Football on the edge of collapse (except Arsenal)

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

14 Replies to “Football on the edge of collapse (except Arsenal)”

  1. i have a question for all the posters who are coming out saying its ok to be not winning due to how stable the club is and how much money we are saving while others spend it all or build up debts – do you pay £1000 a year for season tickets? if not would you be as happy wasting your money seeing a non competitive team but knowing at least your money is making the club rich? if you do have a season ticket are you really telling me your happy with the most expensive tickets in the land for what we get to watch these last few years? surely the fact our club gets wealthy of us while delivering no success is not worth paying that much for? ps – not an attack on those who dont have season tickets or who dont go, before the handbags start flying from our residents abroad.

  2. I have had a season ticket for many, many years and I have always enjoyed matchdays, win, draw or lose. Obviously I prefer us to win, but I have always considered that watching the Arsenal is a privilege. Watching the current squad is slightly different in that I feel I have more of an investment in them. I have watched their trials and tribulations. I have shared their joy when they succeed and I share their despair when they feel they have failed. The only blot on the landscape for me is the site of a few thousand newcomers leaving early and the sound of booing from people who really ought to know better. Hopefully many of these people will not renew and more real fans will get a shot at a season ticket. The Arsenal business ‘project’ is different to others and as such it is fascinating. We dare to do this a different way. The Arsenal ‘project’ from a footballing perspective is even more interesting and in this we definitely dare to plough our own furrow. This really is a unique club and success on the pitch will surely come.

  3. I have two silver memberships, and use them for my partner and I to go to most games.

    I am more than happy with the current situation, perhaps because I bring a historical perspective. I have kept on attending the games (for 10 years as a season ticket holder) when for years and years we not only won very little, we were not likely to win anything. Years when Tottenham were above us, and a draw with them was satisfying.

    During much of that time not only were we just a solid regular run of the mill Division 1 team, one or more other clubs were so far above us (I think particularly of Liverpool in the period before George Graham) that there was no thought that we could catch them.

    I recall going to the League Cup Final against Luton, paying for the usual awful service that Wembley offers, and watching us lose, and then of course renewing the season ticket next year. And the year after year of nothingness.

    So to me the world Wenger brings us is the golden era, because

    a) the football is so brilliant
    b) we are now one of the top 8 clubs in the world

    In the days before Wenger we were often not one of the top 8 teams in England, and the English league in those days was very much a fourth rate competition behind Spain, Italy and Germany.

    Looking back to the time before Wenger, before the Champions League became all-dominant, there was no telling at this stage which of the clubs in England would move into a world where we play on an equal stage with AC Milan and Real Madrid. Believe me, it could have been Tottenham that joined the elite. Man U were, like us, for years and years a middle of the road team – they were even a second division team for one year. It could have been Everton rather than us that made it. It could have been Villa.

    But we made it into the top level, and we are still there, so we have moved from being middle ranking, to top ranking, in broad terms, and that means that we have a good chance to build a new team and start winning trophies again.

    So, I won’t be having to pay out my £1000 at once, but with two tickets to support I will be spending more than that during the year as I buy the tickets week by week. Plus I will be spending a fortune on travel. And I will love most of it.

    No I didn’t enjoy being beaten 4-1, any more than I enjoyed being beaten 6-1 at Man U (with a team including Henry et al). But I know what Wenger did after that defeat, and I look for the same again.

    Finally, I suppose I return to the home defeat by Leeds, 3-2 I think it was, with two games to go. I was very upset and depressed, we had thrown away the league, but I returned for the next match against Southampton and laughed at the touts who couldn’t even give away their tickets. We won 6-0, and that was the start of the 49. Leeds were looking like a team moving up once more. Instead they imploded and dropped to division 3.

    Yes, I willingly pay, and if I could work out what is wrong with the sodding on-line ticket purchasing system I would already have bought my two tickets to Barnet away in July.


  4. I suppose that I’m a less traditional fan these days than I was. I haven’t been to a game in years but I see every one of them live either via TV or the internet.
    Of course back in the day I used to live in London so getting to a match was easy enough. These days with travel and accomodation costs, I would rather spend the money on a week in the sun and watch the match on TV.
    having said that, I have a vast array of Official Arsenal merchandise including every replica shirt for the last 15 years or so. As such my Arsenal taxes are indirect but no less significant.

