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Crunch time for Poppies' appeal

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Matt Slater | 11:59 UK time, Thursday, 15 March 2012

Kettering Town have scored more FA Cup goals - 843 of them - than any other club. They were also the first British team to carry a sponsor's name on their shirts and the first to have their initials spelled out in their floodlights.

But hopes of scoring an 844th cup goal, providing a national stage for another local firm or seeing their name in lights again are teetering on a precipice called debt.

With only nine league games to play, the Poppies are facing relegation from the Blue Square Bet Premier - the national division of the Conference - but the prospect of sixth-tier football is the least of their concerns.

Already this season, they have been fined, docked points, prevented from signing new players and narrowly avoided being forced to play behind closed doors. That particular threat passed when a £17,000 police bill was settled - they now just have the £42,000 tax bill to worry about.

I have written about HM Revenue & Customs' royal hump with football so many times I am tempted to ask for a rebate but Kettering Town's tax difficulties do not require much in the way of additional explanation.

Like far too many clubs - at every level - they have existed at the margins of their means for a long time. Financial brinksmanship is fine when you have a friendly bank manager and patient tax authority but football has not seen those for some time.

Kettering took over Rushden & Diamond's Nene Park ground when their Northamptonshire neighbours went bust last season. Photo: Getty Images

There is one slightly unusual, although not unique, element to this story and it is one that underlines the follies of "the football industry".

Last summer, after a breakdown in negotiations with their landlord, Kettering Town decided to leave their Rockingham Road base and move 10 miles to Nene Park, the former home of Rushden & Diamonds. Younger readers might now be mouthing "Rushden & who?"

Well, the Diamonds were an artificial construct that marched up the league pyramid around the turn of the millennium. They did this on the bouncing soles of Max Griggs's money only to fall apart when the Doc Martens magnate withdrew his support.

The 2003 Division Three (League Two in new money) champions went bust in the Conference last year and a phoenix club, AFC R&D, currently play at Raunds Town's ground in the Northants Senior Youth League.

Which brings me back to Kettering Town: nobody will ever know now if a deal could have been reached to stay at Rockingham Road (it seems destined to become a housing estate) but what we do know for certain is Nene Park's impressive car park, comfy corporate boxes and other trimmings cost more to maintain than the Poppies can generate.

Kettering Town's 25-year lease at the £30m house that Max built gave them the "security of tenure" they needed but brought cash-flow issues that could kill them.

In a move that is reminiscent of the possibly apocryphal story about the pricing of the original Mini, Kettering's board reduced prices and sold 1,000 season tickets. Gates at Nene Park have held up but they are barely paying the utility bills.

Given all of this, it is no surprise that a team pushing for promotion to the Football League and forcing a cup replay against Leeds United only two seasons ago is now on the brink.

And with total debts climbing past the £300k mark, players unpaid and the board in turmoil, the taxman decided enough was enough and lodged a winding-up petition in February.

A timely cheque from the club's main sponsor granted the Poppies eight weeks' grace. Those eight weeks are up on 2 April and if the former Cambridge United and Weymouth chairman George Rolls has not completed his takeover by then, they are probably kaput.

There are fans of Cambridge and Weymouth who will say this represents a rock-or-a-hard-place choice. But there are others who might point out that Rolls's time at Cambridge was cut short by club politics and that he saved Weymouth from ruin.

Either way, it does not really matter. The 37-year-old has been running Kettering for some time now and with owner Imraan Ladak desperate to get out - and fans desperate for him to go - it is Rolls or roll over.

To be fair, the former Leyton Orient reserve goalkeeper knows he has an image problem. He might have made a mint in the recruitment business but football has yet to experience his Midas touch.

So it was with this in mind that Rolls agreed to face a gathering of Poppies fans on Wednesday. Assurances were sought and granted and he has managed to convince people who matter - people like former director Ken Samuel, who has been working all season to save his club on a voluntary basis.

Samuel and his colleagues on Kettering's emergency board have performed minor miracles but they know fans throwing change into buckets and fundraising friendlies can only go so far. The club needs real cash and it needs it soon.

Like Rangers, Kettering Town were founded in 1872 and now face an existential threat. Unlike Rangers, nobody outside of the immediate area seems to care that much.

Football, and life, can be cruel like that but I, for one, am wishing the Poppies well and hope other clubs look on and learn.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me on Twitter when I'm out and about.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good blog Matt but until football clubs and fans learn to live within their means and expectations then stories like this will continue to be the norm.

