Football League Review: The Morning After The Night Before

by | Sep 1, 2019

They turned up in their hundreds regardless, of course. What else were they supposed to do? It was Saturday afternoon, and that’s what supporters do on Saturday afternoons when there’s a home match scheduled. Anybody passing the car park at Gigg Lane yesterday afternoon who didn’t have any understanding of the events of the previous few days might have even been forgiven thinking that there was a match going on. But there wasn’t. Bury vs Doncaster Rovers. The match that never was and the match that never will be again, at least not this way. By the time these two clubs meet again – should these two clubs ever meet again – a lot of water will have passed under the bridge. The television cameras were there to capture the anguish. The local MP, who has used every power within his range to try to save the club, was there. But there was no football to be seen.

It’s easy to forget, you know? Coventry City will be playing their home matches at St Andrews in Birmingham for the foreseeable future, but you might not read anything about that today because the team picked up another League One point with a three-all draw at Oxford United. Oldham Athletic are still owned by an individual who may be running that club into the ground, but they were beaten by a goal to nil at home by Colchester United. Macclesfield Town’s players are likely sweating over whether they’ll be paid on time for the start of the month, but their team picked up a handy point at Stevenage to maintain their surprisingly strong start to the season. And that can almost start to feel like a problem, can’t it? Bury have taught us tat these existential threats are most definitely real rather than imagined, but it only takes a few days for the actual football itself to turn up again and make everything feel as though these are normal times. Football can be a powerful sedative.

They travelled in their hundreds from Bolton to Kent, as well. The Wanderers were saved last week, but recovery may take a while to begin. Indeed, recovery proper might not even be able to begin until the start of next season, so egregious had their start to this one been. With the EFL’s transfer window due to close on Monday, Bolton are now rushing around the transfer market like a desperate shopper at five o’clock on Christmas Eve. Having conceded five goals in each of their previous three matches and with barely a couple of days to start assembling, the likelihood of what was still ultimately a scratch team being able to take anything from their trip to Gillingham was always slight. Another five goal defeat ensued, and they remain marooned on minus eleven points at the bottom of the table. Bolton Wanderers supporters may have to exercise considerable patience over the remainder of the season. The EFL, meanwhile, are left to reflect upon this being what their version of “the integrity of the competition” looks like.

Still, though, the idea that hell is something that only happens to other people is a pernicious one. (Some) Derby County supporters have been celebrating their club’s owner Mel Morris contorting the concept of financial fair play using every single loophole that he can over the last few months. This in turn has led to some degree of stifled giggling at Derby’s less than stellar start to their Championship season, with a three-nil defeat at Brentford yesterday afternoon leaving them in nineteenth place in the table with just one win from their first six league games of the season. Never mind that this rule-bending is another contributory factor towards the culture of wage inflation that plays its part in some clubs ending up in serious financial difficulty, eh, Mel?

Sheffield Wednesday pulled the same stunt of selling their own ground to a holding company owned by their owner in order to mask vast financial losses – let’s not forget that the £13m losses that Championship clubs are allowed to post each season is around double the television money they’d make – and they lost by two goals to one at home against Queens Park Rangers yesterday afternoon. At the time of writing, football clubs can’t transfer embarrassing defeats into the names of associated limited companies. How long before some Championship clubs start pushing for that, though? QPR have been through the financial wringer themselves enough in recent years, but they do seem to have learned some lessons from their misfortunes and have had a solid start to the season. There may be a lesson to be learned there, somewhere.

The potential misery of a post-Premier League life is most notably on display at the moment at Huddersfield Town and Stoke City, who are already starting to drift clear of the rest at the bottom of the table. Both clubs still receive Premier League parachute payments, but neither have managed a win between them so far this season. Both clubs lost by two goals to one yesterday afternoon, Huddersfield at Luton and Stoke at Birmingham, and both have just a single point to show for their six league matches so far this season. Attention has been drawn elsewhere within the EFL over the last few weeks or so, but will doubtless soon turn back to clubs such as this, and at least all the other clubs are still playing matches right now, which is more than can be said for poor old Bury at the moment. These days, that’s what passes as a consolation.