Sol Campbell & Notts County – A Match Made In Mammon

By on Aug 26, 2009 in English League Football, Latest | 22 comments

The rumours had been circulating for a couple of days, but few people had been brave enough to give it much credibility. But then it happened. Sol Campbell joins Notts County, on a five year contract with a £40,000 weekly wage. Thirty-four year old Sol Campbell. The tipping point. Perhaps the world has finally gone mad. Predictably, there has been much squawking on the subject of how exciting this is for Notts, but the truth of the matter is that their supporters should, if anything, be scared by this decision, because if this signing is a signal if intent (as some have claimed), then the intention of Munto Finance is to either throw tens – if not hundreds – of millions of pounds into a bottomless pit or to create a financial environment in which Notts County never have a realistic chance of being solvent ever again.

Let us start by taking a look at the figures. £40,000 per week is something like one and a third times the average weekly wage budget of an average League Two club. It is approximately forty times the average wage of a League Two player. It is not the only massive wage that Notts County are currently paying. For all the fine talk of the extent to which Ian McParland has been trying to sign proven lower league players, the club is also believed paying Kasper Schmeichel £15,000 per week. The combined wages of those two players alone could have paid for Notts to have an absolute raft of players that would have been, on paper at least, the strongest in League Two. And we haven’t even mentioned the wages of Eriksson himself.

Then, there is the player himself. Sol Campbell is thirty-four years old, and has had a less than perfect injury record in recent years. Whether he will actually be able to play another five years is certainly open to question, but it is the length of the contract that probably attracted him to Notts. He wouldn’t have received an offer like that from the Premier League or Championship clubs that were rumoured to be interested in signing him. He is not, on his own, a match-winning player, though. A solid defender, certainly, but Campbell on his own will not bring the championship to Notts County. Other players may need to be brought in if a player of his calibre is not to get frustrated at the limitations of his team-mates.

It has also been noted that these signings have stretched League Two’s wage cap to breaking point. They have certainly shown it up for what it is. The Football League limits expenditure on salaries and expenses to sixty per cent of a club’s annual turnover, but Notts clearly don’t care about that. The cap is voluntary, and can be broken if paid for as  guaranteed gifts. They cannot be recorded on the balance sheet as shareholder loans. “The Football League has received assurances from the club with regard to commitments already made”, said a League spokesman. Quite what assurances were given is open to question, and they do not amount to a guarantee on the part of Munto to pay his wages. If they were to disappear, there is no guarantee that Notts wouldn’t be left holding the liability for the rest of his contract. Guarantees made to the Football League are unlikely to have much standing in a court of law.

It is not merely “jealousy” (the most lazy of accusations) to be concerned by this. The bare fact of the matter is that if they continue spending like this, it threatens to spiral out of control, and the early signs are that the new owners are largely unconcerned by being sensible in the transfer market. As with all businesses, there is no chance that the owners of the club will have any personal liability for debts run up by the football club (regardless of vague statements about “bank guarantees” – it would be interesting to see what bank, in the current economic climate, would “guarantee” a League Two football club spending £2m per year on one footballer) so, if they decide to leave, or get bored with their acquisition, or aren’t as successful as they’d like to be as quickly as they assume they will be, or suffer a downturn in other areas of their business, who will be left to pick up the pieces? The supporters, and if the worst happens the hangers-on and fairweather fans will be nowhere to be seen because the circus will have moved on long since. Whether they would get much sympathy in such circumstances is very much open to question.

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    22 Comments

  1. Am I right in thinking that County were one of the clubs previously owned by a Supporters’ Trust who subsequently changed that model to allow this? If so, then I suppose they’ve made their bed. Not that they’ll remember that when they’re in administration in a couple of years time mind you.

    ruudboy

    August 27, 2009

  2. Yes, that would be correct.

    admin

    August 27, 2009

  3. Madness. Just pure madness. Football is digging its own grave. These kind of situations will all collapse and it could take football decades to recover. Its time football clubs in this country starting acting more like clubs and running themselves as member owned organisations. Several of the most successful clubs in the world can manage it..

    Halifaxian

    August 27, 2009

  4. I am a Notts fan, love the club and of course want to see it do well. However as well as the concerns of administration in the future etc I also find this whole business somewhat vulgar. Why cant we have done similar to Peterborough who have spent money but on young up and coming players, who have kept things quiet and let results do the talking.

