a fantastic promotion last season where the players weren't being paid, to get it over the line in the way that they did, there was such a feeling of camaraderie and a bond with the fans that hadn't been there for years and now it's just been destroyed."
Bury's situation in arguably worse. The league hasn't allowed them to play their pre-season fixtures or their first league game, because they don't think the club is financially sound. What's more the threat of being kicked out of the league is very real if their situation doesn't improve soon.

Bolton were in the Premier League as late as 2012, and were in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup in 2008. Bury have had problems in the past, entering administration back in 2002. This time the problem is a lack of money to pay creditors and maintain their stadium. So what is the cause of the club's demise?

According to the Football League, three quarters of clubs finished last season in the red. A huge part of these club's budget is player wages. They say clubs need to live within their means. That's easier to say than to do. The potential return of sporting success means some clubs are willing to take financial risks to be top of the pile. 

The league is full of clubs that have splashed the cash to get promoted. Often it works, but only in the short term. Eventually they mostly get caught out, and their skeletons litter the lower leagues as a result.

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