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.
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