Which clubs in the EPL are going to survive the next four years?

Before we begin, Untold Rumours now appear that end of the main article in each edition of Untold Arsenal.   Today, its our new goalkeeper, and the availability of season tickets.   Now onto the meat and two veg…


I have been working on a piece for several days about the collapse of football as we know it, and I am very grateful to Jonathan Neale for sending me a link to the “Force for Good” web site – which helped me a lot.  There’s much more to come on the subject of the end of football as we know it, but this is a great place to start.  There is a full link to the “Force for Good” article at the end of this piece.

The Force for Good site has developed The Football Fans Stewardship Scorecard which sounds exceedingly grand.   It purports to rank clubs out of 50 for five different factors which give a rating of goodness.

The factors are

  1. Putting the Club First. Do the board and the owners focus on something more than their own interest?
  2. Long-termism. Is there a youth policy and are promising new players coming through or does the club rely on the transfer market?
  3. Clarity of purpose, role and responsibilities. Have the owners clearly said what their ambitions, intentions and strategy are?
  4. Engagement with fans and community. Do they recognise and respect and involve the voice of the fans?
  5. Passion commitment and conviction. Are they obsessive about doing the right thing in the right way for the club, and football more generally, and do they work to get the Premier League and other clubs to do the same?

These five criteria are, to my mind, interesting, but incomplete.  Although part two gets close it doesn’t actually cover sustainability, in relation to the source of income.   So I started my review of the site with caution – and this was increased when I found that Aston Villa came top.

Villa are to me a classic Football 2.0 team, and that model is unsustainable in every degree.  Worse, Villa management have structured their situation so that the fans either don’t know about the structure of the finance or they simply don’t believe there is anything wrong with it.

Here’s the detail…   Villa make a loss each year – and that money is made up by loans from the owner, who then charges the club a nifty rate of interest on those loans – far more in fact than he would ever get from a bank.  At the moment the owner makes several a year out of the club, and the club continues to make a loss.

What is wrong with that is that loss making companies is that they cannot continue indefinitely, and in football terms they will fall foul of UEFA’s new  Financial Fair Play regulations which include ” the obligation for clubs whose turnover is over a certain threshold, over a period of time, to balance their books, or “break even”, (i.e. clubs cannot repeatedly spend more than the generated revenues)”.

The fact is that the loans cannot go on getting bigger and bigger because eventually Villa will run out of the ability to pay the interest, will not have any ability to pay back the loans, and/or the owner will run out of money or interest.   Those are obvious points – you can’t go on doing this lending business without somehow thinking of the end game.

Villa do have a youth policy but it is ten years behind Arsenal’s and we know how difficult it is to bring players through from a youth system, even when it combines setting up a children’s squad for the 11 year olds, and combining this with world-wide scouting.

But what Villa have done which is so clever is that they have wrapped up this unsustainable withdrawal of money from the club with a PR machine that really does present the top people as being seriously interested in the club and its fans.  It is in fact Glazerism in reverse.  Very clever move that.

Arsenal come second in the chart and the comments note the club has the lowest wage bill as a percentage of turnover.  We’ve discussed their position endlessly here, so I’ll leave it at that.

Everton’s is another funny entry – coming in at fourth.   Everton has lost money every year for about ten years except in one year when they made a small profit following the sale of Rooney.   Again not a sustainable position – and indeed absolutely no sign of how the club is going to move out of this situation of loss upon loss upon loss.   You can build a new stadium as a loss making concern, but it is hard to get the loans, and arrangement the repayments.

Yet another weirdo is Hull. Here’s the comment

“Prudent stewardship has steered Hull all the way through the league. Until recently lowest debt in premiership. Man Utd and Chelsea were 600 x more indebted! Adam Pearson has found a new owner in Paul Duffen – too early to judge impact but Pearson says they have finances to invest over 2 – 5 years”

In reality they have just ended a court case over a possible fraud, and they are on the very edge in terms of their finances.   Here’s what the Guardian said last October…

“Hull have been warned their uncertain financial position threatens the club’s “ability to continue as a going concern”. The club’s accounts, filed five months late to Companies House, say that in the event of relegation the EPL club will need to generate a £23m surplus just to meet their existing liabilities.”

