Mawhinney tackles the big issues
With the Football League season out of the way following its climax which saw Burnley's victory over Sheffield United, now is a good time to take stock of the big issues facing the competition.
Try a few of these on for size - the credit crunch, a transfer embargo, the formation of two Premier League divisions, the home-grown player rule, wage-capping, the future of the transfer window and the widening gulf between the top flight and the Championship.
They might not necessarily be as exciting as a discussion about who your team is going to buy over the summer or their prospects for next season, but they are of huge significance and transcend the importance of any single club.
With this in mind, I sat down in the stands at Wembley with Football League chairman Lord Brian Mawhinney a few hours before Scunthorpe's League One play-off final against Millwall to get his take on what really matters at the moment.
More people watched the Championship last season than Italy's Serie A and attendances in the Football League topped 16m for the fifth successive season - a fact of which Mawhinney was rightly proud.
But the sponsorship deals, corporate hospitality agreements and a large portion of season ticket sales had all been agreed before the advent of the credit crunch.
What sort of impact will it have next season and how worried should we be?
"I think it is likely there will be more pressure on clubs," Mawhinney, a former Conservative party cabinet minister, told me. "Sponsorship and corporate hospitality - areas like that are hurting.
"Up and down the country businesses are being squeezed and closing, people are losing their jobs. I know people look at clubs in terms of passion and fans and so on but they are also businesses, they have an income and expenditure and if they get out of line then they have a problem."
The last club to go to the wall and resign from the League was Maidstone United in 1992. Plenty have come close since but managed to survive. When I asked Mawhinney whether it is realistic that another could go the same way in the near future the 68-year-old admitted that he did not know. In the 20 or so minutes that the interview lasted it was the only question for which he did not have an answer.
What can the Football League do to help? Well, here Mawhinney is more expansive - pointing to the new and vastly improved television deal that starts next season, with 10 Championship fixtures to be shown live on the BBC.
He also wrote to the clubs a year ago to warn them about their cost control arrangements, underlining the need for good business practice and sustainable budgets.
And over the last few months Mawhinney has pushed very hard for a wage cap - but this is not going to happen. "The votes simply weren't there," he told me. "Particularly at the Championship end."
Why? Well, if a club wants to come out of administration they must agree a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with 75% of the people or companies to whom they owe money.
Football League rules means that football creditors - mainly in the form of player wages - must be paid in full. HMRC doesn't like this as it has to settle for the same (usually reduced) rate that every other non-football creditor receives. The catch is this: often what HMRC is owed is more than 25% of a club's debt and so it can - and has - been blocking CVAs.
A club can then only leave administration by appealing to the Football League extraordinary circumstances regulation - and in reality this comes with an extra points deduction.
"I defend that 100% because that is trying to look after the integrity of the competition," said Mawhinney. "But I don't like that because no football fan likes points deductions so we are trying to move to a new system to prevent HMRC getting to 25%."
If it is voted in at the League's AGM, there will be a transfer embargo for clubs falling behind on their payments to the tax man. "We're trying to move to a system where prevention is better than cure," added Mawhinney. In effect he is trying to head off HMRC at the pass.
The chairman also wants to see the end of the transfer window for the domestic movement of players. "Our clubs have suffered and our income has suffered, no question," said Mawhinney.
His argument on this point is clear - and just amount every lower league manager I have spoken to is in agreement. Smaller clubs cannot sell a player to balance the books and so the Football League - in effect English football's secondary league - is suffering for legislation that was brought in primarily with international, top-end transfers in mind.
"We don't want to throw the whole thing out root and branch but internally in domestic markets it should not penalise secondary leagues and we are being penalised," said the chairman.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter, of course, is also trying to champion a "six-plus-five" rule, which would limit the number of foreign players to five in any starting XI. Mawhinney, a former senior government minister in Brussels, does not think it will work from a legal point of view. Instead, from next season every Football League team will have to have at least four players in their matchday squad that have been registered domestically for at least three years.
"While other people have been talking about things we have tried to do something," the chairman told me. Personally, I'm not sure how much of an impact the rule will have in practical terms. Limiting squad sizes is an idea that might work on several different levels but Mawhinney is adamant that it is not on the immediate agenda.
What Mawhinney does want is more money from the Premier League to counter the ripple effect of players wages that runs down through the divisions and forces up Football League wage bills.
"We have floated the idea that we could look at the aggregate of wages in the Premier League and then have an arrangement whereby a percentage of that might be given to the Football League to offset the upward pressure on wages," said Mawhinney. The current solidarity arrangement is worth in the region of £30m per year.
Mawhinney reckons that the gap between the Premier League and the Championship is becoming significantly wider and represents "the single greatest challenge to professional football in this country" as the financial divide between the leagues expands.
But he is adamant that the idea of a two-tier Premier League proposed by Bolton chairman Phil Gartside has no chance of becoming a reality.
"Let me do a little bit of arithmetic for you - Mr Gartside said he would like two leagues of 18 teams - that is 36. He has got 20 in the Premier League and he wants Celtic and Rangers - that means he needs 14 clubs from the Championship.
"You take 14 out of the Championship and it wrecks the Football League. So it started in 1888 and Mr Gartside kills it in 2009 - I don't think so."