The Magic Of The FA Cup

The FA cup has been a bone of contention for many top clubs for the past decade, and although they aren't always keen to admit it, it has become second fiddle behind greater prizes, such as the Champions League or the Premier League. This was shown as early as the 99/00 season when Manchester United pulled out of the FA Cup to play in the FIFA World Team Championship, which at the time was stated as being "in the national interest to aid the 2006 World Cup bid". Manchester United were consequently knocked out in the group stage and came back to play in the FA Cup the season after getting knocked out by West Ham at home 1-0 in the 4th round.

This season has seen 2 lower league teams (disregarding Crawley, as explained later on) make it to the later rounds of the FA Cup. Notts County, who were knocked out last weekend away to Manchester City with a 5-0 defeat had performed admirably beforehand beating Sunderland and drawing to their eventual victors.

Notts County have already promised Paul Ince the majority of the £600,000 to spend on improving their League One Squad that they have made from their run in the cup this season which includes a cool £112,500 from beating the mackems at The Stadium Of Light. Notts County have managed to also gain around £275,000 in gate receipts alone from these extra games in the cup. This is a massive amount to a club who could only afford to bring in free transfers and loans during the summer despite the promotion from League Two last season.

Leyton Orient who have now played 6 games in this seasons cup, are set to make roughly £1M from their cup run. The game played on Sunday at home to Arsenal bought in £247,500, a huge amount to a club whose turnover is around £3M per annum. This however will be exceeded by the gate money from the game to be played at the Emirates, which even with the reduced ticket prices for the cup replay is likely to be pushing close to £1M for the single game, just for the 40% Leyton Orient will receive.

Barry Hearn, chairman of Leyton Orient has already expressed his delight at the cup run. He has promised the League One side a trip to Las Vegas at the end of the season, which sent the dressing room into choruses of Viva Las Vegas at the end of the match. He has stated how this is going to be the first time in his tenure ship (16 years) that Leyton Orient are set to make money. Much of this money could be set aside for a legal challenge which could be up and coming against the decision to award West Ham the Olympic Stadium.

One can only hope that The FA don't make any changes to the way the cup runs in the near future, with stories like these two popping up almost once a season, it is a giant windfall to some teams and can provide them with years of debt free football for teams lower down the pyramid (Havant & Waterlooville springs to mind here), changing this would harm the reputation even more of the cup. The magic is still there, you just need to know what your looking for.

Football League - On a Precipice?

Last week, Greg Clarke, the Football League chairman has stated on BBC Radio 5 about how many clubs, an ever increasing number are heading for a "debt precipice". With many clubs in the football league already in debt, and not many even breaking even each season, the level of debt within the football league is increasing every season with this becoming all too common as more and more clubs move into administration, Plymouth Argyle looking set to be the latest one as they served a notice of intent on Monday, with the club now having 10 days to go into administration.

The main problem that Greg Clarke discussed was the way the debt was being handled, and not necessarily the level of the debt that the clubs hold in total. During the interview, he stated how the debt, even if serviced now, and cuts taken today, it would be five years or more before any serious effect was seen within the clubs with regards to the debt. Currently, the twenty four clubs in League Two are all signed up to an agreement that bounds them to not spend more than 60% of their turnover on wages. 

This protocol of wages being limited is trying to be extended to League One as well, but has apparently hit some resistance, presumably from the larger clubs in the division who are spending higher wages as they try to push for promotion, such as Southampton and Huddersfield. The UEFA financial fair play rules that state all clubs need to be breaking even over a five year period to enter a tournament under their ruling is something that the Football League would like to try and implement in the future if they cannot bring in their wage restriction rule to the Championship as well within the next few years.

During the interview, it was suggested that the clubs were needed to be forced into following these protocol, Given the difficulties in trying to get consensus from all of the clubs in agreeing to this protocol. However Mr Clarke has said that the Football League is a democracy and not an autocracy, meaning that although it may take time at first to win the clubs round, he would much rather win the clubs round than impose rules which might not be agreeable to them. He states that quite often, football can be "quite backwards in it's ideas", which leads to this large amount of time with , many clubs being a bit of a roadblock against change within the game.

The interview on BBC 5 Live was conducted in relation to Greg Clarke giving evidence for a government enquiry into the way the game is governed within England, with a series of hearings being held over the next few weeks before a report is presented to parliament. It can only be hoped that the parliament think better of the governance than Sports Minister Hugh Robertson who has described football as "the worst run sport in the country", although with the excessive amounts of debts that The FA, and The Football League have let clubs build up in the past may prove to work it's way against them in this enquiry.

Champions League, You're having a laugh?