    Financial 'natural selection' is as good as any other means of determining your existence.

    And the same goes for Rangers as well, although that is an escalating story (with investigations into dual contracts for players underway and their current owner likely to be banned from ever owning a football club again).

  • Comment number 2.

    Your points about George Rolls are so utterly wrong, that its impossible to take the rest of this article seriously. If you'd bothered to do any research on his tenure as chairman at any football club, you'd realise that he will be the death Kettering.

    To be quite honest, I've come to expect this from an organisation that wastes money employing the services of so called sport journalists like Phil McNulty.

  • Comment number 3.

    Come on, then, fnkeanfka, tell me something I don't know or, more importantly, allude to in the story. And didn't I make it clear enough? They have no other serious option right now.

  • Comment number 4.

    His last 4 acts at Weymouth: 1) declared that he wasn't going to leave; 2) Gave the manager (and bear in mind this is a Southern Premier League club - step 7 of the pyramid) a 5 year contract; 3) Put the asking price of the club up on the eve of the sale; 4) Leaving £40,000 worth of undisclosed debt, discovered after the sale of the club. If the Conference bothered to have 'right and proper' legislation for football chairman, Rolls wouldn't have passed.

    And this is just what he did at Weymouth. Have a look at what he did at Cambridge. No-one, but no-one, would support your point about his time being 'cut short by club politics'. He was 'club politics' - he very nearly succeeded in bankrupting them, too.

  • Comment number 5.

    fnkeanfka, Matt seems to me to make it perfectly clear that there are serious risks about George Rolls' involvement but (and it's a big but), there doesn't appear to be any other option. As things stand, aren't Kettering going out of business this summer?

  • Comment number 6.

    If the Conference bothered to have 'right and proper' legislation for football chairman, Rolls wouldn't have passed.

    Good point but what was the alternative at the time and also as we learned with Rangers, the onus is on the seller (Sir David Murray and the club) to conduct due diligence on the incoming owner and not the league per se to avoid exhaustive administrative checks on each and every director

  • Comment number 7.

    Rangers are a multi-million pound concern and, to an extent, brand name with a huge supporter base. Kettering Town are Kettering Town. I can just see Ladak - now bored and desperate to unload the team, having not paid the players wages, police bills, or HMRC - conducting such a test on Rolls.

  • Comment number 8.

    As I thought, fnkeanfka, nothing I hadn't heard/read whilst researching this piece, which if it was purely about Rolls would have contained much of that material. But it's not about Rolls so I paraphrased the various controversies surrounding Rolls into 3 pars. But you are plain wrong about a few things. Rolls would not fail any FAPPT currently operating in British football - you have far too much faith in football's regulatory framework. And there are people who believe his main problem was politics at Cambridge, I've spoken to them. And blaming him for the club's financial difficulties is a bit of reach. They pre-date him by some margin.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for a very interesting article, Matt. It's so important that the plight of smaller clubs is highlighted in the national media. I wish the Kettering fans luck.

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm from Rushden, and Kettering's problems will not end with the new owner unless he is a considerably wealthy individual who is willing to throw away a lot of money on the club, as max griggs did with diamonds for a while. They've had problems for a while, and I've heard rumours about Ladak having a gambling problem which is supposedly a large part of the reason theyre so skint. But moving to Nene Park was always going to make things worse, it is a lovely ground with great training facilities etc etc, but its in Irthlingborough, a town with a population of around 9000, which (as was proved by the demise of R&DFC) is not large enough, or interested enough, to support a football club at such a high level. The running costs of such a nice stadium are massive considering only 1000 fans are likely to turn up each week. Staying at Rockingham Road might have saved them, now I cant see any cause for optimism, whether this Rolls bloke takes over or not.

  • Comment number 11.

    Excellent article, Matt. Thanks for bringing some publicity to the plight of Kettering Town.

  • Comment number 12.

    Totally agree. I'm Northampton born and the area can barely sustain one team in a town with 150K residents.

    The amalgamation of the old Rushden and Irthlingborough team into R&D was never taken seriously, even when they got up to the 3rd tier; everyone knew it was not sustainable and that when the money dried up it would go bust.