Now we are getting to the real screamers – believe me this is a great build up here.

At 13 we have Manchester IOU.   “Second highest debt in Premiership, but profitable under the Glazers and beginning to pay down the debt they were landed with. A policy of signing young players; and the longest serving manager of them all in spite of the change in ownership points to a steady rise up the stewardship ranks.”


The club made a technical profit in the year of the Ronaldo sale for £80m, and then immediately spent half of that in rescheduling their debts (that £40m was for bankers, lawyers, agents, fixers and accountants).  Worse, the family of the owners are walking away with millions in their own pockets each year as “management fees”.

I also love the phrase “they were landed with”.

And all this before the gross mismanagement by the club of their own supporters revolt.   The stupidity by the club of leaving the comments by the Gill irritant on their web site opposing the takeover and debt, when he is now in the job of being the front man for it….   You wouldn’t make a cock up like that if you were running a £10k a year sweet shop.

Chelsea are at 15 with a moderately sane commentary and then…

Portsmouth are at 17 and then…

At 18 the Tiny Totts, at 19 Liverpool and at 20, West Ham. West Ham’s entry is quite jolly, “Mismanaged transfers; jeopardised long term for short term success; embraced Icelandic owner at worst moment; albeit previously strong youth policy, now club must be run to pay back debt.

One of the key things they don’t note about the Tinites (actually I meant Tinies but it came about Tinites and I rather like that) is that because the controlling company is in the Virgin Islands, we really have no idea about anything to do with the club’s finances.  They declare profits each year, and yet, and yet….  How?   Because we can’t go through the accounts we can’t find out.

The one interesting area where Arsenal come out top with 9 out of 10 is long termism, which is by and large what we spend a lot of time nattering about on this site, and what separates the positivists from the negativists.  Our lowest figure is “Passion” which gets 5 – that is passion of the board or owner.

The KGB in Fulham have a passion of 7.  Maybe that is true today but a year or so ago the owner was hardly seen and was referred to here as Mr Absent Abramovich.  Mind you if my club was owned by the KGB I’d say anything about them that they wanted me to say.

The Football Fans Stewardship Scorecard:


Jonathan Neale/Tony Attwood


And now the world famous UNTOLD RUMOURS

What makes these two rumours different from the one’s run in the last couple of days is that I have actually heard them said seriously.   I think I am going to stop making these things up.

Arsene Wenger did indeed sign a new goalkeeper Cesar Leonardo Monastgerio Gaston Monzon Hernan Morales.  Wenger and his spies judged him from a short video and immediately offered a four year contract.  Unfortunately when he turned up they found he was only five feet eight inches tall.

The Gold membership scheme will become open to everyone this summer, and the Silver membership scheme will be abolished, as the waiting list for season tickets has disintegrated this year, and thousands are expected not to renew because of the combination of the recession and their dismay at the way Arsenal are playing.

If you know any good rumours do send them in.  Tony@hamilton-house.com


All the stuff you may have missed (well some of it)…

Why did we move to Highbury and not somewhere else

From Manchester United to Mansfield – different ways of running a football club (or league)

“Making the Arsenal” the book that launched a thousand credit card payments.

If you have been, thanks.  It’s been a pleasure.

24 Replies to “Which clubs in the EPL are going to survive the next four years?”

  1. Tony,

    So what will football as we know it look like? Are their any EPL teams who are running profits?

  2. I think the reality of discussions will be around how to keep the league a competition, when financial doping comes from the UEFA Champions League.

    Either we accept an oligopoly or there’s bound to be losses trying to break in.

