In March of this year, the Football Association conceded that there were a number of matters that were no longer within the scope of their governance, as it officially relinquished its authority in areas of vital importance. One such power given up by the FA, the distribution of wealth away from the Premiership, has left clubs in the Football League dangerously exposed.
It is inherently natural and correct that those in the highest division of football should be reaping the highest rewards; after all, they have earned their right to play amongst the nation’s best and should be granted the financial benefits which follow. Football has always been a meritocratic system whereby the cream of the crop are most adequately endowed with cash. Yet the sheer magnitude of divergence in wealth between the Premier League and the Football League in modern football is threatening the very existence of football clubs in the lower leagues.
For all the rampant riches which have seen the English Premier League become the most watched and most talked about in the World as well as bringing significant continental success to English clubs, there exists a more sinister side to the deluge of wealth which has flooded English football in recent years.
In the past five years alone, clubs in the Football League have gone into administration a total of twelve times, whilst former league sides Rushden & Diamonds, Chester City and Halifax Town have all been liquidated and reformed lower down the Non-League pyramid. Particularly in the case of Chester and Halifax, these are clubs with rich, enduring and vibrant histories in the Football League which have been needlessly cut short. Whilst some financial mismanagement of behalf of the clubs may have contributed to their demise, it is predominantly the disparaging state of finance in comparison to the Premier League which is responsible.
When analysing the fortunes of clubs relegated from the Premier League, it is evident that the transition into the Football League is one fraught with innumerable difficulties. Of the teams relegated since the turn of the Millennium, eleven have subsequently dropped into the third tier or lower at some stage: Sheffield Wednesday, Bradford, Leicester, Leeds, Norwich, Southampton, Sheffield United and Charlton with Wimbledon folding altogether, whilst Portsmouth and Coventry will play in League One as of next season.
Intriguingly, most clubs have seen their subsequent fall into the third tier come in a period of 2-5 years after relegation from the Premier League; around the time parachute payments dry up, around the time attendances begin to fatally fall as a result of loss of stature, and around the time any income made from the time spent in top flight is fluttered away to simply keep the club afloat. Of those highlighted above, Bradford, Leicester, Leeds, Southampton and Portsmouth would go into administration in the following years, whilst the same fate fell upon Crystal Palace in 2010.
Not only are former Premier League clubs affected, but lower down the pyramid sides with little or no notable success yet equally abundant histories are most perilously positioned. In the past two seasons both Plymouth Argyle and Port Vale have both received ten point deductions for entering administration. Neither club have ever reached the top flight of English football, yet are two of the most distinguished institutions in the Football League. Despite being two of the best supported clubs in the lower leagues, the traditional revenue streams of gate receipts are almost invalid as clubs engage in utter dependence upon television money, sales of top players grants from the Football League.
Yet with the Football Association surrendering increasing power to the Premier League, there remains no tangible system of regulating wealth distribution. The Premier League as a political institution now nurtures a frightening level of influence over football’s finances, which in the coming years will only result in a widening of the poverty gap. The separation of the FA and the Premier League has rendered the FA a lame duck, sitting and waiting for its successor to assume power, as the pure monetary potency of the Premier League eclipses all else. The Football League, try as they may, are held captive in this power struggle whilst their members bare the full consequences.
Clubs pour ill-affordable resources into reaching the promised land. But once the dream has died, once the dazzling hyperbole of the Premier League fades away, only strife remains. There is a contingency plan in place in the form of parachute payments, but these are of no measure to the millions that clubs commit in trying to retain or attain Premier League status. Meanwhile, even those with more modest ambitions are fighting for survival as funds fail to drip down from the very top and leave those at the bottom struggling to persist.
Unless the Football Association are able to wrestle power back from the Premier League, the juggernaut will continue assuming greater financial clout and endanger the existence of the rest. There is life outside the Premier League, yet it is slowly being suffocated by the incessant greed of top flight clubs. It is time to start sharing.
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