    Regardless, I wouldn’t ever consider any money that I spent on supporting the club as giving me the right to complain about them. We all fancy ourselves as armchair managers but we are not. We don’t know better than the people who are running the club. We don’t know as well as the manager does and we don’t know what the players know.

    The worst Arsenal player in the last 10 years is 50 times better than I am when it comes to football and I have faith that he was always trying his best or what appeared to be his best to him.

    I’ll take whatever comes both good and bad and cherish both because without one the other wouldn’t taste as nice.
    Like Tony I have an historical perspective from the Cup Final in ’79 to the doldrums of suffering the bragging and lording over of Liverpool supporters. This in a way has continued with the incredible success of Man Utd and really you have to consider that for Arsenal to win what they have during this ridiculously successful period for Utd is almost like double achievement.

    When I was growing up supporting Arsenal in Ireland(then Liverpool now Man Utd plastic fanbase) was like being at The Battle of The Little Bighorn and not wearing warpaint.

    So yes I am disappointed when we lose, but console myself in the fact that the team, from the players down to the tea-lady, were trying to win and that will always be good enough for me.

    I can continue to wait for trophies because I know that I wont be waiting for long. There may also be the wonderful added bonus of one or two of our giant competitors coming crashing down whilst we sit safe in our bombshelter of self-sustainability.

    On the day this happens trophies wont be the focus of our joy and wont assuage their misery.

    Remember this. The reason why the winning goal of Michael Thomas at Anfield, stands out in the memories of Arsenal supporters more than that of Sylvian Wiltord at Old Trafford, is because back then success was so very rare and precious.
    We have become spoilt.

  5. FZ – Neither the or club or the shareholders are getting rich off of season ticket, matchday ticket or merchandise sales. The club is living within it’s means. So many fans do not understand the in and out of running a business. They just assume that all businesses are cash cows and football clubs are money printing machines. We have a mortgage on the new stadium that has to be repaid, part of the increase in revenue pays for this. Man’s debt is almost three times arts and they are not repaying it, it just keeps increasing. At some point the money must be repaid, this can happen 3 ways. 1 – The dramatically increase turnover and therefore profits to pay the debt. Problem here is that their last set of accounts showed record turnover and still the debt went up. 2 – The club reduces it’s wages and transfer expenditure and diverts these funds to repaying the debts. This could lead to a drop of in turnover through less success and prize money etc. 3 – A mega rich owner comes to the rescue and pays off the debts which will soon be near to a billion pounds on top of this the Glazers will want a profit. Problem here is that any owner who is an investor will want a return and the return on an investment of over a billion pounds would cripple the club. So as I see it the only easy way out for ManU is for someone who has a spare billion pounds to put it into the club and not want a return.

  6. @FZ

    “I have shared their joy when they succeed and I share their despair when they feel they have failed.”

    I share your sentiment of the current team. I’ve been in love with the Arsenal teams and most of the players (can’t say all of them I’m afraid though); but I sometimes take cheers for and criticisms against the current team personal, because I feel I’m growing up with them as a person and gooner. Nobody’s happy about the results of this season, but picking up on some of them and calling them shit sadden me greatly. Hope the team comes through the disappointment of this season and take one step closer to their full potential next season. C’mon you gunners!

  7. Good read, as ever, Tony.


    I am afraid if you come to football, with your attitude, you are bound to be disappointed. You have to be able to enjoy each individual game for what it is & remember that trophies are a privilege granted to very few.

    My first match was in 1956 & I have been a season ticket holder for 45+ years. I have seen the lot, one of the 4000 odd who came to the Leeds game in 1966, a couple of other seasons close to relegation (Everton are the only other club not relegated in my time) but even then there was something to enjoy. It is the hard times that make the good times so great.

    Believe me, these are good times, I have seen the 70/71 team built from the mid 60s, the Brady/O’Leary gang who got to 3 consecutive FA Cup Finals (unheard of in modern English football at the time), & the Adams/Rocky team which started under Don Howe in ’83/85 to win 2 League Championships with GG.