    There’s the same at the bottom. Either clubs accept they are yo-yo, for a while, as Charlton did, WBA do, or they must chase the dream which, if it goes wrong, lands them in trouble.

    To me, the simplest solution all round is to insert clauses in all player contracts which cuts their wages upon relegation and terminates contracts if they remain relegated for more than two seasons, with a right to be sold to a club with similar wages if that is not acceptable.

    These are simply contingency clauses consistent with financial probity. If agents try to challenge it, they should be told, forcibly, to pay the difference out of their own pockets. Amazing how quickly they’ll change their tune if that were the rules of the EPL……..

  3. Can I take a longer view?

    I fear for the also-rans (positions 5-20) and the wannabes (positions 21-35) more than anyone else.

    Whilst huge companies and banks have tumbled in recent years, I can’t see the great and the good allowing Man. U., Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal to bite the dust.
    Those clubs’ problems truly lie in the future when a big American businessman called Dirk wants a London United team to play at Wembley, and a collection of ‘franchises’ rather than football clubs.
    I don’t envy you when (not ‘if’…..’when’) that happens.

    I suspect that the fixture list in 2030 will look substantially different than that of 2010.
    Ironically, I think than Dagenham & Redbridge v. Bournemouth and Barnet v. Cheltenham (yesterday’s fixtures) are more likely to still be league fixtures than, say, Portsmouth v. Wigan or West Ham v. Bolton.

    We’ll see.

  4. the 5th category ‘passion’ is a tricky one to measure. it seems to me that randy lerners ‘passion’ is all about the interest he gets from thge club on the aforementioned loans, whilst our managements ‘passion’ of tring to keep the club ownership situation at a status quo is largely ignored.

    the scores are provisional so may change when more information comes to light.

    we forget that as readers of untold, we have the inside line on many issues that perhaps they haven’t.

  5. To be fair on the people who put this ‘stewardship ranking’ together – they presented it at the Supporters Trust last week and stated that it was several months out of date and had been put together in the first place in order to attract publicity and sponsorship that would have paid both for more frequent updates and an expansion into other areas of industry. It was acknowledged to be a work in progress rather than a finalised scaling. Interestingly the main presenter of the dat was the Godson of Sir Robert Bellinger (check your AFC directors history!) who is a huge Arsenal fan and said that he would have been somewhat embarrassed if Arsenal had come out on top!.
    Maybe it’s ironic that fans are the most short-termist thinkers and that AFC is the most long termist of clubs. But as has been pointed out – at long last we now know when ‘jam tomorrow’ will, in theory, arrive. UEFA have adopted most, if not all, of Wengers thinking on ‘financial doping’ and their new regulations will basically mean that everyone will have to start to operate as we do now. Except, of course, that we’ll have a ten year head start.
    In fact it may well be a 50 year head start as I’ve never known Arsenal to be anything else other than prudent when it comes to spending money on players and have always majored on ‘grow your own’. It really is part of the Clubs DNA.

  6. Hartwick – what I suspect is that within four years football will be utterly different. I don’t think Man U and Liverpool will go bust, but I think they will follow Leeds. Remember, the notion of a bank going down in Britain was inconceivable and then Northern Rock went. They will fall because no one will want to buy off the debts – remember the banks and those Man U bonds all have to be paid off.

    In such a regard Man City made a much better deal – new ground paid for by the taxpayer, middling position, potential support.

    So if there are any more purchases it will be buy outs of teams like that. Further, why risk the ire of the fans of Man U and Liverpool, who are already motivating themselves in a meaningful manner?

    Most of the rest will struggle. Take Blackburn – they won the EPL with money from a rich supporter – but even with continued generous support they have got nothing to look forward to but relegation. And as far as I know the Walker foundation does not ask Blackburn to pay interest on the money given. Those clubs with the interest requirements are in deeper trouble.