    So, moving Kettering there seems to be a pretty poor long term prospect. Perhaps if they were based in Kettering and getting local support in, there would be a future. However, playing at Nene Park, even if they are saved now, interest will die out and this will just happen 5 years from now. It's unfortunate but it looks like it is inevitable.

    Someone will have to remind me of the year but... I wonder how things might have been different had Kettering not been denied promotion due to ground issues when they won the Conference. The irony was that Northampton finished bottom of the league and would have dropped to the conference. I think they were still playing at the cricket ground at the time.

    How the fortunes of both clubs might have been different had Kettering got the promotion they deserved back then. I think they have been floundering ever since.

    It's a shame, proud old club. Saw my first ever footie match there in about 1985.

  • Comment number 13.

    And why is Northamptonshire not able to sustain three clubs? Because we are on the M1 and close to the M6 and everyone goes to games in London, Nottingham or Birmingham rather than local lower league teams. Sad but true. The state of the modern game.

  • Comment number 14.

    Actually, I'm talking rubbish there. I was Kiddy who finished 1st and I think Kettering were second and there was talk at the time that Kiddy couldn't be promoted 'cos of their ground but NOrthampton should not be spared relegation and that Kettering should go up instead.

  • Comment number 15.

    This is why the job that Nicky Law and Wayne Bradley at Alfreton (who today beat Kettering) should be so lauded. A club who from the outset have decided that on promotion they would work within their means. If sell on clauses are activated next season they will have a good budget but I don't doubt that the main chunk of money will be used to stabilise the club.

    A model that many in the lower leagues should be following.

  • Comment number 16.

    A very interesting blog, Matt !! About time the lower leagues got a platform to voice their situations to the mass fanbase football has in this country !! Its not all about the premier league money-bags !!

    If all the rich prima doona`s remember where they came from and really take a reallity check on their lives, the could help some off the grass roots clubs that scrimp and scrape week in week out.

    Being an fan of my local club for 25yrs (Crawley Town, way before we had any money like now !! ) if feel that its only right that the players should help out where they can !! Not asking too much , just enough to keep the bottom of the football pyrimid from falling out !!

  • Comment number 17.

    Even if you "live within your means" it doesn't follow that you will be safe. It is cash that it important, not breaking even. All clubs have lumpy cashflow, and unless they have millions in the bank (which they don't) they are going to run out of cash at some time in the year, however profitable they are.

  • Comment number 18.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 19.

    The Blue Square is a rum old place. There are some good teams there but the fact that only the champions get promoted and the rest have to make do with the lottery of the play-offs amkes it a very tough league to escape from.

    And recently the teams going up as champions have used large wads of cash to get there. Fair play to Crawley, they won the league but they did it on tiny crowds and refused to reveal who their ultimate benefactors were. That is no way to run a league.

    But at the end of the day the FA don't care about smaller teams, they'd be happy if the masses followed Chelsea and Man United. Maybe we should just give up and fall into line.

  • Comment number 20.

    There are many threats to the existence of football clubs but by far the most dangerous is DODGY BUSINESSMEN.

  • Comment number 21.

    @ thegreatape. It was Kidderminster. They chose to spend money on players and not the ground. If they had bought the ground up to standard, they couldn't have bought the squad to go up. It was completely fair and I just don't get why football clubs are so dumb or arrogant when it come to finances.
    @ jethroupatree. You can plan for having no income in the closed season. It's easy. You add up what you're going to earn during the season and spend less than that during the whole year. That's why the fit and proper test is useless and always will be useless - to be fit and proper you need a) to be able add up b) to be able subtract and c) to be honest. Most folk can do a) and b) and unless you've got a criminal record, c) is difficult to invent a test for.
    @ The Tenth Beetle. I absolutely agree. When you think about it, tax goes in a variety of different directions but the biggest use for tax is the NHS. So when football clubs don't pay the revenue, they'e actually robbing the NHS. It's not as bad with the likes of Kettering because their players don't earn massive salaries but big clubs like Rangers are robbing the NHS to pay pampered millionaires. Absolute disgrace!

  • Comment number 22.

    Good blog Matt, as a few others have said its good to see the BSP covered on the BBC site, there is a world outside the Premier League! As a Wrexham fan I very much hope Kettering survive given our own well publicised recent problems. I think the fan ownership model we now have is the best way forward for lower league clubs, sadly it looks like if Kettering do go bust it will be due to the mismanagement of small-time businessmen with disproportionately large egos. It looks like our friends from Fleetwood Town will be the next Rushden & Diamonds when their rich benefactor finally gets bored, thankfully Wrexham are a proper club with a proper history and fanbase whose fans will make sure we are around forever.

