Anger mounts at government over stalled £250 million Football League bail out

6 October 2020

Dale Vince
Photo: PA Images Chairman of League Two club Forest Green Rovers, Dale Vince, says Government are "inconsistent" and "hypocritical" setting a "weird precedent".

Frustration that football is being treated differently to other sports and industries.

League Two chairman: Government are "inconsistent" and "hypocritical" setting a "weird precedent".

Tuesday’s Premier League meeting to discuss bail out postponed for a week.

James Corbett corbett@offthepitch.com

There is growing anger at all levels of the league ladder regarding the British government’s intransigence over a bail out for Football League clubs, who face crippling pandemic-related losses due to stadium closures. 

The Football League are seeking £250 million to secure the future of its 72 clubs, who face the prospect of playing most or all of the current season behind closed doors. The government has insisted that responsibility for handling the bail out belongs to the Premier League.

British Government Bail Outs to Sport

  • Rugby League: £16 million emergency bail out loan granted by the government in April.
     
  • Cricket: ECB funded its own £61 million bail out programme in March, but is in talks with the government to protect its members for 2021. 
     
  • Football: National league clubs given £10 million in emergency grants to be paid monthly over three months, when it will be reviewed.
     
  • Horseracing: Industry, which contributes £4 billion to UK, says it faces £250 million losses. Negotiations with government ongoing over long term, low interest loans.     
     
  • Rugby Union: RFU warns it faces elite losses of £122 million and its community clubs will lose a further £86 million this season. Negotiations with government ongoing, with government understood to be considering long term, low interest loans. 
     
  • Ice hockey: Club owners say that it will lose £10 million and have expressed concerns that the DCMS are not aware of its contribution to the economy.

Club officials at all levels of the English league ladder have spoken of their growing frustration at the government’s handling of the cash crisis, while a meeting scheduled for Tuesday in which Premier League chairmen were to discuss a deal has been postponed for a week.

Last week Premier League sources suggested that a deal was close in which top-flight clubs would underwrite around two-thirds of the required £250 million through a mixture of grants and loans, but this increasingly seems wide of the mark. 

Mounting frustration

There is frustration that bail outs for the arts and hospitality have been agreed, as well as for some other sports, but football is left to fund its own losses elsewhere in the pyramid.  

“There’s a consensus that there should be some form of help, but not at the levels demanded by the EFL and not without some government support,” explained one Premier League official.

“Earlier this year the government put pressure on football to restart so it could show it as a sign that life was returning to normal after lockdown. Before that players were castigated for earning too much and bullied towards taking paycuts and donating money to the NHS. Now it’s the EPL who are having to foot the bill for something they have no control over. Enough is enough.”

Another pointed out the disparities between EFL clubs: Some League Two clubs have squad budgets of less than £1 million, while Derby County pay Wayne Rooney £5 million. “Why should we have to take a hit to pay Rooney’s wages?” pondered the source, who is close to several club bosses.

Inconsistent and hypocritical government

Dale Vince, the owner of League Two club Forest Green Rovers, was one of the few officials prepared to go on the record and he told offthepitch.com that the government were “inconsistent” and “hypocritical” in their approach.

“The government's responsibility is to all sectors of society and the economy. In the art industry recently, they spent one and a half billion pounds in grants,” he says. “In August they spent half a billion pounds helping the hospitality industry just in one month. There's been help all over the economy.” 

“But to simply say when it comes to football, the most successful league in the country should support the rest of the pyramid I think is wrong.  

“It's not like they're saying that supermarkets have done really quite well out of the pandemic, cornershops should [now] be supported by them. 

“I think it's a weird kind of precedence, but it is driven by the media perception of the Premier League being awash with cash [which provides] uncomfortable optics for the government of helping football generally.

“It wouldn't mean helping the Premier League, but they still seem to have a problem with helping the parts of football who actually need it.” 

Social fabric

Steve Parish, the Crystal Palace chairman, used a Sunday Times column at the weekend to echo these views.  

“The Premier League has no money of its own — none. It is basically a not-for-profit body that distributes all its funds to clubs. In turn, clubs budget for that income and spend accordingly. They are not run for profit either — we run our business to win matches. While a few clubs are blessed with seemingly unlimited funds, most clubs have either large debts to the owners, or to banks, or both and many shareholders at clubs such as Crystal Palace, or Burnley, are not people with significant wealth — they cannot write cheques to cover losses.

“So why is it the Premier League is being asked, uniquely, to bail out its “industry family”?,” Parish wrote.

Dale Vince adds:

“I think the EFL have asked for £250 million; half of what was spent on the hospitality sector for one month would the last for the whole season, it'd probably last a whole year

“And so by that measure, it's pretty good value for money. Football clubs are part of economy as well as part of the social fabric of our country. They're as worth saving as arts and hospitality,” Vince says.