It’s all in the timing. The BBC couldn’t have chosen a better time to run a special report on the state of finances in English football. The eve of the new English season is a time of optimism at most clubs, but in an interview with Radio5’s Dan Road, the UEFA general secretary David Taylor expressed concerns about many aspects of the way that Premier League clubs in particular are running themselves, singling out the saddling of clubs with debt and the transfer activity of some (hello, Manchester City) as having a destabilising effect on the health of the transfer market.
We don’t need to go into the extent to which Taylor is correct yet again, of course. That much is self-evident. The more curious question is the one of why so few people seem to take any notice fo what these people. After all, UEFA aren’t the only ones to have expressed concerns over the finances of football clubs. The All-Party Parliamentary Football Group said the same thing earlier this year. The FA’s Lord Triesman said the same thing last year. And then we have organistations such as Supporters Direct (who often find themselves drawn into the most severe of the crises). Yet it all seems to fall upon deaf ears.
The most likely explanation is the “it’ll never happen to me” syndrome. It’s the same thing that keeps smokers smoking when we know that it is fifty per cent certain that their habit will kill them. They look at that figure – that fifty per cent – and think, “I like those odds” rather than, “My God, that’s awful”. Just as no-one thought it would happen to them when it happened to Leeds United, and no-one thought that it would happen to them when it happened to Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton Athletic or any of a sizeable number of other clubs, so it is that most football supporters are still thinking that it will never happen to them.
The reports coming from St James Park have been so stark this summer that Newcastle United supporters seem to finally be waking up from the disaster area into which they seem to have stumbled. Who, though, will be next? It’s a question that is worth asking, because somebody will almost certainly be next. Will it be Manchester City? They’re the ones that are spending frankly insane amounts of money at the moment, and the only guarantees that their supporters have that the owners won’t get bored and ship out leaving the club with a colossal wage budget and enormous debts are… well, the truth is that they haven’t got any, apart from a few unconvincing mutterings about “commitment”.
Will it be West Ham United? After all, they’re owned by Straumur, an Icelandic investment bank believed to be on the brink of collapse. Will it be Spurs? They’ve spent something like £50m on players over the last few months.Spurs and West Ham United are just two examples picked more or less at random. At this stage in time, there are very few clubs whose supporters can say with their hands on their hearts that their long-term survival is absolutely guaranteed, beyond any doubt whatsoever. The Premier League itself sends out the occasional message telling the world that everything is fine, though, and everything trundles on as per normal.
There is, of course, no telling some people. Perhaps it’s for the best that we should just all shake our heads, exhale deeply and exclaim that, “It’s madness”. Because that is precisely what it is. There are difficult questions that need to be asked about the condition of our national game, but the likelihood of coming up against anything other than glib references to “The Biggest League In The World” (a phrase which, if it hasn’t been copyrighted yet, surely will be soon) seems slim. All the while, though, a large number of football supporters – supporters of all clubs, from the biggest to the smallest – will spend the next nine months wondering who will be next, all the time assuming that it won’t be them.
Dan Roan’s special report on debt in English football on BBC Radio 5 Live Sport tonight at 9.00 BST.