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Something rather strange on the far side of football

How a billionaire involved in third party ownership, is working with ex Man U players to build up another Manchester team

By Tony Attwood

Even though I do have a feeling for several teams in the lower leagues (Torquay United, Guernsey and Poole Town to be precise) quite what happens in league football below Conference north and south remains a bit of a mystery to my brain – until I bother to go and look it up.

I mention this today because I was pondering the rise and fall of clubs (as one does) and contemplating Fleetwood Town, who have been promoted from the North West Counties League first division, to League One (the third tier of English football) in ten years.

Perhaps I started moving in this direction of thought while watching Rangers last night on TV and thinking how what I (in my non-Scottish naivety) had thought would be a quick charge up the leagues after the re-formed club was relegated to the fourth tier of Scottish football, is turning into a bit of a stumble at the final hurdle.

But back to the lower reaches of the English leagues…  The top four (Premier, Championship, League One and League Two) are easy to suss.   Then there is the Conference following by Conference North and Conference South.

The seventh tier, and of course you probably knew this, but I got confused) is the Northern Premier League, the Southern Premier and the Isthmian Premier.

The eighth tier is the First Division of those three leagues.   And then we have the ninth tier, where Fleetwood were ten years ago…   It actually is made up of 14 different regional leagues.

Combined Counties League Premier Division – 22 clubs
Eastern Counties League Premier Division – 20 clubs
Essex Senior League – 20 clubs
Hellenic League Premier Division – 20 clubs
Midland Football League Premier Division – 22 clubs
Northern Counties East League Premier Division – 23 clubs
Northern League Division One – 23 clubs
North West Counties League Premier Division – 22 clubs
Southern Counties East League – 17 clubs
Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division – 22 clubs
Sussex County League Division One – 20 clubs
United Counties League Premier Division – 19 clubs
Wessex League Premier Division – 22 clubs
Western League Premier Division – 21 clubs

My local  league is the United Counties league and here we find the clubs of small towns like Cogenhoe (pronounced Cuckno) where they also have a working men’s club that holds rock n roll dance nights and people dress up in 1950s gear.  Its quite a place.  I was there last week and we danced the night away.

If you actually go and see a game in these leagues you will find a group of enthusiastic supporters leaning up against a rail – which is by and large all there is to keep the fans off the pitch.   Everyone can have a front row view.

Fleetwood’s owner, Andy Pilley, is said to have spent a little over £10m, taking Fleetword from that level of game up to League One where they are currently in a league above Portsmouth and playing against Coventry City, Sheffield Utd (cup semi-finalists), Notts County (league founders) and Leyton Orient (north London’s second team).

I mention this now, not just because I enjoy non-league football, and try and go when I can, but also because the notion of what Fleetwood has done is starting to get out, and others want to try and do the same thing.   Indeed a bunch of ex-Man U players and a billionaire partner Peter Lim are said to be having a go with Salford City.  They play in the Northern Premier League Division One North  and are just down the road fromk Manchester United.

Mr Lim however is not a newcomer to football.  He also bought two players from Benfica earlier this year and now owns all the economic rights of the Spanish striker Rodrigo Moreno Machado and the Portuguese midfielder André Gomes.

Last summer Benfica (who retained the players to play for them) loaned the players, owned by Lim, to Valencia.  Mr Lim is on the edge of buying Valencia.

And now Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, are all getting into bed with Mr Lim – although not literally of course – in order to make Salford City a bigger club.

Now the Man U gang of five have said they want Salford City to be an academy.   But Mr Lim might have other interests and other thoughts, especially as Fifa has said that it will outlaw third party ownership.

His spokesman said,

“The only reason for Peter’s investment in Salford City is aligned with his personal philanthropic interest in youth development.

“Our involvement in the third-party ownership of players is not a long-term one.   The case was mainly due to our acquisition of Valencia. We had submitted our offer to acquire Valencia in December 2013 and did not expect that it is a long and protracted one. We invested in the economic rights of Rodrigo and André during the January 2014 transfer window and it was solely for Valencia in mind.

“After the official support from the Valencia CF Foundation to sell the club to us (but before reaching an agreement with Bankia), the two players were on loan to Valencia for one year while we are trying to complete the transaction.”

Gary Neville said recently he does not believe he would be given a chance in United’s first team if he were coming through now. At Salford, they have pledged to build an academy that will develop young British players.