    I can tell you, in all honesty, that the current lads are the best, in terms of depth & pure talent, that I have ever seen at the club. Nothing is guaranteed but I would be surprised if we are not the dominant force within 2 seasons, with a capability of taking it on for years to come.

    People, like you, have a ludicrous expectation & instead of castigating a manager & teams, who are performing well ahead of any realistic schedule, you should be enjoying watching them develop & be amazed at how competitive, our great manager, has kept us considering his task of replacing the ageing greats, at a time when Celski/Manu/’pool & others had an at any cost attitude.

    I just love watching these kids & I believe there are plenty more like me, Tony & Terence etc.



    Celebrity Deathmatch featuring:

    Stan ‘The Krippler’ Kroenke V Alisher ‘the OOze’ Usmanov.

  10. Great post and most of the comments again. Love to read the positivity on this blog. I’m just a young child as a Gooner compared to most of the people here having started following Arsenal just 10 years ago. I may be a follower of ‘Wenger Era’ but I’m not moaner after going 4 seasons without a trophy. I love the way the young guns are playing and the way they are developing with each and every game..

    I’m very optimistic about the future and am eager for the next season to start. More so after I read this article on the official site: I’m dying to see rosicky in a arsenal shirt. I’m waiting for that day(cried on the day Dudu came back). Hope to see him in the pre-season.

  11. Great answers, Flint, Tony, Terrence. I was thinking about this on Monday after the Supporters Trust meeting – the only thing I ever want to win is the next match. Simple as that.

    We are the second most successful club of the modern era. Sure I’d be happier if we were the most successful but with 90-odd other league clubs below us, we’ve so much to celebrate.

    As for Jetha Seth’s comments about the club getting rich, just remember, the club is not getting rich at all. The players and a handful of staff get huge salaries but this club invests all profits back into the operation – basically players, stadium and training ground. To date no share dividend has ever been paid; the only money that share-holders have ever made is from selling the shares. I’m not saying it will always be that way of course (watch out for Usmanov).

  12. Flint,
    “It is the hard times that make good time so great.”

    I believe “bad times” in themselves are valuable opportunities to derive personal meanings out of our experience as fans. For me, it’s about keeping faith that the players and managers have tried their best to defend their dignity, maintaining hopes that their efforts will be paid back and not least dealing with my own disappointment. Thinking about it, it’s a very close analogy to a relationship.

    As of winning, if we could be in the last 4 of all big three competitions every year in the next 10 years as we do this season, we should expect to win each cup at least twice in those 10 years simply as a matter of chances. In fact, this has been the best year since we arrived at the Emirates achievement-wise. As “bad” as it feels now, I’m not concerned about trophies if the club sticks to what it is doing.

  13. I’m Nigerian, and I’ve been an Arsenal supporter since 1995, not a long time by the standards of some of you fellows here, but long enough to have some perspective on things. My first Arsenal game was that Cup Winners’ Cup Final against Zaragoza. My dad doesn’t care for football, so I still consider it a minor miracle that he left the channel on the match, when he would normally have simply switched to the news, and this was before we got satellite tv, so it’s not like he could have been watching another channel while the match was on.

    Everyone remembers how that game ended – we lost. And in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable. However, out of the ashes of that defeat, my love for Arsenal was born, and it has never wavered. To see home fans booing my boys sends me into a rage you wouldn’t believe. To see empty seats at the Emirates with time left on the clock (something which was unthinkable at Highbury) makes me killing mad. Those idiots either don’t realise that there are millions of people in Nigeria, around Africa and the rest of the world who would gladly murder to get into the Emirates for a game, or they don’t care, which is worse.

    Comments like “I paid for a ticket so I can criticize what I’m seeing” only expose their makers for the shallow, asinine morons that they are. Yes, we’ve had a rough time of it this season, but by Heaven, surely one does not support a football team only because of trophies? If that were the case, about 99% of the clubs in the world would have empty stadiums.

    Arsenal is my family, and like Michael Corleone, I will do whatever it takes to support and protect my family. All you Fredos out there better watch out.

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