Monday, 8 August 2011

Crime and Punishment in Non-League

I realize no-one cares. After all no-one at all has written about this (that I’ve found) and it’s been at least three weeks since the decision was announced. All reformed clubs have to now start at step five in the non-league system instead of being relegated a minimum of two divisions. But trust me this is BIG NEWS. You can tell it is because it’s written in capitals.

The rule change has not received as much comment as I would have expected, after all this is a big change in the way that the F.A. deal with reformed clubs. It has only been one year since they upheld Chester FC’s appeal against a step 5 placing and put them in the Evo-Stik North Division 1 North which they won as champions in their first season and only one month since reformed Ilkeston were put in at Step 4. This wholesale change in policy comes as a surprise also as very few people complained against the rulings and very few people had a problem with the old rule to begin with.

So, why have they changed the rule? Is it supposed to be a deterrent to those clubs who wish to take risks with their finances and gamble on expensive players giving them success? Or is it aimed at helping lower league clubs out if a large club goes bust then the money that can be gleaned from their supporters as they climb the divisions could go a long way to securing the long term futures of many clubs?

I would propose that it would be the former rather than the latter (although the latter would be seen as an added bonus by the F.A.). Some clubs, in the past, have actually gambled on promotion, overspent and then gone bust. When these clubs have been reformed (usually with new people running them) they have then climbed back to where they were after a fairly short space of time. No harm done to the club and the mental scars that the supporters have gained from seeing their club go bust have partially healed after seeing successive promotions.

OK, it might not be that simple but the example of Nuneaton Borough may be what the authorities are trying to stop. Nuneaton Borough was in a tough financial spot in 2008 and their owner’s health was failing and the club was in debt. The new owner, Ian Neale, took over the club and looked at the books. Fearing that there were irregularities in the books he liquidated the club and reformed it as Nuneaton Town. They were relegated two divisions and they then enjoyed two successive promotions to get back to exactly where they were two years previously. This wiped the clubs debts and many fans didn’t blame the chairman for taking his decision. Seems like a win-win for everyone doesn’t it? Oh, except for those firms who weren’t paid the monies owed. But hell its football and no-one cares about creditors do they?

If the F.A. are trying to stop this behavior then that is commendable. It does not take into account, however, those clubs that have been run unsustainably and are being brought back to life by dedicated fans who will run the club sensibly. Clubs, like Chester FC would have to start from the very bottom after all the years of suffering that they had received. A bit of a double whammy from the authorities who many people blame for the demise of the Cheshire club in the first place. After all the fault surely lies at the hands of the former directors and not the people who are reforming the club.

Surely the best way to ensure that clubs don’t gamble on success is to put better financial controls on clubs? The Conference league has already started doing so, but it is too early to see whether these controls will work in the long run as they were only implemented last year. What we can be sure of is that this rule change will be put under heavy scrutiny when the next club goes bust.

1 comment:

  1. Money is killing football. As you said better financial controls on clubs and controls on how clubs are run in general is the only way forward.