Mark Brophy

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Green Unpleasant Land 3: Football In The Gutter

Three football stories to hit the news this week made a disturbing snapshot of the state of the British game. Each exposes different effects of untrammelled finance on a game which had rules restricting dividend payments to shareholders as recently as the late 1990s, though those rules had by then long been bypassed by the use of holding companies not restricted by FA rules.

The crash to earth of Glasgow Rangers was caused by the efforts of those in charge to avoid taxation on player wages. An illegal trust scheme was set up into which wages were paid for this purpose. These payments were concealed from the Scottish FA in the declarations of contractual payments they were obliged to make. Players were employed who could not have been afforded by the club if their tax obligations had been fulfilled. During the time this was going on, 15 domestic trophies were won by the club. Runners-up who paid their taxes were unfairly denied the chance of victory. The assets of the club were sold to a new company which carries on playing football though relegated to Division 3, while the original company is about to be placed in the hands of liquidators and cease to exist. The administrators of the ‘oldco’ this week reported the claims of HMRC to total over £94m. In times such as these, during a financial crisis in which every penny of government revenue must be made to count, when companies such as Vodafone are rightly lambasted for paying virtually no tax under completely legal agreements with HMRC, why should football escape its responsibilities? Some believe that Rangers’ debt has been paid via their relegations, though those demotions will almost certainly be overcome by 3 straight promotions. The players and agents involved were aware of the scam and participated freely. It seems only fair that prosecutions for tax evasion should follow, both of those in charge and those who benefited.

In an interview with BBC News, former owner of Portsmouth FC Balram Chainrai criticised the Pompey Supporters Trust’s bid to buy the club from administrators as lacking the experience and money of his own company’s rival bid. It appears that the administrators may agree with him, as the Trust’s contacts with them have dried up. The experience which Chainrai sees as so valuable consists of already having owned the club twice, and having allegedly also controlled taking the club into administration twice. Should these allegations be proved he will be barred from purchasing Pompey or anyone else under FA rules. However his continued hovering around the club signifies well the ability of parasites to make money by taking control of football club assets (he still owns a mortgage on Fratton Park) and relieving themselves of responsibilty for company debt by taking advantage of Company administration law.

Finally, in his own words, Steve Kean has been forced to resign as manager of Blackburn Rovers. Whether he meant that his position had been made untenable by fans who refused to back him, or owners who did the same, it is those owners whose actions have caused the situation which Rovers find themselves in. Having bought the club from a Trust set up by previous owner Jack Walker, new long-distance owners Venkys appointed agent Jerome Anderson as football advisor. Anderson’s advice was apparently to sack Sam Allardyce ( not in itself necessarily such a heinous act ), sign several players who also happened to be clients of his, including his own son, and appoint another client, Kean, as manager. Amid eventually vain struggles against relegation despite proclaiming the top four as their goal, the previously-unknown in this country Shebby Singh was appointed as an advisor. Though Blackburn made a solid start to their Championship campaign following encouraging summer signings, Singh undermined Kean by repeatedly discussing his sacking, which inevitably came to pass. The shambles can be placed squarely at the door of rich people whose influence is matched only by their arrogance and ignorance. They symbolise the kind of people attracted to invest in football these days, though often it is investment in name only, their money used to buy control rather than provide a club with operating funds. They recognise a money-making opportunity and a bandwagon to mount without also possessing the humility to acknowledge their need for advice from people who are both qualified to give it and have no conflict of interest in doing so.

Finance, in the form of profit-seeking unscrupulous owners, has truly put football into the gutter. In contrast to Oscar Wilde though, the game isn’t looking up at the stars but buried face-down in the mud, with no hope of relief and certainly no immediate prospect of it. The concept of Financial Fair Play with its wage caps and increased levels of club governance will help reduce the effects of mismanagement in some cases, but only the removal of these people from football once and for all can save it.

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