By Tony Attwood
Owen Gibson in the Observer has reported that the Football Association will save £12m a year after refinancing its Wembley debt. Another £18m is being saved by making about a third of the FA’s staff redundant as the FA tries to do something, aything, to redeem itself in terms of the world of grassroots football which it abandoned when it took on the notion of building a new, and utterly unnecessary Wembley Stadium – an eternal monument to its own folly.
The national folly cost £757m for another stadium which is not needed. As it is, England games can be played at Old Trafford, the Emirates and whatever the name is of Newcastle’s stadium.
But most worrying about the new financial arrangements is that they will allow the FA to borrow another £225m to spend on… what? More insane bids for the World Cup? More hiring of aeroplanes to fly members of the royal family and corrupt leaders of international football around the country.
Of course it is not the first time the FA have pulled this trick with Wembley. They did the same thing in 2008, when to their shock and horror, the innate problems within the banking systems of the west toppled the whole financial structure. Now the view seems to be, it won’t happen again, so let’s go and borrow more. And if it does go wrong, hell, we can make all the little people who don’t matter because they just use their salaries to pay their mortgages, redundant.
The FA has a history of gross incompetence and only a maniac throwing around money in a set of gambles that won’t come back to haunt him because he’ll be long gone before the shit hits the fan, would lend money to such an atrocious organisation with such a history of abject failure, as the FA. That will be the banks then.
The new chief executive of the FA speaks of “a more focused, sustainable FA that maximises investment into football, especially at the lower levels of the game where our support is critical”. And his explanation as to why the organisation he has taken over has got it so wrong in the past that even Sport England stopped giving it money? None.
And here’s the really funny bit. The FA said in a statement that it believes refinancing at more beneficial rates represents a vote of confidence in Wembley’s business model from lenders. Because? Because interest rates have gone down since last time Wembley borrowed money.
OK. Here’s the other side. Untold believes that the bankers see the FA as a soft touch and are taking them for all they can get. The press might not like to publish that view, but it is as viable as any other.
In fact the more one looks at the FA’s finances the more it seems that everything – and I mean everything – depends on getting Chelsea and/or Tottenham Hotspur to be tenants for a while. Now that will need a change of planning permission which restricts the number of games played per year at the stadium. The local authority has said that it will not give that. Wembley has said that if they keep the attendances below 50,000 there is no planning permission. Brent Council disagree.
The NFL has signed a deal with Tottenham to use the rebuilt White Hart Lane ground, but could be persuaded to pull out of that and take matches to Wembley. Tottenham know they are dependent on Wembley as their alternative home during rebuilding. It looks like a give and take deal in the making.
The new £300m loan facility to the financially desperate FA is being provided by Barclays, HSBC and Santander, fine and upstanding bankers all. If the FA can pull in £50 million from Tottenham and Chelsea, the FA will probably be saved financially, and the mantle of the clubs that saved the most disreputable organisation in British football will be with those two forever more.
But the point is this…
What the FA is trying to do is to get both Tottenham and Chelsea to use Wembley at the same time to maximise their profit, and the worry is that in order to maximise their income the FA will bow to pressure not to force the clubs to play all cup matches away from Wembley.
Tottenham are said to be not impressed and are trying to talk to the soon to be State Aid United. But the State Aid club would make very little by allowing Tottenham in as a tenant for a year, and given that Tottenham initiated league action to try and stop West Ham becoming the State Aid club it will be next year, it seems that West Ham will not play.
Meanwhile the FA continues to fight for its life as its support for Blatter, Platini and the whole edifice of Fifa continues to hang like a chain around its neck.
Not a very encouraging future for English football.