    Worse, the British economy is at a low ebb, and uniquely will have a dreadful 2013 – because that is when we will see just how huge a mess we have made of the economy of the Olympics. We have always know it will make a loss, but the size of that loss will shock everyone, and affect sport and indeed the whole country.

    And turn on your TV if in England and look at Bolton v Tottenham. The ground is almost empty.

  7. As Rhys points out above the solutions can be so simple, meaning clubs like Pompey wouldn’t have to make emergency sales to the likes of the spuds.
    Nice Article as always

  8. In many ways I feel sorry for Sir Alex Fergusson at ManIOU. Despite what will all might think of him, he really has done wonders at ManIOU since he took charge. Yes, he;s paid well over the odds for players, and signed quite a few expensive flops, but until the Glazers arrived, it was all within the clubs own resourses. It was also his success with the team that gave them the funds to change their stadium from 44,000 capacity to 76,000 (a bigger increase in capacity than Arsenals move to the Emirates and all paid for from their own income) and grow to their potential around the world. Now, its all about to come crashing down around him and even the stadium is in real danger of being sold off, as well as their training ground.
    Yet, there is still something inside me, that absolutely can’t wait for that to happen – just to wipe the smug grin of all them Manc fans faces and see SAF get even redder in the face than he is now!!! (oh what joy).
    Great article as well Tony, and makes very interested reading as usual. Am glad you specifically talk about Villa too. I commented a few weeks ago that they were just the same as the others – over £100m spent on transfer fees alone since MON took over, yet they have less turnover than Arsenal did when at Highbury. The problem is that they think that if they can get into the CL then all their problems will be solved – they tend to forget that the benefits from CL football take many years to accrue properly, and that you do still actually need to qualify for it year after year.

  9. Today I was looking at the second half Crystal Palace – Aston Villa and our match commentator was telling that the PL and the whole professional football in England had to think about the financial problems in so many clubs and had to learn from this.

    It was as if he had been here on this site in the last couple of months. 😉

    AGS, I would be delighted to wipe the smile of some MIOU fans” face and let them know how right I was. Ever since I came on this blog I have told them how they were running towards the wall and they laughed at me and showed off with their trophy’s and the Glazers has given them all they could wish. Since a few weeks the tune has changed and they look with fear to what the future may bring.

  10. Thanks for that link LRV. I think they had to include Moyes and O’Neil to not only give credit to that lunatic Frenchman. 😉

  11. These are scary times Tony, very scary times…And, I am sad that they have come. Like I said earlier in ’09 the disappearance of football in the USA in the 80’s was the worst thing in the world to me. I could only imagine what young men could have been professionally if we had football when I was growing up. The one good note however is Wenger is a genius and its being demonstrated as this economic nightmare unfolds. By the way what a great read (Making the Arsenal)! It is a gem! Much thanks.

  12. I thought the passion score for Arsenal was ridiculously low. The club is run by a board consisting almost entirely of lifelong Arsenal fans.

    But now the interesting part where we get to discuss the impending hardships of other clubs.

    I think it’s quite clear the Premier League has reached a spending peak.

    The problem is that there’s still a widespread belief that football is essentially a loss-maker. To a large extent that’s true. Arsenal shareholders can be said to be the only people to have made money from football in the Top 3 European leagues. I’d say in all leagues worldwide except Germany. Look at Deloitte’s Top 10 and they’re all struggling to make profits.

    But it means that the one team that makes profits has to be held as a model.

    But the idea of football as a loss-maker is so ingrained that people interpret the fact that we make profits as a lack of ambition, or a lack of passion. Which is nonsense

    The Arsenal project is massively ambitious. For most clubs, just a stadium construction would suck life out of the club. To combine that with the iron-clad determination to compete at the very highest level, prioritising league and Champions league over small cups. That’s ambition.

    You can even argue it’s too ambitious.

  13. Guys, this article is ridiculous, but I guess it just reinforces the anti-Arsenal agenda in the press. We haven’t even had a match for close to a week! And there’s nothing new about the criticism. It’s like: “Hmm…it’s about time to bash Arsenal again. Time to recycle some overused lines against Arsene.”

