Guest blog 4: Money the root cause?

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Here we go again, new month more blogs! Once again, I’m lucky to have people that have been kind enough to write a piece or two for me and this one comes from someone I’ve gotten to know over the course of a season and a half.

David Fuller lives in East Sussex and is a groundhopper, having been involved at Wick FC in the Southern Combination David visited a couple of times and we’ve kept in touch since. Here is David’s article on money within our beautiful game and how things really haven’t changed all that much:

I’ve always been a fairly positive person. It’s an outlook that has been severely tested over the past few weeks as everything – or almost everything – that we’ve ever considered as the norm, and in many instances taken for granted, has been stripped away from us.

Not least the freedom to watch football, at any level, in any format – be it live at the ground, live on TV, or even via highlights.

Now, don’t get me wrong; football is not the most important thing in the world right now. I’m fully aware of that, we all are. But that doesn’t mean that the millions of us who love the game aren’t allowed to miss it or even feel a slight emptiness in our lives – a space that was once filled by the sight of 22 men (or women) chasing a spherical object around a field.

However, I’m determined to keep looking at the bright side of life for as long as possible.

From a completely selfish point of view, my family and I are all safe and healthy; I’m fortunate enough to have a garden in which to take full advantage of the fantastic spring weather we’ve been enjoying; the children haven’t been doing my head in (too much… yet); and I’ve had ample spare time to watch some fantastic TV series’. Ones that without all this extra time, I may not have got around to watching until much later in the year or maybe not at all.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of these series have focussed on football. Two of which, although on the face of it are completely different types of programs, I found to be in one way surprisingly similar.

The two series in question, both of which can be found on Netflix, are The English Game and series 2 of Sunderland Till I Die (series 1 is also available for those who haven’t seen it).

The English Game is a period drama set in Victorian times, and focusses on how football went from being a sport played mainly by aristocrats, to one dominated by the working class. It’s a little bit ‘soapy’ in places and at times comes a little too close to being a romantic drama for my particular tastes, but look past that and it’s quite a good watch.

Sunderland Till I Die, on the other hand, is a fly-on-the-wall drama, the first series of which could have easily been called ‘How Not to Run a Football Club.’ The second series shows the club’s new owners trying to right the wrongs of the previous regimes. But it doesn’t take too long (less than two minutes into the first episode of the series, in fact) to see that the damage has already been done.

The plots of both programs, though, focus around the same thing. The importance of money!

In The English Game, the program shows how the influx of money – and the eventual advent of professionalism – began to take the game away from the aristocracy (yay) and gave it to the working class (double yay). No sooner did money begin to enter the game, did those that have it start winning trophies, while those without it started to flounder.

Sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

Fast forward nearly 150 years, and Sunderland Till I Die conversely shows how money has in many ways taken the game away from the working classes. Passion of the fans is no longer enough for clubs to survive they need constant investment, money that the average fan can simply not afford nor supply. No matter how hard the die-hard Sunderland faithful try to follow their team through thick and thin, many spending practically every penny they earn to do so, the club’s finances are still a mess.

Having watched both these series, I found my thoughts suddenly turning to the non-league game that I so love. Even at this level – actually, especially at this level – money is often the driving factor between a club’s success and failure.

Think of Salford City, famously owned by the Class of 92, and their recent success in soaring from step six of the pyramid all the way to the Football League. Money – lots of money – made that happen, nothing more, nothing less.

Even Glenn Tamplin’s infamous tenure at Billericay Town – now cited as something of a failed experiment in some quarters – did see the Essex side climb a couple of divisions, win a few cups and make major improvements to their ground (dodgy murals not counted!).

The flip side, though, is that the club now find themselves in some difficulties, without a rich benefactor to bankroll some of the added costs that come with playing at a higher level on the non-league pyramid – increased player/staff wages, added ground maintenance, etc.

In fact, it’s easy to see some parallels with Sunderland’s predicament, albeit the professional club’s problems largely stem from them trying to balance a League One budget with a Premier League wage bill, rather than trying to sustain a budget above their natural level!

All eyes are now on Romford to see how Mr Tamplin’s latest experiment pans out.

When we do eventually come out of lockdown and football resumes (hopefully before 2021 for non-league, as some have predicted) money will become more important than ever.

Providing most clubs do somehow manage to find a way to survive (fingers crossed most do) then the few that are fortunate enough to still have finances in place to support a fairly healthy player wage budget are going to be at a huge advantage going into the start of next season, whenever that may be.

Let’s face it, not many non-league players are renowned for their loyalty. Not when they can pick up an extra tenner a week by joining another club ‘just down the road’.

My local non-league is the Southern Combination Football League (SCFL) in Sussex; a league I have followed closely for the past couple of seasons, follow clubs on Twitter, attend a few games and it doesn’t take long to work out which clubs are paying money and which players are playing specifically for that money. (Hint, it’s the ones that play for about five different clubs a season, I’m sure this pattern is repeated in leagues up and down the country).

I know that at least two of the five teams who were going for the SCFL Premier title last season, were paying their players depending on points earned, £10 a point for each player nothing for losing. One of these teams also offered a £20 bonus for a clean sheet; an incentive that really appeals to the defender in me.

This level of investment seems about fair to me for step 5, and I would guess is a fairly common payment structure at this level throughout the county. That said, I’ve also heard of some players earning over £100 a game (sometimes far more) at the same level (step 5 and 6) which seems ludicrous to be honest.

Interestingly, one of the teams fighting for the SCFL title were fairly vocal (and rightly proud) about the fact they didn’t pay players so much as a penny. A boast that was often hotly contested by rival teams on Twitter, but a claim I have no reason or inclination to doubt without proof.

The fact, though, is that post-CoronaVirus, many clubs are going to be unable to afford even the £10 a point payment structure. They’re going to need every penny they can scrimp simply to survive.

Therefore, those who do come out the other side still managing to afford this (and maybe even more) are almost certain to attract the best local players next term. Providing they can steer clear of the mercenaries; the five clubs-a-season men, such clubs (and there will be some) are going to have a clear advantage over their opposition. The difference between the haves and have-nothings could be starker than ever before.

While football has changed massively from the sport depicted in The English Game (when the introduction of passing the ball was seen as a major tactical innovation), its still money that rules the roost, at any level, for better and for worse.

You can follow David’s groundhopping exploits via his blog and book on the links below:

Blog: https://non-leaguegroundhopper.blogspot.com/

Book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Diary-Groundhopping-Virgin-David-Fuller-ebook/dp/B07S242Q7G/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=David+Fuller&qid=1587981401&sr=8-2

 

 

 

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