Follow the Money: How football puts finance over fans

In light of Bolton Wanderer's narrow escape from administration, we need to confront how money dominates our nation's favourite sport.

A statue outside Bolton's stadium reflects an era before big money in football

After what seemed like a miracle end to the previous season, when they survived relegation from the Championship in the 88th minute of their final game, the hopes of Bolton Wanderers for the current season were nearly dashed last week. Bolton narrowly avoided administration when they struck a last minute deal. This meant they escaped losing 12 points for their financial struggles, which would have put the Wanderers at the bottom of the Championship with -1 points.

Although it is clear there must be a deterrent for going into administration and for the mismanagement of funds, is point deduction really the answer? Those who suffer most from this are, in reality, the players and especially the fans, who stick with their clubs through thick and thin, rather than those involved with the financial decision making.

The removal of points can cause a club to deteriorate and for financial stability to move further out of reach. Portsmouth FC became the first Premier League club to face administration, in February 2010, and were then relegated to the Championship at the end of the season. They were denied a license to play in the UEFA Cup the following season, which would have improved their debts, despite coming 2nd in the FA cup. Three years on, following further financial difficulties and point deductions, they ended the 2012/2013 season with relegation to League Two. A previously competent football team lost out due to their crumbling finances, as helpless fans watched from the sidelines.

The money problems of some clubs in the top two flights are put in perceptive when we look at Manchester City and United who both reported record revenues recently, with City recently marking a decade under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United Group. City’s revenue stood at £473.4m for the 2016/2017 financial year, whilst United’s grew to £581m, largely helped by domestic TV revenues. Despite these huge sums for some clubs, Bolton nearly became the first football league side to face administration since 2013 before a £4.8m loan from BluMarble, a figure considered spare change by the largest club in the Premier League.

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The increasing emphasis on money in football over the past few years seems to be forcing less well off clubs out of the game, as it is becoming ever more necessary to have the backing of a wealthy owner to have any real chance of competing. Previously, if a club had a player with considerable talent, he would stay with them throughout his professional career, meaning many teams had star players to bolster their position in the football league. Now, however, as soon as a player is identified as a talent, they are poached by bigger clubs, for higher wages and spend the rest of their professional career being traded around by big premier league clubs. This practice has eroded the once close relationship between the players and supporters, fans know that even if their club nurtures a new talent, they will soon move on.

The huge sums of money and the quick turnover of players has all but ended the possibility of success through developing a strong team and management, instead the same big clubs consistently win competitions. In the last 22 years, only the same four clubs – Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City – have won the Premier League, the only exception being Leicester City in the 2015/2016 season.

What does this emphasis on money mean for the future of the beautiful game? One can only hope that the smaller clubs can still find ways of being considered genuine competition. It would be a disappointment to see clubs such as Bolton, who were one of the twelve founders of the original football league, fall down the rankings due to their lack of funds. However, with the increasing prominence of big money in football, such as TV deals and large transfer sums, it seems that for now the rich clubs will continue to get richer, while smaller clubs will struggle to make ends meet.