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Football & Covid-19: When it comes down to it, absolutely no one has thought this through

The optimists tell us nothing’s really changed.  OK, there are not any actual games on at the moment, and there’s chatter about clubs losing money and sacking staff, but well, that’s just normal chatter.  That’s what the media always does.  Scaremongering.

They say the season isn’t going to start until sometime in the 22nd century, but they always try to worry us.  They’re just filling space in the paper.  It’s just like those transfer rumours: they give us 100 players we are going sign this summer and we sign none of them.   Rumour, rumour, rumour then we promote three youngsters and buy someone who’s never been talked about.

OK there’s a bit of a problem in some clubs, and maybe a few will go to the wall, but that’s just the survival of the fittest thing.  The big mongoose eats the crab.  Tough on the crab but it probably had a good life.  Until the mongoose came along.

So there will be a shakedown, a few smaller clubs will go to the wall, but some will be rescued by local businessmen who want to make a bit of a name, and we’ll carry on as before.

Besides, the little clubs that go down will probably be reborn and get a new life. Just like Wimbledon.  Beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final went bust a few years later.  Moved to Milton Keynes and came back, with the reborn original club playing in South London.  Clubs survive.

No hang on, says the next group of thinkers if the season doesn’t get going again really soon, and so clubs don’t finish off the games, there will be a problem.

For everything to stay as it is, the broadcasters need the season finished or they will want three-quarters of a billion pounds back, and the clubs don’t have that.  And we’ve only got until July to get it all sorted because the preliminary rounds of the Europa League and Champions Leagues start in July.

And if the clubs come up with some whacky scheme of playing behind closed doors with all the games played at two or three neutral stadia, in order to rush it all through, it only needs one player to get the virus, and it will all be cancelled again.  Is that really going to work?

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Who is the only player to have played in the World Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup, Intertoto Cup, all four levels of English league football and non-league?

OK, so the problems take a bit longer to resolve than we thought, but we can still finish off this season, even if it is in September / October.  We just change next season.

Which is ok, except for two things.  First, next season will be shortened and the clubs will still lose broadcasting money because there will be fewer games.

And second, lots of clubs are already on the edge.  Clubs like Barcelona, which has apparently run out of cash already because in the summer it earns a fortune out of stadium tours and the museum.  And they are shut.

Besides, Barcelona lives and breaths on the concept that it always buys the best players no matter how much it costs, no matter what it takes.  But now the unthinkable has happened, there is no cash.  Putting out the kids is not Barcelona’s style.  Which is why the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin left to go to Arsenal – to get games.

And if can happen to Barcelona, what about half the clubs in the Premier League?

Let’s try this a different way around.  Wolverhampton Wanderers are pushing to get into the top six to get a place in Europe as the next step on their upward journey.   To help them do this they are constantly investing in the club, which is fair enough.

But before this season suddenly ground to a halt, Wolves borrowed a fair chunk of money from one of the specialist financial organisations that loan money to clubs.  Nothing wrong with that – it is the sort of thing that goes on all the time.

Now that firm wanted a guarantee on the money (as financial institutions always do) so Wolves pointed to the basic revenue they would get from Sky, BT and the BBC at the start of next season.

Their gamble was quite reasonable: if they make it into the top six they will be able to pay back the money easily because they will be earning far more than they budgeted for in getting this loan. And if they don’t get into Europe, ok they can still pay the money back from the TV money, and meanwhile, they’ll be able to buy more players in the summer.

But supposing the TV money doesn’t come in, because there is no football this season, then what happens to the repayment of the loan?

This is the problem: football has got used to borrowing money, with guarantees based on earnings not yet made.  And mostly it works.  But quite possibly it won’t this time.

In this type of situation, one club can’t pay another, who can’t pay the next and so on.  And in the financial world that we will live in, after the virus has finally been beaten, there most certainly won’t be any cheap loans on the table.  Those will vanish as quickly as the government’s offer to pay people’s salaries.

If the above scenario does come about, clubs will start going bust all over the place, which means defaulting on payments owed.   Clubs need money, but suddenly that £50m player turns out to be only worth £7m because that’s all anyone can afford.  And besides, half the players in the Premier League are for sale as clubs try to cut their costs.  Players, the clubs’ biggest asset, suddenly become worth practically nothing.  That guy who cost £60m last season is now worth £3m.  And unfortunately, he hasn’t been paid for yet, because all transfers are paid over four years.

Now, the real problem is not that these thoughts might become reality, but rather that few people have started to think what to do if we get anywhere near the third thought, let alone the fourth or fifth.   There is no planning for this sort of problem because most clubs have been living on the financial edge for years.  The money comes in from TV, etc, the money goes out on wages.

When the bandwagon falls over, clubs will go into meltdown and banks will call in the debts – no matter how unpopular that will make them.   Don’t think TSB or Natwest or Barclays will say, “No, we can’t call in that club’s debt because all their fans will close their accounts with us,” because that thinking is not going to happen.   Banks, like everyone else, are taking a hammering at the moment, and they will want their money back on the date specified, payment with interest in full.

Clubs will go into administration, the administrators will do a fire sale of players, and then sell the ground for housing development.

The clubs with actual money in the bank (not the wealthiest clubs, but the clubs with cash) will be fine.  The rest will be watching the cliff edge get closer day by day

And what is the answer to that? 

“Oh that won’t happen,” I am told.   Which is why newspapers are still full of stories of all the players clubs will be buying this summer.  As if nothing untoward is happening.

We are walking backwards, blindfolded with the lights off towards the cliff edge.  Of course, we might be able to stop and walk forwards again, but it is certainly not guaranteed.

Article title: Football & Covid-19: When it comes down to it, absolutely no one has thought this through

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