    We were unfortuate in the past to have had Peter Storrie take the club to the brink, when this was recently being disuc

    Notts fan

    August 27, 2009

  5. Yes, it’s true that the Supporters Trust were the majority shareholder and its members (myself included) voted for this. What this report fails to mention is that Notts County had been dying a slow and painful death over the last few seasons. Each season was a fight to stay in the league and a return to administration seemed inevitable. Who wouldn’t vote for investment in that scenario?

    We know very little about the new owners but I’m guessing Sven would have been pretty keen to meet them to see proof of their funding before joining up.

    This could be the best thing that ever happens to NCFC or it may end in tears but after years of pain following the pies, us fans are sure as hell going to enjoy the ride and who would blame us?

    Matt

    August 27, 2009

  6. Matt, you state “Each season was a fight to stay in the league and a return to administration seemed inevitable. Who wouldn’t vote for investment in that scenario?” – maybe a bit of cloth cutting and living withn your means would be an option?? I for one, as an AFC Wimbleodn fan, would NEVER vote for such investment. Enjoy the ride but don’t bitch and moan when you’re in administration when he gets bored.

    Jertzee

    August 27, 2009

  7. It’s interesting you say that you would never vote for such investment Jertzee. If only it was all so black and white (no pun intended.)

    We’ve been through administration once and survived by the skin of our teeth although the effects of that period continued to strangle us until this summer. Investment failed to materilise and as a result we gradually declined to the point where administration looked inevitable again. Who’s to say we would have survived a 2nd time around. We had a choice: We continued the decline until we eventually died or we voted for investment. Not much of an option really. I’ve always looked out for AFC Wimbledon’s results and I very much hope that you are never faced with the same predicament.

    Matt

    August 27, 2009

  8. But Matt, we (LCFC – see my article on here) have been through this and have survived and even prospered by living within our means. You have a great ground a decent fan-base for L2 and there’s absolutely no reason with prudent management why you could have not done the same as we have. I could also point out that many L2 clubs survive on even less than LCFC.

    It’s interesting to see you use the phrase “enjoy the ride”. I heard exactly that term of usage from a Darlington fan in their hey-day of vast overspending. Reminf me where they are now?

    I also suspect the “pian” you Pies are suffering has more to do with your history than it does to do with surviving in L2. Anything you achieve with Munto at the helm will be the emptiest of hollow victories.

    Keith Duncombe

    August 27, 2009

  9. I’m genuinely pleased that LCFC survived and prospered Keith. Sadly though after surviving we didn’t prosper. Where Darlington are now is where we were heading towards again. People seem to be struggling to understand that.

    As for the emptiest of hollow victories’, I still have a club to support. That to me is a very fulfilling victory in itself.

    Matt

    August 27, 2009

  10. But how do you know that Matt?

    Notts fan

    August 27, 2009

  11. The fact that fans like Matt are so abundant is the reason why things like Notts County and Man City will keep on happening. Matt, you seem to completely (wilfully?) miss the point which others are making. Investment is a bit of a euphemism when it comes to football, anyone who knows anything about football finances knows that: these people will not be making a return on their investment, and as mentioned in the article, large parts of their ‘investment’ must even be classed as a gift to get around the rules!
    It’s simple Matt – a well-run club in League Two will plan its spending according to its projected income. That is how businesses operate in the real world. If your projected income isn’t much (if, for example, you are still payable off liabilities from the past), it is then incumbent on the management of the club to make the most of small resources by, for example, skilfully acquiring good young players, or players that others have overlooked etc, and by skilfully managing them to play well together as a team. If the football league had any interest in being a sporting competition, at least, that’s how things would go.

    The support of fans who want to see success at their club at all costs (including those Notts County and Man City fans who support the current happenings at their clubs) distorts any notion of fair competition that may have existed.

    Enjoy the ride, Matt.

    ps. Do Notts County fans ever wonder whether, now that the income taken on the turnstiles is such an unimportant factor in their club’s overall budget, perhaps they shouldn’t have to pay so much?

    Jez

    August 27, 2009

  12. Thanks for the enlightening business and football lectures Jez and thank you for deciding what kind of fan I am. Maybe you should have been lecturing us when we went into administration as our club certainly didn’t make the books balance back then. Funny how not so many people seemed to be preaching from their moral high horses at that time compared to now.

    I totally agree that football should be a sporting competition played on a level playing field. Sadly it never has been. It doesn’t make it right but it’s a fact. You only need to look over the river where the Forest chairman has pumped in £50 million pounds of his own money. Does it somehow sit more easily with your principles as they are a bigger club playing at a higher level or because they aren’t making such headlines about it?

