Monday 16 January 2012

Money, money, money

Once again, the apparent demise of Darlington and the problems at Kettering Town bring the subject of football finances into the spotlight.
Darlington today sacked all of their players and management staff, and there doesn't seem much hope of a way back, while Kettering are in a similar state of flux.
The problems at Darlington go back to the quite frankly ridiculous decision to build a 25,000-seater stadium a few years back, when surely it was obvious to just about everyone that they didn't need it and would never fill it.
I went to their old ground, Feethams, when Cheltenham won there 2-1 on the day Michael Duff made his Northern Ireland debut and Mark Yates scored from the penalty spot.
The crowd was about 2,000 - so how anyone apart from the egotist who took them over, George Reynolds, ever thought they would get crowds 10 times the size is anyone's guess.
On Twitter I made this point earlier, and was told that no-one stopped him when he built the stadium.
Where were the other board members? Where was the local council - how the hell did they grant permission for such a white elephant that now looks like it will bring the club down.
Someone, somewhere, obviously made some money out of it...
At Kettering, they also have a maverick in charge it seems, in Imraan Ladak, the man who made Gazza the manager then took his side to play at Nene Park, home of their greatest rivals Rushden and Diamonds - who themselves have gone bust.
But do football clubs ever die? We have Accrington Stanley, Bradford Park Avenue, Newport County, AFC Halifax, AFC Telford, AFC Wimbledon - all clubs re-born after their former incarnations went bust or were moved 80 miles north on a whim.
What are the chances of AFC Darlington, AFC Kettering and AFC Rushden in the future?
But it shouldn't be necessary, if only - firstly - those in charge of clubs and looking to sell only did so when they are sure the people coming in are doing it for the right reasons.
It would weed out the Reynolds', the Ladaks and the others at places like Wrexham who have basically asset stripped clubs as a money-making vehicle.
However sad these situations are for the fans (and largely they are blameless in Darlington and Kettering's case) there are times when the fans need to look at themselves.
All over the country, boards come under pressure to spend, spend, spend - speculate to accumulate is the phrase that crops up all the time.
We have heard it at Cheltenham on a number of occasions - in fact, I heard it this week from a fan after the money we have got from the Spurs Cup tie.
After the play-off win over Rushden in 2002, our chairman Paul Baker was lambasted after a piece in the Echo stating that they wouldn't be going out and spending big on the squad in League One.
The reason? The club didn't have the money - ie they were going to live within their means.
It happened again after the Grimsby win - more criticism for the same reasons.
But we have chased the dream on some occasions - there was the loans of Alex Russell, Richard Keogh and Steve Brooker, rumoured to be very expensive at the end of the season which saw us stay up on the final day against Doncaster.
Then there was the Martin Allen reign - 52 players and more expensive loans, none more so than James Wesolowski, which nearly tipped us into administration.
The reaction to that? Not to keep spending and accruing more debt - not to ask for mercy and handouts from the Premier League or anyone else.
It was to slash the wage bill, and rely on Mark Yates to keep us in the League, which he did.
That got the club back on firmer ground, and Cheltenham are reaping the benefits of that prudence with the budget increased this season, and the performances of the side are just reward for that.
But we have got there through living within our means, and not (this time) spending money we haven't got.
We have seen Rushden and Diamonds do that - and look what happened there - and we see Crawley, Southend and Swindon all around us splashing the cash.
Our fans see that, and think we should be spending the Spurs Cup money on a transfer fee or two - but I am glad we are not going to.
All over the country, all I hear are fans moaning about their clubs not spending money.
Most of these clubs are hugely in debt, and their fans are quite happy for them to make that debt even bigger - then when problems come they expect a handout from everyone else. Sorry, no way.
I have no sympathy for fans and clubs like this - sorry about that.
Blackburn fans moaning at Venky's for lack of investment. Everton fans doing the same at Bill Kenwright.
Have they got the money to spend? If not, then they cannot spend it.
In this country, we should have rules that stop clubs running up massive debts, and it should be the same here as in Europe, where clubs are relegated if they have huge debts.
I am sick of well-run clubs like ours being penalised and unable to compete against clubs with huge wage bills they cannot sustain without running up big debts.
Time for a level playing field.

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