By Tony Attwood
Sometimes things just go wrong. You can’t help it, but well, you know, you find your wife is having an affair with not only the groom and the stable lad, (or maybe one of those nice centre forwards from Man IOU) and then your mate says she was also seen with the solicitor who is supposedly handling your divorce, and your world turns upside down, you forget to pay the milkman, then there’s that council tax demand, and next thing you know, the bailiff is at the door. God, it can all be tough.
And at that point you know you just can’t go on. There is no more patch and mending to be done. Something has to give.
That’s how I see football at the moment. It is not so much that things are going wrong, but rather that there is a patch and mend culture, combined with a culture of at worst utter denial or at best inevitability, rather than a realisation that what is happening is utterly unsustainable.
Recently, for example, I suggested that despite Liverpool RBS having six bids on the table to buy their club, no one really wanted the place, because you could have just as good a club half a mile down the road at Everton, for a fraction of the price. But the press went for the bids, talking them up because their agenda is “we can go on like this for ever”.
Yet Liverpool RBS and Man IOU are both now paying extra money because of their defaulting on debts. Liverpool pay £2.5m a week to RBS for not managing to be sold and thus repay the RBS debt by the start of the season, while Man IOU are now paying an extra 2% on the PIK loans to the hedge funds because they failed to pay down the debt by last month.
Worse, neither has sold out of season tickets although Man IOU keep telling us that they sell more season tickets than most EPL clubs have seats in their ground – and that is true, and something to be proud of.
But if we are going to go down that route, surely we should also point out that it is not just the point that they have 4000 unsold season tickets this season. It is the fact that two or three years ago they had a waiting list of over 20,000 wanting season tickets. It is the decline that is the issue, not the final numbers.
What is interesting to me in all this is that the stories of Man IOU and Liverpool RBS seems to move on at such a speed that most commentators just can’t or won’t keep up. Everyone was saying that Liverpool was going to the Chinese – and then suddenly the story vanishes, and no one says, “hang on a moment, where did that story come from?” or “blimey, if they haven’t got anyone trying to buy them, what happens next?”
Or most of all – how come these stories circulate, then go away, and the vision is that Liverpool can go on.
And that’s what I think it really what is all about – what happens next – because the situations at Man IOU and Liverpool are utterly unsustainable. Man IOU does not generate enough money to pay all the Glazer mortgage debts, and yet the Glazers have no other source of income. Man IOU cannot go on haemorrhaging enthusiasm for season tickets. They are just about all right now, but they don’t have much leeway left. Something is going to go bang.
Liverpool RBS cannot go on losing potential buyers, because there don’t seem to be any more. They can’t go on paying the bank £2.5m default payments a week, because they don’t have the money.
At least with Liverpool we know the next step – in October the bank (the RBS of their new title) take over the club and run it themselves. This won’t be unique – Rangers in Scotland are run by their bank, having fallen into such debt that they ran out of money they could borrow.
What has happened in fact is that clubs that were at one time big buying clubs are becoming selling clubs. If you start looking at the ins and outs at Barcelona they seem to tot up to a bit of debt reduction (although it is made murky by the way they are also using loans with sales at the end, to reduce wages now and keep the bankers happy.)
In fact unsustainability is everywhere. The situation in the England football camp looks fairly unsustainable too. I pointed out a few articles back that three England players now have issued legal gagging orders to stop us talking about their affairs. We also know that England players have in the past gone for super-injunctions whereby we are not even allowed to say there is an injunction in place, and it is more than likely that there are several of these around at the moment.
And now we have Wayne Rooney seemingly in a mess too. So no injunction there? That seems odd – but maybe that High Court has just had enough of issuing injunctions to protect footballers (although that would be very unfair – these things are, I am sure, worked out in a proper legal manner).
But seriously, overall, it can’t go on like this in much of football because there comes a point where clubs just can’t hold off the debts anymore, and people aren’t going to wait.
Quite what the final big bang will be I don’t know. It wasn’t Leeds, and it isn’t Portsmouth. Already we seem to be getting used to Liverpool slipping and sliding downwards. Maybe it will be the final victory of HMRC in the courts over the “football debts” issue, that stops us taxpayers getting a fair share of the money that clubs owe the taxman rather than it all going to millionaire players.
Maybe it will be the liquidation of a big name. I really don’t know – but I am quite certain that within a year the landscape will be different.
However Arsenal will still be there. Yes, we have the stadium debt, but it is at a very low level of interest and is based on a gate average of 50,000 and Champs League every fourth year – so we have the leeway. Also if you look at our youth team you’ll know that we have a fair old base there.
So, change, but I think it won’t be us that goes bang. And thank Wenger for that.
Have you tried the book of the century? No? Never mind, try “Making the Arsenal” – the story of the club 100 years ago.
And then there are the stories of people the very first time they watched Arsenal.
- Arsenal v Wolverhampton: the club that gets cards at over twice the rate of Arsenal
- Arsenal v Wolverhampton Wanderers: where will each team finish?
- Arsenal v Lens: what we found, what we felt, what they did
- Arsenal v Lens: the team, the home/away form and the strange coincidences
- Arsenal v Lens: they had a poor start but are now flying