March of 2020 is the month you would have to revisit to feel a sense of normality in the footballing industry. Fans were in attendance. Players were able to celebrate their goals and clubs were in business.
However, times have changed and football is a completely different spectacle nowadays.
Whilst many leagues were able to resume the 19/20 season, the English third and fourth division were not, with the majority of the clubs voting in favour of the league table being decided by PPG. (Points per game) This meant that the season was curtailed prematurely with clubs being awarded/punished for their average points return per game throughout the season. On a personal note, I didn’t agree with the way the EFL handled the situation but that is a story for another day.
One of the main changes that has been made for clubs playing their football in League One and Two has been the introduction of salary caps in an attempt to make clubs more sustainable for the future. In my eyes, it’s done everything but that. Here’s why. League One clubs have now been capped at spending £2.5m per year on their playing squad. For many clubs this is a big issue. The likes of Portsmouth, Ipswich, Sunderland and many more have wage bills that are significantly larger than the salary cap allows. Of course the EFL has made some allowances for this. Any contracts that were signed before the introduction of the cap, contribute as being an average League One wage. Let’s take Sunderland as an example. Aiden Mcgeady will be earning in excess of £15,000 per week, which is higher than the average League One player. As Mcgeady’s contract was signed before the cap was introduced, only a small % of his wage counted towards the total for Sunderland, approximately £1,700. Last season, Sunderland’s wage bill exceeded £40m per season however the club remained sustainable due to its income.
Has it made clubs more sustainable? In my honest opinion, no. It has unfairly levelled the playing field. Clubs like those mentioned earlier are now limited to the same budget as Accrington Stanley, Swindon Town and other clubs lower in the division. From season tickets alone, Sunderland generated £23M more than Accrington last season. Whilst also earning significantly more income through club streams and merchandise sales. For me, a club’s sustainability has to be relevant to their income. The introduction of the salary cap should have followed this idea. Allowing clubs to allocate a specific % of their own income would make clubs more sustainable whilst not giving anyone an advantage or disadvantage.
Many clubs run the risk of losing key players if they fail to earn promotion this season as any new contract offer would likely see the player receive a significant decrease on their wage. Is this what sustainability is about?
The other big change in modern football since the COVID crisis concerns the fans. Not only has this affected every club in England, it has affected every club in the country. Ever since the government announced that football would be able to resume, they also warned that football fans would not be able to attend their clubs fixtures much to the frustration of millions of football fans. Schools had since reopened. Pubs had since reopened. An ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme was introduced to encourage families and groups to meet in doors, aiming to save the hospitality business. However football did not receive any treatment of a similar nature. It was ignored and ultimately left to suffer.
Pilot events were held in different grounds across the UK with Brighton hosting Chelsea in a pre-season friendly alongside numerous others, and all went well. Boris Johnson did announce a phased return of fans starting from October however due to a rise in COVID cases across the UK, this was put on hold and led to many protests and petitions against the government. Clubs have had over 6 months to ensure their respective grounds are safe for fans to return to whilst maintaining social distance. Some clubs have even funded for improvements to be made to their grounds to ensure guidelines were followed. So, surely having 5000 football fans in a 50,000 seater, open air stadium would be safe? Absolutely. However in the eyes of the government, this isn’t the case.
Over the past week, Boris Johnson has actively encouraged people to attend indoor activities and entertainment such as theatres and cinemas in a bid to save the entertainment franchise however he has offered no support at all to the footballing world. A petition was recently set up calling for the government to revisit their stance on the return of football fans and after only a few days, the petition gained over 190,000 signatures. To give this context, at 100,000 signatures the reasoning for the petition must be debated in parliament.
The petition to allow the return of fans into football stadiums can be found at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036
As of yet no debate date has been set, however news should not be far away. I expect fans to be allowed into stadiums very soon in some capacity. However, it could be a very long time before stadiums are back to full capacity.
What are your thoughts on the situation the footballing world currently finds itself in? Let us know!