The procedure with Salford will involve a move of the ground, and might well involve coming up against FC United – the club that was set up by supporters of Man U who were fed up with Glazer ownership.   They now play in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

Index to articles and the club’s anniversaries 

12 comments to Something rather strange on the far side of football

  • John Harris

    An interesting article. It puts into perspective the achievements of AFC Wimbledon. Their history is well documented: the loss of their club to the franchise that is MK Dons; the disgraceful decision by the FA to permit this and justifying it by saying that “it is not in the wider interests of football…” to keep Wimbledon in Merton; their climb from level nine to the Football League division two. But I would like to draw attention to the fact that AFC Wimbledon is owned by the fans through the Dons Trust, who, I believe own 51% of the shares. There must have been a number of well-heeled businessmen who could see a financial gain for themselves by cashing in on the emotions that have carried AFC Wimbledon so far. But they have been rebuffed by the share ownership etc being in the hands of the fans. One share each in the Don’s Trust is all you are permitted. If only we could carry that principle throughout football in England and get rid of the alleged money laundering thieves, oligarchs and “entrepreneurs” from corrupt societies, not to mention the oil rich investors into clubs that are skewing football. Ah well; we live in hope. If only Arsenal could be the first to move along that path. Now that would be a wonderful thing. Wouldn’t it?

  • Mick

    @John Harris
    A similar model to the AFC Wlmbledon one operates in the German Bundesliga so it is possible to operate at the top level using this approach to club ownership, see the Germany entry on the following Wickipedia page.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fan-owned_sports_teams
    I am afraid we are never going to see such a sensible and desirable model implemented in the UK, we have long since reached the point of no return on the road going in the opposite direction.

  • John Harris

    Mick.
    I know in my heart you are correct. However, in my opinion, supporting a football club at any level of the game is always about optimism: we believe, against all available evidence to the contrary, that this could be “our year”.
    As a football supporter, therefore, I would never rule out the hope that a Bundesliga model could be implemented in England.
    It would take a desire of the football authorities to rid the game of these “undesirables”. Why are so many of them considered “fit and proper persons” to be involved in the ownership and running of our football clubs?
    Not many of us like Leeds United; but how many of us fear for that club being in the ownership of Cellini? If I recall, doesn’t he have a rather chequered business career? Perhaps I wouldn’t buy a second-hand car from him but Leeds supporters have no choice, they are stuck with him.
    Really, it takes Government action to put a stop to all this unsavoury business. How about: No non-EU citizen having a majority ownership in a professional football club, for a start?
    Sadly, without a visible evidence of one pair of cajones on the horizon from the Government or the football authorities we’ll be whistling in the dark for a while yet. Well until it all goes tits-up and then the “something must be done” brigade come marching along.

  • finsbury

    Very interesting article and comments, thank you.

    Tonight we get to see, if we are so inclined, the fascinating sporting spectacle between the team run by the specialist in signing players from the special agent (Gazprom-upon-Fulham) against the club that specialises in signing players signed to the special agent (Sporting Mendes).

    Funnily enough the D**M that some think that AFC were interested in signing should be playing. Can he save Sporting Mendes in the Mendes Derby game tonight? We have the Qatari Derby (PSG vs. Bunga Bunga), the Gazprom Derby (Gazprom upon Fulham vs, Gazprom auf Rhine) and now tonight we have the Mendes Derby! Thank the football gods for that football club: The Arsenal.

    As far as I know, and I could be wrong (it happens!), AFC are yet to sign a player owned by different financial “interests”? But they sure do like to link their players with AFC. For some reason…

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BpdgrUKIMAAFOcg.png:large

  • finsbury

    John
    There was also the lack of coverage over what happened to the club formerly know as Rangers. There we’re plenty of resources and fan sites available for the 24/7 footy hacks to research.

    Indeed the Bleeb were broadcasting reports and interviews supporting calls for fans to buy Rangers season tickets at the start of the summer, without explaining to anyone why this appeal was necessary. Which is just a little bit odd.

  • Sally Pally

    John / Mick – If we do see such systems here one day soon, then Wenger will be proven a visionary yet again. I don’t personally think it is beyond the realms of possibility.
    Finsbury – I like to have a good laugh and you are giving me a good laugh. I’m backing Sporting Mendes and Carvallho to score an unlikely hat-trick. I can’t bring myself to support ‘Gazprom-upon-Fulham’ at all with their present owner or manager. Even the Portugese seem to want to disown him.

  • bob mac

    Isn’t this guy Lim the person who was featured on the Channel 4 Dispatches??? a couple of years ago.

    He was filmed with fergie and robson in very dodgy circumstances.

    Wonder why the media didn’t pursue these somewhat shady dealings.

    Maybe someone on this blog can shed some light on proceedings.

  • Shard

    bob mac

    That was Joe Sim.

    Not only was it not pursued, it was laughed off and subsequently ignored. Bryan Robson continues to be ManU’s global ambassador (or at least did then), despite trying to act as a middleman in the sale of two different clubs to the same party (which is not allowed)

  • Shard

    Insert the word ‘ALLEGEDLY’ somewhere in there.

  • Mick

    bob mac
    This Independent review is the programme you are referring to…
    http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/ferguson-dismisses-club-takeover-tv-claims-2316052.html
    Lim tried to buy Liverpool in 2010.

  • apo Armani

    Very interesting article!