    Makes me sick that these ^&*#s get paychecks. The Times and other media outlets would save money by hiring some guy to create an anti-Arsenal computer program, rather than pay these “famous, well-respected” journalists to churn out garbage. A computer program would be more original.


  14. That’s a good read, Tony. I’m unfamiliar with Aston Villa’s scenario, but I assume they’re overspending in order to get into the Champions League. They’re a relatively big club, with a big population base and have a good squad. They’ve got to find a way to increase their revenue, and the two ways to do that are either qualify for the CL, or to increase the size of their stadium. Are they doing that? For the biggest club in a city the size of Birmingham, I would’ve thought they’d have a 60,000 seater by now.

  15. There was another ridiculous article in yesterdays NOTW, by Neil Ashton – talking about how Cesc should fly off to Barca ASAP. It was as good an example of the type of crap journalism and boring regurgitation of various internet stories and half-rumours that have been doing the rounds for at least a year, that you will find. What a complete “arse” and how he can call himself a sports reporter is beyond me. We should name and shame these journalists at every opportunity and on every blog that we can, for the rubbish that they write

  16. DBtH Just look at the quality of the responses to that very flawed article. Hope the authors of them start reading Untold Arsenal.

  17. DBtH — Because The Times is supposed to be a reputable paper, and the author is supposed to be a one of the most repectable reporters in England. It’s an example of how biased and sh$tty the press is.

  18. Tony-great article- Is any US owner of a UK football franchise not in it for what profit he can make out of the club? What is Stan Kroenke seeking to get from Arsenal? I sense that he is not in quite the same mould as Lerner and the others- and it would be good if he could help develop the commercial revenues at Arsenal.

    Tim- thanks forthe link to the McIlvanney article. A marquee journalist- only in his own mind – sort of sun reader for the middle class article. Kicking a man when he is down and not getting enough credit for a win with a weakened team. Would be nice to prove him wrong.

  19. The report, and this article, show a clear lack of understanding of Business Finance. Abramovich has now capitalised his loans, and Villa’s plan is more than sustainable. You do know that loans have to attract a minimum of base + 2%, right? Otherwise they are taxed as income, costing 18% in tax. Villa showed the third highest growth in worth last year – worldwide. Any bushiness needs investment to grow, and the slow steady investment Aston Villa have shown is a great model for others to follow.

    You really shouldn’t write about something you don’t understand.

  20. Arsenal are a decent club. Bearing in mind they are a club who were regularly playing to crowds of twenty or so thousand in the not too distant past, it is remarkable to see how they have grown over the past decade or two. Twenty years ago they were behind Villa, Liverpool, Everton and Man United in terms of honours won so they must be applauded for their relatively recent successes.

    There is a strong sense of complacency here though, and Gunners fans seem to have their heads stuck in the sand. For example, the likes of Villa, who had been held back for years by Doug Ellis, are now owned by a dynamic, wealthy young businessman whose desire is to see them get back on top of the pile. The investments and loans that he has taken out have ALL come from himself! It is wishful thinking to assume that Villa’s funding is similar to other clubs. Why write such ill-informed nonsense?

    Lerner is growing Villa in a sustainable way. He has appointed a top class manager to oversee team re-building, whilst appointing HOK to oversee Villa Park’s expansion. Of course, Gunners fans are worried. They know that England’s original giant are on their way back. They know the Midland’s most iconic club is on it’s way back.

    What is apparent, whenever I stumble upon this blog, is the smell of fear at the thought of a rejuvinated Aston Villa Football Club. You Gooners seem fascinated by our club – and you have been ever since you were formed and wore our famous claret and blue stripes!Indeed, Herbert Chapman tried to make Arsenal the Aston Villa of the south and it is clear such impossible ambition still burns bright.

    AVFC 1874
    Creators of The Game 1888

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