UEFA have been lambasted over the last few days the for "killer" price plans they have put in place to be able to go and watch the biggest game in European club sport. A growing number of influential managers have gone against the decision to charge such high prices, and the FA have decided to distance themselves completely away from the decision as well.

The truth behind these prices however are not all that shocking, when compared to the ticket prices charged for last years final in Madrid. The cheapest ticket last year was €90 (Roughly £81 on exchange prices at the time), compared to the £80 tickets available this year in the "Category 4" seats. However, the main difference is that this year, these seats are only going to be available to fans of the two clubs participating. Last year, all ticket bands were open to all fans. This is a sneaky move by UEFA, and unfortunately for them has backfired in the short term at least and has made them look like money grabbers.

The secondary issue a lot of fans face who might have considered applying is the £26 booking fee (For fans inside the UK at least, this is of course higher in Europe, and then even higher for worldwide fans) if you are successful for any tickets. This to me stinks of adding on as much extra to the tickets as they possibly can to bring in any extra revenue milking the cash cow for all it is worth. It wouldn't surprise me if postage was asked for as well once the tickets have been secured, just to really kick the boot in.

The main prices for this years final for the general pubic start at £150, and go up through three different categories right up to £330. However there are only 11,000 of these seats available. In a 90,000 capacity ground. 25,000 fans of the two finalists, giving us a grand capacity total of, 61,000. Just over two thirds of the ground. But wait, the "European Family Of Football" is large and all want to come as well to the prestigious game. Lucky for them there is more than enough tickets left over. This really does annoy me that sponsors have dictated the final once again to make sure there is more seats for sponsors, and UEFA delegates and guests than there will be fans. This seems to have become the norm however in recent years, and won't stop until UEFA stop selling this game out, which of course they know will never happen, no matter what the ticket prices are set at.

There are however two main winners in this whole fiasco regarding the ticket prices, The Football League, and also The FA. The Football League have employed some PR employees who seem to have got some common sense, and have kept their ticket prices for the show piece event of the season (The three playoff finals), at exactly the same prices as last season, with the most expensive ticket to the League Two final this season costing £60, 25% less than the cheapest ticket at the Champions League final for a fan who will be sitting in a comparatively worse seat. Of course, The Football League has played second fiddle to UEFA and have uprooted to Old Trafford this season (Not sure why, Cardiff and the Millennium Stadium had been hosting for a good number of years, and know exactly how to do it) for the first two finals, before the main Championship game of the season takes place under the arch at Wembley. The other main winner of the ticket debacle is The FA, who have managed to dissolve themselves of absolutely any responsibility for these prices, which is fair enough, considering the damage they would have caused themselves by being involved. However, lucky for them, the arrangement with UEFA sees them not only take a rental fee for the stadium for the game, but also 20% of the total ticket revenue, so these high prices have resulted in an even nicer windfall for The FA, even if they don't want it.

The UEFA motto is "We care about football", whilst this may be the case on the field. Off it, to many people it looks as if they care a lot more about making sure they bring in as much revenue as possible first, and have a game of football second.

(Ed -Thank you to "Ottawa Green" from PASOTI, who posted about the Plymouth situation on the messageboard, and included my blog in their post, this was massively appreciated.)

Club9Sports - Investment of Tranmere

Last night, I had a friend tell me about how Tranmere Rovers are being looked at by potential investors from America via Twitter (@Readingfanman), this group is called Club9Sports. Now at first I thought this was great. A club which really could  use investing in, instead of someone at the top, it was nice to hear a club could be invested in which could really use it to improve their club. However, all is not well with this investment as my friend explained, I understood why exactly he was so sceptical about the investment and why exactly he, and many other Tranmere fans didn't, and do not still want Club9Sports investing in their club.

Club9Sports is an investment group from America who have been investing in NBA teams mainly in America for the past decade or so, and are a group of about 6 businessmen. This is not their forst hop over the pond as such, with Sheffield Wednesday having been in their sights at the end of last season just after their relegation was confirmed from the Championship. A time when Wednesday could have done with some good news. However, Club9Sports are not good news by the looks of things for anyone.

Talks are currently at a very early stage, however I read around Club9Sports proposed takeover a bit more after inital discussions, and the group themselves are being treated with great caution by Tranmere fans who read of the £400,000 management fee that they wanted to take per year for running Sheffield Wednesday. To me, the investment strikes of a group looking to invest in the game where they have no knowledge and here for pure profit off the back of a club like Tranmere. Currently Tranmere have debts of around £5M, this however is owed to their chairman, Peter Johnson, who has made it public knowledge he has wanted to sell up for a number of years. However, this debt with him means that intrest is not being paid on it, unlike a regular bank loan, which Tranmere could get later down the line if Club9 ever decided to re-sell, leaving them in a worse position they are in currently. Sadly, an investment company for a club like Tranmere could really harm them in the long run with investors only involved for a profit, and not just having an individual running the club.