  • Comment number 23.

    So many club supporters get sucked in by the big money big man syndrome. The man on an ego trip that realistically he cannot afford. Result ???? the club ends up in a mess and in some cases folds up completely. Leaving the people who gained pleasure from supporting and being involved in their local non league football team without a local team to support.

    The truth is that many non league clubs will never be able to survive financially in the football league or even in the conference because they cannot attract big enough gates therefore a high enough turnover to survive.

    A message to all directors and supporters the club comes first do not risk its survival by buying promotions that the club cannot afford and beware the new man on the block who promises otherwise he will probably leave the club bankrupt and out of business even if it takes several seasons before he loses control of the finances.

    Enjoy your club as it is and accept there will be good seasons and bad seasons and enjoy the ride and the fun with your fellow supporters. Do not let any big money big idea jack the lad take that away from you.

  • Comment number 24.

    I was a season ticket holder at Kettering for quite a while, despite living in London. I have to say the severity of serious financial problems after the Southern League title win was a slight surprise. (Was the Tiverton game, with 1,400 away fans, really 10 years ago?) Gates back then were pretty good back then. 1,300 to 1,600 or so for a normal Saturday and maybe 2,000 for a big game. I would have thought a lot of Conference clubs had far smaller revenue streams than Kettering. Players were definitely on decent money, but the problems at the likes of Kingstonian - who beat the Poppies in the FA Trophy final - where the selection of vehicles in the players' car park were comical. Telford's demise was even easier to predict.
    Kettering's current woes have also been predictable. For instance, I don't know what Darren Caskey was on, but I'm reliably informed he rejected a 4-figure basic plus pay-per-play incentives at a Football League club to go the Hornchurch (another farcical basket case) and I'd assume the Football League offers on the table when he signed for Kettering weren't too much smaller than what he'd rejected to go to Essex.
    Ladak has been a clown from the start. I had a letter printed in the Non-League Paper almost as soon as he took over. The Gazza episode was a farce, so was much of what followed. It was also somewhat predictable. The Mo Maison saga - another "colourful character" with a reputation - was also comical from start to finish.
    I persisted for a while, but I've not been to a game since the Farsley Celtic penalty shoot-out defeat.
    The following pre-season Mr. Ladak started the political Palestinian crap. I am not supporting a team running out in a Palestine kit.
    I know we're in a recession, but even in the recent campaigns in which Kettering have been towards the top end of the Conference, gates were down around 1,200 or fewer - less than in Conference relegation struggles and Southern / Isthmian seasons a decade or so ago.
    I don't see there's a lot of hope. I saw them thrashed at many a grim northern hole whilst they were struggling in the Conference, but I certainly wouldn't trek to stationless Irthlingborough regularly to see them.
    If they can't get a ground in Kettering, they're dead.
    AFC Kettering will only be an option with a ground in place.

  • Comment number 25.

    Much as i agree with a loty of what you have said i don't accept that no one is interested in Kettering's plight. All those Wrexham's fans who spontaneously donated over £1400 when Kettering played them if they care!

    What their generosity shows is that football fan in the lower division have a deep respect for the game and each other even if they don't have deep pockets.

  • Comment number 26.

    It's just the state of football. I remember sitting in the Rockingham Road press box many, many years ago when following Wycombe for the local rag - one very impressive stand for a youngster like me! But the Premier League has ruined football down the pyramid and here's another example. Seemingly, no one cares of life outside of there and even that is really the top six only. After all, however many clubs are going bust in the second tier, let alone Kettering's level. Ridiculous. One day, football at the 'highest level' will come to a crashing halt and then maybe it'll see sense. Until then, more and more clubs will end up like the Poppies.

  • Comment number 27.

    Hi Matt

    Great article but as a Cambridge fan I think you've been duped by Rolls.
    Although we have had financial problems for a long time as a club, Rolls tenure running our club can only be classed as an abject failure.
    He gave money we didn't have to Gary Brabin in order to buy us promotion, and to be fair we got all the way to the play off final after which he and Brabin had a falling out and Brabin left the club.
    He then made the (at the time) welcome appointment of Martin Ling only to fire him a week later.

