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The Ben Smith column: Overspending in football - is it cheating?

Businesses and individuals in all walks of life are currently finding it hard to make ends meet. They are having to make sacrifices and cut their cloth accordingly. Recent events have proven that football clubs are no different.

At both ends of the footballing spectrum, clubs are struggling. From massive clubs such as Glasgow Rangers to Darlington in the lower reaches of the professional game. Portsmouth have gone back into administration for the second time in three years and both Birmingham and Coventry City have had transfer embargoes placed on them as they haven’t filed their accounts in time.

Port Vale also look like they are teetering on the brink of administration. The aggressive way the Inland Revenue are pursuing football clubs for unpaid taxes makes it quite possible that a lot of other clubs could be struggling as well.

I have quite strong views on this subject. I believe any team that goes into administration should automatically be relegated. The current penalty of a 10-point deduction is clearly not a big enough punishment as many clubs seem to use administration as a way of clearing their debts. I believe overspending is a form of cheating.

Now I know this may seem slightly hypocritical coming from someone who has earned his living playing for Crawley Town for the last three years. However let me qualify these comments.

Businessman’s prerogative

While it is maybe not the ideal situation if a wealthy businessman wants to come into a football club and subsidise the club’s revenues with his own money then that is his prerogative.

As long as that money he/she is putting into the club is a gift and not a loan, then they are entitled to do that. If the exit strategy is one that will make the club self-sufficient, or a strategy whereby they leave the club debt-free and honour all the big contracts they have handed out whenever they get bored of wasting all their money, then they can do that.

I’d imagine and hope that is the plan for the likes of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City.However, we all know that more often than not that is not the case. We regularly get foreigners with opaque backgrounds coming into football clubs and pumping large amounts of money into their club.

Portsmouth is a great example of this. Sacha Gaydamak came into Portsmouth and spent big money. At one point, it was reported that their wages to turnover ratio was 92%. Anyone who has run a business knows that this sort of spending is unsustainable.

What makes clearly successful businessmen in their chosen field lose all their business nous when they get involved in football? How long would it be before they would normally shut down a business that was losing a million pound a month if it wasn’t a football club?


Is it just the owner who is to blame for such overspending? Surely the chief executive has a responsibility to rein in spending that the club clearly can’t afford. I also think the manager has some sort of moral responsibility.

Harry Redknapp must have known the club couldn’t afford such players. He may not know all the figures but must know that a club with a capacity of around 20,000 cannot carry on like that.

When these foreigners disappear back to the depths of deepest, darkest Eastern Europe, it is the fans who have to pick up the pieces. Portsmouth are known for having arguably the most passionate fans in the country and no doubt a lot of those fans have worked for the club in some capacity such as caterers, printers, security, etc.

These small businesses are the guys who are left with having to accept 5p in the pound to allow the club to come out of administration. So much for the club being part of the community. Then they go out and sign at least one player allegedly on £30,000-a-week and are back in administration within 18 months!

How can that be allowed? Talking of moral responsibility, surely the football league should veto such a deal? Although the Fit and proper persons test shows that the authorities aren’t overly concerned where the money comes from.


However, I do have some sympathy for the clubs. When I played at Hereford United, the club made a profit for five consecutive years. After years of financial problems, the club was being run like a business.

The season we got relegated from League One, the supporters were criticising the club for not spending more money. In that same season, in the same league, Millwall finished in the play-offs but made a loss of over £6 million. Now I’m sure we could have qualified for the play-offs if we had spent £6 million. Should that be allowed?

My current club Crawley have been constantly labelled ‘big spending’ after romping to the title last season. However this season when the owners decided they want to run the club like a business and sell our two top strikers for over £1.5 million, then they get criticised for that as well.

Not to mention Arsenal who constantly get criticised for having the audacity to run the club like a business.


What would supporters prefer? A club spending way beyond its means with the very real possibility of the club going bankrupt, because that will happen soon?

Or maybe playing a league lower but knowing their club will still be there in 50 years time for their grandchildren to support rather than reminiscing about a once great club which is now extinct?

This is why I believe a bigger deterrent of automatic relegation for any team that goes into administration is more appropriate than the current 10-point penalty. Hopefully these clubs may then think twice about overspending.

By Ben Smith

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