    As for success at any cost (not that I ever mentioned success), I find that quite a laughable comment to make towards any true Notts County fan. The stark choice was to accept the investment or die. If you feel we made the wrong decision then so be it.

    Anyway, if I were after success at any cost, I certainly would have chosen somebody else to support for all these years wouldn’t I?

    Matt

    August 27, 2009

  13. Thanks for the sarcasm Matt. So if the bigger boys are doing it, that makes it OK…whatever makes you happy, moral relativism a-go-go. You might have noticed I mentioned Man City in my comments, so to then suggest Forest’s approach sits easily with my principles is bizarre.

    As for ‘accept the investment or die’, perhaps the ‘death’ of playing a bit of non-league football might have done you some good. There are plenty of us (I’m a Southport fan) who enjoy our football in the land of the living dead.

    Jez

    August 27, 2009

  14. I can’t help but think this high-profile, big money deal for Campbell might just end up derailing the very ambitions that Munto have for the club.

    Could be a short ride…

    fwis

    August 27, 2009

  15. I’m not condoning the bigger boys at all, merely stating that it goes on everywhere (Rushden and Diamonds not so long ago) but all of a sudden there’s a paticular moral outrage towards Notts County. As for it not being a level playing field, I clearly stated that it never has been and that this doesn’t make it right.

    When I said death of the club, I meant the end of it. Not much of a choice really.

    Matt

    August 27, 2009

  16. Matt/all, Notts county *were not* in any way ‘sliding towards administration again’ (to paraphrase). That is a total myth that the press decided to latch onto when the takeover happened (small club doesn’t do as well as hoped = club must be in trouble = pump priming with oil money saves club (oh and = perennial football administrator (peter trembling) gets new job). The club were trying to live within their means, except ‘investment like yours keeps screwing that one up, doesn’t it? The irritating thing that keeps happening is that fans are too stupid to ask if this is a good thing, rather they’re happy flashing their knickers at any passing millionaire. For a group of fans so apparently doused in realism, your mob are incredibly stupid.

    wibble wobble

    August 27, 2009

  17. Quote: As for success at any cost (not that I ever mentioned success), I find that quite laughable comment to make towards any true Notts County fan.

    I find the accusation of success at any cost and questions of moral relativism to be superbly apt when talking about a team that employs, and fans that lionise, Lee Hughes and for all the money and success I can say hand on heart that I would not enjoy the ride that I took with that man wearing my teams shirt.

    Success at any cost indeed.

    Michael Wood

    August 27, 2009

  18. Reading this is enough to make me a Forest fan. A brilliant exposé of a disaster waiting to happen – although I shouldn’t be so surprised at each brilliant article on this site, there’s so many.

    David Howell

    August 27, 2009

  19. It might very well go horribly wrong and I must admit there is a nagging worry about where this might lead us. My feeling is though is that under the previous ownership Notts were heading for oblivion so I’m not sure how much there is to lose here.

    For all I admire the Supporters Trust ideal ours had become corrupt and solely for the purpose of soothing one man and his crony’s egos. Why didn’t we vote him out? You don’t have to delve very far into the vote of no confidence that was proposed against him to see that the whole thing was staged and a complete charade.

    The alternative to rejecting this proposal was none league at best, and quite likely financial oblivion. Our crowds were at their lowest in decades and still dwindling and I don’t believe their was a prospect of a takeover coming from anywhere else, or many local companies opting to work with Armstrong-Holmes. Notts’ prospects were very bleak.

    We might very well still end up a none league club in the future. There is something in the back of my head continually telling me this is all too good to be true. It might well turn out to be the case. But the situation we were in was so desperate I don’t think we had much of a choice but to back this takeover.

    I should point out that I still support the idea of fan involvement in the management of clubs and there are some success stories out there. Unfortunately ours was not one of them.

    Kim

    August 27, 2009

  20. I think an article here pointed out that the right structure still needs the right people.

    Notts County had the right structure but (apparently) not the right people.

    As for the Campbell signing, not sure what else can be said. Disgraceful.

    David Howell

    August 28, 2009

  21. Matt,

    By handing out a £10 million contract to a 34 year-old, County aren’t sliding towards administration, they’re plummetting headlong towards it.

    ruudboy

    August 28, 2009

  22. Point with trust ownership was that change could happen, regardless of your view of those who were in charge (and it was but one view of those in charge). With private owners they revert to type. First act? Asking a work experience student to redesign the club crest to create something of great comedy value for forest fans. A sign of things to come. You can keep your travelling circus.

    wibble wobble

    August 29, 2009

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