    The guy is an absolute joke, he acts the part but has no feel for running a football club, he is currently banned from the abbey stadium and it will be interesting to see if he is allowed back as a director.

    I would suggest if you are looking for a good story from the BSP you need look no further than Cambridge as it is now. We are aiming to break even in the coming seasons and have a really good and unique youth system which is the envy of many in the football league.

  • Comment number 28.

    Also I would be very interested to know if the people who think his only problem at Cambridge was politics are actually involved with the club.
    He did have some support in the board room especially from the then chairman Terry Baker but no one currently involved with the club now (except Terry Baker) would tell you that was his only problem.

  • Comment number 29.

    Eddie Hapgood,the Arsenal fullback in the 1930s was signed from Kettering. He was the longest serving England Captain until Billy Wright.

  • Comment number 30.

    Yet another football club living beyond its means. Something needs to happen to end the perpetual cycles of administration, reforrm run up more debts, administration. This needs to start at the top with an end to the absurd "football creditors first" rule would help. Transfer fees should be paid up front in full. Salary caps should be imposed acrooss all Leagues. Unfortunately, this won't happen without European agreement so don't hold your breath.

  • Comment number 31.

    Its a sad state of society when such an old established anchor of our national game,will go under,when large clubs do not care about the grass roots of the game.A fund should be started by the FA and all premier players who earn over £5.000 per week should have to contribute to this fund a small sum,say£100 per week,at only 15 players per club and 20 clubs this would be a weekly fund growth of £30,000 and would remind players that many were given a first chance by clubs such as kettering. Come on you big boys,put your hands in your pockets

  • Comment number 32.


    "I would suggest if you are looking for a good story from the BSP you need look no further than Cambridge as it is now. "

    Surely Southport are the better team to look at? Gates no more than 1,200 (they had a mid week game which got just over 700), 11 points ahead of Cambridge who average twice as many. They are also part time, training 3 times, paying wages which are a fraction of Cambridge and other teams in the BSP are paying.

    Leaving within their means, no debts, and serious chance of promotion.

  • Comment number 33.

    A tax bill of less than a premier leage player earns in less than 2 days "work" and the club is out.

    Don't get me wrong the sooner soccer comes to it's senses and financial reality the better the game will in so many ways but until that fhappens I sincerely hope that loads of clubs go out of business large or small. Perhaps sanity will then prevail.

    If HMR comes down on sport, as it should and does with other failing busnesses then their may be only a handful of viable "professional" clubs left but then the game as whole will benefit.

    Chances of it happening?

    Less than nil, Zero or me becoming POPE.

  • Comment number 34.

    As a Poppies fan the current state is heartbreaking. Surely John P's suggestion has legs but could be £200 x 25 - 30 players, managers and chairmen etc. etc. x 20 clubs. In 52 weeks this would make up to £6m available.

    Or why not just distribute monies further down the pyramid before Premier clubs get it?

  • Comment number 35.

    I am a Telford fan and can tell you when your club "dies" its horrible, we saw the season out and then faced liquidation in the June of that year, due to lots of hard work from some dedicated Fans a new Club was formed and placed 3 leagues below the Conference national due to fa rules, it took us 7 years to get to the Conf National where we are in a minority of being one of the partime teams but we live well within our means, we have posted profits each of those years and our gates have remained steady at 2300+ which is more than we had under the old guise of a club, we have had league gates in the lower leagues topping 5000 and around the same this season.
    Life can continue for a defunct club.

  • Comment number 36.

    @strettonbluenose If you're going to dig up Kidderminster's history, get your facts right.

    1. Kidderminster did not spend money on the team ratehr than the ground, it was largely the same aquad that won the conference in 1994 as had been there the previous year.

    2. Kidderminster DID spend money on the ground.

    The problem was that the Football League at the time brought in a rule requiring the Conference Champions to have their ground up to League standard SEVEN MONTHS before the new season started, even though existing league clubs didn't have to meet the same standard. It was a new rule that year and was only in place for a few years. Kidderminster were still in the F A Cup in January 1994 and so unable to complete the work by then as they had a Fifth round tie against West Ham coming up.

    This practice by the Football League was changed after Stevenage Borough brought a court case against the Football League in 1996.

    I'm not sure that most people would agree that the Football League's policy at the time of one rule for their members and one rule for everyone else was "completely fair".

  • Comment number 37.

