I used to think Keith Harris had a puppet called Orville, but actually he is the man acted as the go-between between clubs such as West Iceland United, Manchester Arab and KGB Fulham and their current owners – setting up the deals to transfer ownership. (Keith Harris’ web site says, KEITH HARRIS is one of Britain’s most inventive and talented performers with his instantly recognisable creations, ORVILLE and CUDDLES).
So he is I guess a man who knows a thing or two about both football ownership and puppets, and thus his opinion is one to note.
At the Soccerex Conference he is reported as saying that 16 EPL clubs are currently up for sale – meaning that in each case one or two people own the club and are willing to dispose of it. This is the model of Man IOU, Liverpool Bankrupt, the KGB, Aston Hold Your Head, Fulham Fayed and so forth.
Since there are only 20 EPL clubs that makes it easier to think which ones are not for sale.
Arsenal, having a proper multi-person shareholder structure is obviously one. Which are the others?
My guess is perhaps Fulham Fayed, Tiny Totts, and Manchester Arab. I am not sure about Fulham – maybe the scourge of Buckingham Palace is looking to get out. If not, maybe the fourth club is Doomed Hull.
The puppet man had this to say of Man IOU: “You can’t seek to suck cash out of a business that absorbs cash.”
The Guardian reckons that Man IOU now spend £81m a year on interest payments to service debts run up in the Glazers’ purchase of the club. That’s about three times the amount Arsenal spend a year repaying the stadium debt. So when people say Arsenal should spend more, it is worth considering what happens if you do. That £81m a year could buy three great players a year, every year. Instead it goes to the banks.
But the fact that 80% of the EPL is for sale shows that it is something of a buyers’ market and that the system is utterly unstable.
And the system is not just rotten at the top. So many lower league clubs are collapsing no one actually knows who is going up and down at the moment. I was speaking to a friend who supports Woking in the Conference this week. They ended up 21st – which means relegation to the Conference South. Except that no one knows where Darlington will go (they ended up 12th in League 2 and have gone into Administration. No one wants to buy them, so they might fold).
If they fold they might go down two leagues and start again. Which leaves League 2 short of a club, and the shuffling starts. Multiply that by several (Fisher Athletic have just folded apparently) in various divisions and you see the chaos.
And what does this have to do with Arsenal and the EPL? Only this – with 80% of clubs at the top on the for sale list, and about the same number in total chaos in the lower leagues, there is no stability anywhere – and unstable systems always collapse.
There are always a few clubs on the up – my local team Corby have just won the Southern Premier League and go up (into the Conference South I think), and are building a lovely new stadium just around the corner from where I work.
The reinvented Wimbledon have won Conference South and are in the Conference next – another couple of years and they will play MK Dons.
But these clubs are the exception. The overall situation is that the whole system is cumbling, and we will soon see a huge shakeup in football.
I don’t believe Man IOU will go bust in the sense of going out of business – but I do expect a collapse in the style of Leeds. Everyone is just waiting for Sir Alex F Word to retire and then the money stops rolling in.
As the Chinese saying goes, “May you live in interesting times”. (It is actually a curse, not a good wish).
(c) Tony Attwood 2009
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