Vanarama National League columnFinancial reality checks . by Glenn Moore
The collecting buckets are still shaken, with fans implored to throw in their loose change, but like everything else in football fund-raising has moved on. It was a supporter’s JustGiving page which raised the cash to pay off Hartlepool’s tax bill. The deed, announced on Facebook, staved off a High Court winding up order.
Pools are still in trouble though, and they are not alone in the Vanarama National League. At Chester they are preparing for Thursday’s celebrity match with Michael Owen and Colin Murray involved. At Dagenham & Redbridge there is a firesale of players. At Macclesfield the immediate crisis is over, with delayed wages paid, but Moss Rose is rarely flush with cash.
The crowds and headlines may be smaller but non-League football attracts just as much devotion as the Premier League - and without another fat TV deal to attract potential saviours the pain is greater when things go wrong as the likelihood of rescue is more remote. With four clubs facing problems this week’s The Non-League paper had echoes of the London Gazette, where insolvencies are traditionally listed.
It would be wrong, however, to deduce that the fifth tier’s financial model is inherently unstable. As in every division there are clubs living beyond their means as they ‘chase the dream’ of a place in the Football League (or a return to it) but in recent years the league has generally been in reasonable financial health.
Indeed, it can be argued each of the current quartet are a special case, rather than symptomatic of a wider malaise. Hartlepool, the most seriously threatened, are freshly relegated from the Football League. They thus receive parachute payments for two years totalling around £700,000 with two-thirds paid in the first season. That would normally ameliorate the impact but Pools came down carrying a debt burden reported by the local media to be £1.8m. That is more than a year’s turnover in this league and new investment has been elusive.
Chester are fan-owned having re-formed after going bust eight years ago. With the initial rush of triple promotions replaced by an annual slog against relegation interest had tapered away leading to a drop in membership and attendance. That seems to have caused cash flow issues, perhaps exacerbated by management decisions.
At Dagenham the owner, quoting anger at fans campaigning against his managing director, has stopped putting his hand in his pocket. This is not the place to debate the rights and wrongs, just to record the consequence which has a slashing of the squad to cut the wage bill by three-quarters to meet the club’s unsubsidised income. At Macclesfield the owner blamed ‘technical problems’ at his bank, which were resolved after players confronted the club chairman at a local country club.
Macclesfield’s budget is tight at the best of times yet the Silkmen are top of the Vanarama National League. It is some achievement by John Askew and his players. With the wages paid they resumed their winning ways. The dream that drives all these clubs was back on.