    Just to add to Scorpion's comment, the following season Macclesfield Town were also denied promotion to the Football League because their ground improvements wouldn't be completed in time for the new season. Their request to ground share with Chester City, then a Football League side, while the improvements were taking place was refused on the basis that Chester was too far away.

    However between 1990-1992, while Chester City's new ground was being built the Football League had given them permission to groundshare with ..... Macclesfield Town.

  • Comment number 38.

    Thank you Matt for enlightening us Poppies' fans on the current situation regarding the future existence of the club. I am Kettering born and bred and have fond memories of following my local team on many exciting adventures including several good runs in the F.A. cup, a friendly game against the mighty Arsenal (Charlie George, Pat Rice & co.) to commemorate the grand opening of our new stand. Since a recent visit to the town, I was horrified to realise the present state of affairs and couldn't come to terms with the fact that they had moved to R & D's old ground. Whoever thought that was a good idea must also share the responsibility of the club's demise. If you do not have the support of the locally community then you have very little chance of surviving without their financial backing either. I cannot imagine one single Poppie's supporter that would want their team to move from Rockingham Road and even if they'd been forced out of that ground I assume most fans would've preferred they played in a local park.

    john.p makes a valid point but I feel television tycoons should also cough up some of their billions with a fund in place to at least assist lower clubs in a crisis until their situation is investigated thoroughly.

    Sad days for football when the big boys are willing to forget their struggling little brothers.

  • Comment number 39.

    Yes, it was blatantly unfair that Kidderminster didn't go up but was also unfair that Northampton did. And I say that as a Northamptonian. We finished bottom and there was something rotten that we were not spared the axe in favour of either Kiddy, who were harshly dealt with, or the next best team with a ground that was up to scratch. Kettering would have met the requirements.

    I think that it is fair to say that 'nobody cares' as a generalisation. Non-league football is still the life-blood of the game but the gap between the elite and the smaller teams, even within the top tiers, is widening. It is, in fact, becoming a farce. I live in Eastern Europe and the locals here are "fans" of either Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool, Real or Barca. The local Europa league team is hardly supported. I see plenty of "die-hard" Chelsea fans too and not one fo them can name a single player from before Roman took over. And now? Plenty of Man City shirts starting to turn up on the streets.

    Problem is that what we see now with Kettering and others is what is going to happen all the way up to Championship level and even in that league. We'll eventually be left with 40 rich clubs and nothing else if the money within the game is distrubuted more fairly to keep lower leagues alive.

    Unfortunately, what we have is akin to the dreaded 1% we hear so much about in the US. A small number of clubs have the power and the wealth and they have no need or wish to share and the money to make sure they never have to.

  • Comment number 40.

    What's with the patronising tone of the Rushden story? C'mon Matt, you're better than that!

  • Comment number 41.

    Sorry, but how many times have Kettering been in financial straits ? Surely by now the penny would have dropped to any prospective owner that they are not a sustainable proposition.

  • Comment number 42.

    BBC is very sad, won't allow the word b***acks, it is an English word, easily found in any dictionary. My grandmother, a devout Catholic, would use it against anyone who she felt was talking rubbish.

    BBC we don't want USA PC speak, give us back our own language. Won't say S** em as it will be moderated, by some nun in the Vatican.

  • Comment number 43.

    Aye reght
    Credit where it's due, a good blog. This guy asks questions, researches something other than EPL glory boys. A journalist in the true sense, love some of the replies. Basically tell me something I don't know, or would you rather take it outside.. Never does the basic BBC sport roll out, 3 blogs on same item. In truth, only time I found Kettering, Rushden & Diamonds , anywhere near interesting.

  • Comment number 44.

    For those asking that the Premier League be required to share some cash to lower levels of the pyramid - well, nice idea but the very reason the PL was formed was to deny the wider football community a share of the cash that is generated by the top clubs. In fact, many big clubs are doing very nicely at exactly the same time that their near neighbours vanish beneath the waves, e.g. Stockport County.

    The recently adopted "elite players plan" shows exactly the way that the great minds of the Premier League work - instead of being able to sell talented young players to the highest bidder, smaller clubs will now have a fixed fee imposed as the big 5 (or 6 or whatever they've decided they are this week) walk in and plunder whoever they want.

    Alex Ferguson has hailed this scheme as the saviour of English football, which is rather like the boss of Tesco's pleading that he should be given planning permission to build whenever and wherever he wants.


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