It’s time to admit football has a money problem

Football has a money problem. A first – but significant – step in dealing with financial short-termism in the game is to address the language we use.

Kevin Rye is a spokesperson for Supporters Direct

Running in parallel to the story of a game ‘awash with cash‘ is that of a game that finds it difficult to manage its money, one that has a serious problem with it.

The recent ‘Middle Eastern bid’ to buy Arsenal, the significant losses posted at Liverpool, the news about West Ham United owners David Gold and David Sullivan spending an eye-watering £16m each on promotion from the Championship, and the cumulative £361m losses are all part of the same story.

Whilst all these cases highlight a game that has a problem, I would argue that a first – but significant – step in dealing with financial short-termism in a game that has little problem accessing money is to address the language we use.

How often have you heard the word ‘Benefactor’ used to describe the owner of a football club?

This is a term that talks of grand, high-minded gestures; of gifts bestowed upon a grateful public, and ones that come from philanthropic generosity.

Yet ‘Benefaction’ is providing the money for the new wing of an art gallery with your name on the front, or an endowment bestowed upon a university to increase the uptake of students of a particular subject. It doesn’t indicate soft loans, leveraging, or funding unsustainable spending on players.

The words ‘Ploughing in millions of investment’ are thrown about by the owners of clubs with regular abandon. Being ‘in love with the club’ has become a standard issue defence when the financial results are published. But this isn’t love, and it certainly isn’t benefaction.

In fact in football this so-called ‘benefaction’ is all too often more like the kind of relationship where the subject becomes increasingly needy and unable to cope without what the person provides. Most sensible people would call it dependency – an addiction.

How else does it become normal for Liverpool to post a rise in net debt of £21.8m to £87.2m? Or that £25m is required to ‘bounce-back’ to the Premier League at the first attempt? Or that a ‘consortium of Middle-East investors’ are prepared to shell out a reported £1.5bn for Arsenal?

All this while the Premier League has a rights deal worth £5bn about to commence. It’s not healthy, it’s not fair to those clubs who want to do it the right way, and it’s certainly not good in the long-term; 92 insolvencies from the Premier League to the Conference Premier in 20 years tells you that.

It is often said that one of the first acts of changing seriously dependent or addictive behaviour is to admit that you have a problem. Perhaps the first thing our national game needs to do is to say the words, “My name is football, and I am an addict”.

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