“All animals are created equal”, wrote George Orwell, “but some animals are more equal than others”. The images of “Animal Farm” are easily invoked when considering the running of football in England, and none are quite as apt as the pigs in their ceremonial blazers with self-awarded medals if one is trying to imagine what was going on at today’s meeting of the Football League, which culminated in Luton Town being docked a further twenty points on top of the ten that they had already lost earlier this year for falling into administration again. The League’s chairman, Brian Mawhinney, has claimed that the decision was critical, in order to, “to protect the integrity of their competitions”. He also stated that “This often means making difficult decisions which require balancing the interests of fans, the club’s creditors and the other teams in the League”. One club in particular may well come to benefit from this decision, but we’ll come back to that later. This is a sanction that will almost certainly cost Luton their place in the League at the end of next season.
In truth, Luton Town were bent over a barrel by the Football League. The alternative was expulsion from the Football League, which, with everything ready to go for the start of the new season, would have meant the club folding altogether. The Football League is insisting on Luton paying twice the amount that Leeds United had to pay their creditors back as part of their CVA, along with a points penalty that is twice the size. Leeds, of course, waived the right to appeal, but when on to appeal anyway. One wonders whether Leeds supporters and the people running their club are still feeling the same level of victimhood that they have spent much of the last few months sharing with the world. The situation seems all the more unfair when one considers that Luton2020, who are on the receiving end of this sanction, were nothing to do with the crippling debts that the club incurred. As it happens, explusion from the League has been effectively postponed for a year. They will have to, with a club that must be in a state of unprecedented shock and that could hardly be described now as much of a magnet for the calibre of players that would be required for such a task, earn something like 70-75 points next season to have any realistic chance of avoiding the bottom two places and a drop into the Blue Square Premier at the end of next season. Here, then, are the findings of the Football League in full:
The Board of The Football League, at its meeting today, considered the current circumstances of three of its member clubs – Luton Town, Rotherham United and AFC Bournemouth.
In the case of Luton Town, the Board considered an application from a new company, called Luton Town 2020, which has applied to join League 2 in place of the existing club, which is in administration.
Luton Town was unable to agree a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with its creditors and as a consequence is unable to satisfy the normal conditions of The League’s insolvency policy for exiting administration. The Board decided, however, that it was prepared to exercise its absolute discretion under its ‘exceptional circumstances’ provisions in order to accommodate the new entity.
In accordance with recent precedent, the Board decided to include the following principle conditions of entry as a pre-requisite to the exercise of that discretion: -
1. The new company (Luton Town 2020) should pay the unsecured creditors the amount offered at the time of the CVA hearing (16 pence in the pound).
2. A 20 point deduction should apply in the 2008/09 season, which also takes into account the fact that this is the club’s third insolvency event in the last ten years.
In addition to this, Luton have also waived their right to appeal – which, of course, Leeds decided didn’t apply to them during the course of last season. Let’s take a little look at who exactly does benefit from this. Well, it makes no difference to the people that ran Luton Town into the ground. They left the club last year. The creditors so quite well – twice as well as they did with Leeds United, who are a bigger club with a better chance of being able to find a significant amount of money to be able to pay their creditors. Luton’s supporters (who, yet again, are innocent bystanders as fate conspires against them) are certainly big losers – it’s difficult to see how this ruling fits in with Mawhinney’s claim to be “balancing the interests of fans”. The biggest winners are another club that play in white shirts and black shorts who play twenty-odd miles from Luton and could do with a few thousand more supporters to fill the 30,000 seater stadium that they’ve just had built for them by Wal-Mart. A conspiracy theorist would say that it’s almost as if the Football League wants to kill Luton Town.
Ultimately, this is a senseless decision, which reeks of vindictiveness. As mentioned on here before, it punishes those that have stepped into the financial disaster area that is Luton Town and, worse still, the club employees that blew the whistle on the financial irregularities that were part of the culture of the club under the previous ownership. Are the League punishing Luton for breaking a code of silence over corruption within the game? One would sincerely hope not, and it seems inconceivable that this could be the case. Such a disproportionately harsh punishment only gives the conspiracy theorists cause to continue theorising.