IT has been another sobering week for fans of ‘the beautiful game’.
Two British clubs with proud traditions, Portsmouth and Glasgow Rangers, are praying for their answer to Saints saviour Markus Liebherr as they face the possibility of financial bankruptcy.
But British football’s decline extends beyond the balance sheets of two of its most well-known clubs.
It could also be said to be morally bankrupt. As the judge in Harry Redknapp and Milan Mandaric’s recent tax evasion trial remarked: “Football may be thought by some to have rather lost its way”.
Sordid revelations of players’ private lives are commonplace these days, while racism has reared its ugly head again this season.
John Terry has been stripped of the England captaincy but could still represent his country at this summer’s European Champion-ships, a few weeks before standing trial for the alleged racial abuse of QPR’s Anton Ferdinand earlier this season.
And Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, having served an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, courted more unwanted attention when he refused to shake hands with the player before last week’s game between the clubs. Then there is Carlos Tevez, who swanned back to Manchester City this week after a self-imposed three-month exile.
Sickening It is getting increasingly hard to say no player is bigger than their club.
Sir Alex Ferguson has witnessed the increase of player power more than anyone.
“When I first started out in management 37 years ago there were no agents – imagine that!” said the Manchest-er United boss this week. “There was no freedom of contract either, so players were totally tied to their clubs. A change in that sense was inevitable, though I think that now the scales have tipped completely in the other direction and I’m not sure it’s good for the game.”
Away from the pitch, players’ wealth is often flaunted to a sickening degree. Now football is in danger of eating itself. Spiralling wage packets have been the most significant reason for the financial meltdown experienced by many clubs.
Sheer avarice is the problem and there are only so many sugar daddies able and willing to bale out the financially-stricken clubs. Three years after Liebherr rescued Saints, Pompey have become the fifth club to enter administration a second time, joining Halifax, Bradford, Rother-ham and chief recidivists Darlington, who are there for the THIRD time in nine years. Alarm bells rang at Fratton Park again in November, when the club’s parent company, Convers Sports Initiatives, went into administration.
For fans of Saints’ arch-rivals yesterday’s confirmation from the High Court must have felt like Groundhog Day, coming almost two years to the day since Pompey became the first Premier League club to pass the handling of their finances to outsiders.
No Premier League club has been there since but it is surely only a matter of time.
Reports this week have suggested that as many as eight English clubs, including current members of the Premier League, are dangerously close to following Pompey into administration due to unpaid tax.
That is the reason Rangers have hit such a financial nadir. Probably Britain’s biggest club to reach such a low – certainly the most high-profile since Leeds United five years ago – Rangers’ demise provides a warning of how far footballing giants can fall.
With around £72m owed to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, the ten-point deduction that leaves Rangers 14 points behind arch-rivals Celtic is the least of their problems.