The last major point that I have found is a horrible charecter going by the name of Joe Kosich who seems to be the "deal broker" for Club9sports in the UK. He was the main push behind their bid for Sheffield Wednesday, and was also drafted in 2009 by Peter Johnson to try and sell Tranmere Rovers. The way he tried to do that? The same way anyone tries to sell something second hand, put them on Ebay. This caused Tranmere to become a laughing stock around the UK, with many people thinking it was a joke. Kosich claimed it was a publicity stunt, but he had no say, or no right from Johnson to do such a thing, giving the club a mound of bad publicity to deal with. His next move was at Sheffield Wednesday. He quickly signed up for different fans forums online, being so convinced that the deal was going through and that he was due a large sum of money for the role he had played. It of course went wrong, and he turned on the Yorkshire club, claiming there was "lack of support from Wednesday fans", and "Anti American views". Fans responded to him criticising his position, but he swiftly deleted these comments from the blog he had published and labelled them "Senseless south Yorkie gits".

Tranmere hopefully take heed of the fact that by being invested in a company with a businessman who conducts himself like that can only end badly. Peter Johnson, although not always well revered by the Rovers fans maybe currently better than the other option of being invested in from Club9Sports, and their deal broker Mr Joe Kosich. 

Plymouth Argyle - On The Brink

Plymouth this season have faced a winding up order from HMRC which was heard on the 9th February which they managed to get dismissed after paying their £750,000 tax bill through player sales late in January clearing out Bradley Wright Phillips, the league one top goalscorer for a cut price £125,000 to Charlton Athletic, whilst three other players were also moved on during the January transfer window to other clubs.

Surviving the winding up order however is just the start for the Pilgrims who still are a month behind on paying wages to their playing staff. With another tax bill due on 22nd February, the club has real cash flow issues currently and need roughly £2M in total to survive until the end of the season according to Peter Ridsdale (Involved in yet another club in debt,following on from Leeds, Barnsley and also Cardiff), who is football consultant to the Plymouth Argyle board of directors.

The Plymouth board of directors have of course repeatedly stated money will be given and put into the club, this money has apparently yet to arrive, and is leaving Plymouth facing a real struggle to stay afloat. With a £500,000 tax bill due on the 22nd February, the club have little choice but to just pray that investment can be found, and extremely quickly to replace the Japanese investors from 2008, Mr Kagami and Mr Synan who have let the club down. 

Plymouth currently face three main options; Administration, liquidation or investment.

Administration is not a new thing in recent years to teams in the Football League, with many teams having entered and then left administration successfully. With Plymouth already having been forced to sell their best players just to stay afloat, the 10 point deduction that comes with entering administration will almost certainly see the 17th placed club certainly relegated, leaving them with an even smaller revenue to work with in a lower league. This will not be good news to any Pilgrim fans ears as the club obviously already have major cash flow issues, and the ground currently being the main asset, administration could see the hasty end of Plymouth Arygle if there was no potential investor who could see a way out for them.

Liquidation has happened before in the Football League to both Accrington Stanley and also Aldershot Town, both who started again in non league and are now neck and neck in the league currently below Plymouth, however gone would be the 125 year history that Argyle currently have, along with it any form of ground, staff and players. This has the potential to happen sooner rather than later if Plymouth fail to pay another tax bill, as it is unlikely that HMRC are going to be so lenient with the bill paying, and a winding up order for the second time could spell the end for Plymouth Argyle on a permanent basis.

The last, and most optimistic option is of course, finding new investors for this potential "bigger" club, currently there is a massive scope to improve Plymouth as a club. With average attendances dropping 5,000 since relegation last year to just 8,000 a game, the club know the fans are out there and need to be persuaded back into the club, the scale of the target area it could attract is huge, as shown by the inclusion on the ill fated world cup bid from England, where Plymouth had lobbied a 42,000 all seater ground in place of Home Park. Currently there is three potential investors who would be willing to buy the club at a nominal fee and take on the debts that the Pilgrims have, whilst pumping enough money into the club to see it through till the end of the season.

Plymouth over the last few years have had it rough going, with relegation to League One seemingly hitting the club hard both in the pocket, and also now on the pitch as they slumber down the table with a less than average side who are trying to compete in League One. Soon they will be fighting a battle on two fronts, one relegation battle on the field, and one cash battle off it with HMRC to try and keep themselves afloat and keep the Plymouth Argyle club fighting till next season.

