By Tony Attwood
Since everyone in the UK is still wondering who is going to run the country, and no one is reading blogs, I thought I would amuse myself by doing a preview of the game against Fulham by looking at their finances.
Fulham FC is actually a network of companies which ultimately seem to be owned by Mafco Holdings Limited, a Bermuda registered company, which is owned in turn by Mohamed Al Fayed and (I think) by members of his family.
Fulham FC as in Fulham FC (1987) Ltd, is but part of the operation, and has an income of around £53m of which £34m comes from broadcasting, and it has a wages bill of around £40 – around 74% of income. Overall the club has made a loss each year for the past ten years, except one.
The last profit declared was 2003/04 when they made half a millioin pounds. Interestingly the accounts that year declared that they employed 278 people – whereas they now employ almost three times as many.
And just to be clear, you can find on the internet some figures that suggest that Fulham made a profit in their last annual return, but these figures represent one of the various companies – the overall figure seems to be a loss year after year after year.
The debt is thought to be around £200m of which £174m is owed to Mr Al Fayed. The fact that the club only pays £1.8m a year in interest suggests that Mr Al Fayed does not charge the club interest. Mr Al Fayed is not Roman Abramovich but he is the third biggest benefactor of a club – behind Mr Abramovich and Sheikh Yermoney at Man Arab.
It can be argued that both Fulham and Chelsea are clubs into which owners put money which never comes back to them. Or it can be argued that Fulham actually makes a profit, but we can’t see it because of the various companies involved. Or it could be argued that the club is being prepared for sale. Or that the club is going to move, and the valuable property that is Craven Cottage is going to be sold for houses.
These are the arguments, but most of them fall by the wayside.
The ground at which Fulham play is the ground which 100 years ago to the day, was the centre of Henry Norris’ plans, as he sought to buy the bankrupt Woolwich Arsenal FC, and merge Woolwich Arsenal with Fulham to form Fulham Arsenal. (There’s more details in the “Making the Arsenal” book).
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When this was turned down by the FA he tried in the summer of 1910 to move Woolwich Arsenal to Craven Cottage as a ground sharing operation, with the aim of Arsenal playing on the same saturday as Chelsea and thus denting Chelsea’s attendances.
In the end Norris agreed with the owners of Woolwich Arsenal FC not to move the club for two years after he bought it in June 1910, and in fact left the matters for three years, moving Arsenal to Highbury in 1913.
Fulham’s ground can’t be expanded because of that irritating little river that runs alongside it. But building a new ground would be expensive and although the property as a housing development would be worth more than Highbury (views across the water and all that) it is hard to see that there would be a profit, unless Fulham FC were shut down. (Arsenal’s profit remember comes from filling up the Ems, and thus earning far more on match days than before).
The fact that the wages bill is nearly three quarters of the costs at Fulham suggests that mixing up the figures in some Machiavellian manner is not what is happening, and that Fulham really does lose money each year.
The other problem for Fulham is that the ground does not always fill up, and the club offers discounts for some matches. Maybe the Europa Final will help – but it is doubtful. Fans are fickle and a run of poor results next season will see the ground less than full once again. What they really need is to be seen as an attractive location with lots of boxes for the posh blokes and their families.
As matters stand Fulham will not qualify for European matches after next season because of the benefactor rule. What Mr Al Fayed could do is convert all his loans to stock which he owns – and that’s fine, but then when the club makes another loss and needs more money, that’s where it all falls apart. Under the benefactor rules the rich owner can’t just keep adding money to the pot. And it looks like they have to do. Normally it is £7m to £10m a year.
So what will they do?
Actually I have no idea.
As for the game itself on Sunday, everyone’s injured as normal, so I suspect the team will be…
The Fabulous Fabianski Twins
Sagna, Silvestre, Campbell, Clichy (Eboue)
Nasri, Eboue (Merida)
Arshavin, Van Persie, Theo (Vela)