Problems At Parkhead

Celtic yesterday released figures for the six months prior to December 31 2010, they have ploughed almost £6M extra into their bank debt, trebling what was just a £3m debt before these figures were released. The debt has been blamed on a heavy investment in players after the summer overhaul in management. Gary Hooper moved north of the border in summer for £2.5M in one of their biggest summer signings, totalling almost £10M before new wages and signing on fees had even taken effect.

This news coupled with the 15% loss in turnover, stemming mainly from losing the vital Champions League revenue sees Celtic post a loss before tax of £2.1M. This news cannot be good for Celtic, as they try not only to keep ahead of Rangers on the pitch, but also not be dragged into further debt off it and be pulled into the same poor financial situation that their city rivals have been having over the past few years, who's debt now stands at roughly £25M.

Celtic however, wanting to obviously make this a one off year,  will struggle with projections seeing them hold struggling finances in coming years with reports stating they have lost 20% of season ticket holders in recent seasons. The economic climate has hit clubs such as Celtic ( & to a lesser extent Liverpool), with many travelling fans from Ireland not able to afford the trips to mainland UK anymore. This has left season ticket sales down 15% this season from 50,000 to just over 42,000. It has also pushed merchandise sales down by 10%.

This rapid increase in debt for Celtic bores many of the same features that Rangers have also had in previous years with money being highly spent on players and management. Not forgetting that Celtic have also been splashing out behind the scenes as well, with CEO Peter Lawwell seeing his salary rise 150% in three years from £300,000 to a jaw dropping £753,000 despite the poor performance of the club financially, which has co-incided with the stock price of Celtic FC dropping from 68.5p to 42.15p (A staggering 38.5% drop) in the space of just three years since Febuary 2008.

The major problem that Celtic have however in trying to plug this gap is that on the pitch they now are forced to perform, even more so now than ever before. They currently top the league by 5 points, with Rangers having 2 games in hand on them. However, the league title in Scotland is not the only prize that the Old Firm are trying to win, as the title also gives the victors a passage to Champions League qualification. In previous seasons Scotland had two Champions League spots, with one giving a direct passage to the group stages, this is now not the case, and starting from next season, only one Scottish club can qualify for the Champions League. This puts a huge burden on both Celtic and Rangers to succeed domestically.

Neil Lennon who replaced the unsuccessful Tony Mowbray at the end of the 09/10 season is under a lot of pressure at Celtic. This is his first management job, and Celtic need him to succeed. Without regular income from the big games in Europe at Parkhead, Celtic may find that being part of the elite two in Scotland becomes a lot tougher in coming years.

The Olympic Stadium - The Gold or White Elephant

West Ham on Friday were awarded the backing from the OLPC (BBC News - Feb 11) to take on the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 London Olympics. West Ham are not the only club to have benefited from public events, with Manchester City proving a fine example from the Commonwealth games in 2002.

The cost of the conversion for West Ham is estimated to be around £95M to help them be able to move into the new ground for the start of the 2014 season (Just over 2 year after the Olympics is over). This conversion would include a new roof, which currently is not going to be covering the bottom tier of the stadium, fine for the summer dwellers during the athletics season, but for the average football fan, getting wet during a midweek replay in late January at home to Burnley does not sound too appealing. The other main issue that West Ham have with the stadium, and the issue that has provoked most controversy within the public domain is that of the running track ("Athletics Legacy", some may call it ).

Now that the OLPC have guaranteed that the running track is there to stay, West Ham are being pressured into signing a contract if they are to be future tenants from preventing them from ripping it up in the future. This running track can be covered over with retractable seating at the cost of £10m, but with West Ham currently harbouring a £75M debt, it is unknown whether they will be able to afford such a commitment. However, without it, surely this will see the end of the atmospheric away trip that many fans of the top two tiers of football have enjoyed in recent years with fans being sat back away from the action.

West Ham are not the only professional club in East London with Leyton Orient being one of the main losers from the OLPC decision. Leyton Orient fans, along with other Football League fans are clamouring to get this decision over ruled on basis that the move into the Stratford area "harms another professional team", this being against a major Premier League rule. Not that the rules are strictly followed, enforced or even known in most cases it seems (Ian Holloway and the Aston Villa fine anyone?). This protest could lead to West Ham being taken to court for the second time this century over a large law suit, after the Argentinians  saga which eventually sent Sheffield United back to the Championship. The Premier League is not altogether known for it's kind heartedness to the smaller teams in the league system, and one would hope that Leyton Orient can do something to keep the big boys encroaching on "their turf".

Of course, this may all be made completely redundant if Avram Grant can not improve the on the pitch performances of the Hammers, with West Ham fighting what seems to be yet another relegation battle, the Olympic Stadium could already be threatening to become a white elephant legacy even before the games have taken place.