Football's Biggest Battle
Friday, 22nd May 2020 09:01 by Planet Swans (follow us on Twitter @swansnews)
The effects of a global pandemic are being felt everywhere in society and there is barely none of us who haven't been impacted in some way, shape or form but the biggest battle that football faces is not one against the virus but against itself as the implosion it has threatened for many years seems to finally be happening.
It was the 7th March when the Swans last took to the pitch to play out a fairly unremarkable but credible home draw against West Brom at the Liberty. Now - just 11 weeks later - the club faces a battle, along with many more, that is more than just about points on the pitch it is about long term survival.
Clubs up and down the football ladder have seen large parts of their revenue disappear overnight with no gate receipts for that eleven week period and facing up to a likelihood that any games played are very possibly going to be behind closed doors for the remainder of this calendar year as a minimum. Beyond that it could easily be restricted crowds and that is before you consider how safe people will feel in an enclosed area with many thousands of people. The long term effects on gate receipts could be around for some time yet.
It may have been an ill thought out statement released by Swansea City yesterday but it is the stark reality of the game that clubs will struggle to survive this pandemic. Many clubs in the lower echelons of the football league were struggling to survive this season alone. The well documented drama at Bolton, the sad demise of Bury were just two stories of a season that seems destined not to be completed but a season that will undoubtedly change the way the professional game in this country - and possibly the world - works for ever.
If four remaining games of this season gives us an estimated £1m black hole in our coffers the possibility of maybe half a season next term creates a hole of another £3m. And we haven't factored in the loss of retail revenue, stadium hospitality, stadium events and walk up ticket sales into any of that. At Championship level we are at least blessed with some level of TV money, albeit a fraction of what comes in the Premier League, but clubs in Leagues One and Two simply don't have a penny coming in at the moment.
At Burton, they have applauded the resignation of Nigel Clough as one that will save the jobs of many people - maybe a small shining light in a sea of what appears to be an unwillingness of a game to move the biggest part of it's expenditure by any stretch of the imagination.
Let me be clear here, the wages awarded and written into contracts is not the fault of players. Each of us would be the same and there isn't a person when negotiating a new job who would argue back with "please pay me less that feels an awful lot of money" We know that and this is what the game started to become when the Premier League was formed and they became the play tool of the TV companies rather than the game that it was for more than 100 years.
The erosion of domestic cup competitions becoming reserve team competitions for most of the top clubs, a Champions League that has more non Champions in it than actual reigning Champions and a second European competition that teams spend nine months trying to get into before spending a summer trying to get knocked out of it (you know who you are West Ham United)
All these things have turned the game into something where many people get very rich and the future of a club is gambled off the back of needing a signing at a six figure weekly sum merely to try and compete. And for those where that dream goes wrong and relegation follows you spend many years trying to just keep your head afloat whilst working through the extortionate contracts you felt it necessary to give out in the Premier League. And largely to a group of players who will forget the name of the club that paid them that value the moment they move on to their next "dream move"
As I've said before this isn't the blame of the players but there is a chance now for the players to ensure that the game that made them what they are survives. The lack of desire of the PFA to even support the concept of a pay cut is nothing more than a disgrace on the game. I understand short careers, I understand contracts but just think of the number of times you have heard the word unprecedented in the last two months and apply it again. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions and those actions are in the hands of those who can make them,
We all know that it would not have been a plan for BA this year to ground a large part of its fleet and reduce their staff numbers, It would not have been in retail giant Primark's plan to shut down all their revenue by closing their stores. And your local pub would not have considered shutting the doors for a few months at any stage. These have all been actions forced on them by the speed in which this pandemic took hold and the sheer extent that it has changed society and the way we are. Probably forever.
But football remains in this wonderful bubble it has created for itself where it says "nothing can be done" they have contracts. Oddly, many of us did in our own industries and sectors but have felt the financial pinch during the last two months. And for many of the people who were at the LIberty for that game against West Brom will have felt the pinch in a much bigger way than any player would with a pay cut. Losing 25% of a £20k annual salary can have much more wide ranging issues than say losing 20% of a £70k weekly salary.
This isn't unique to Swansea City this is a football wide problem and one that the game seems unwilling to address at any stage. The badly thought through comments of Gordon Taylor ("Players taking paycuts will impact the NHS") just shows how out of touch with the reality of the situation he is and this is the guy leading the union that drives the players. I wonder if he has considered that his actions at this time could threaten the existence of the game, possibly dry up a transfer market and leave nothing more than maybe a dozen professional clubs in the country. Or maybe that is what he wants after all the greed of the Premier League has long since forgotten that there are 91 clubs in the top four divisions this season.
Being blunt football will NOT survive without the players taking some of the pain that the game is feeling. I get it isn't their fault. I get that they have a contract and I get that the contract was given to them by the club. However, we go back to that word unprecedented, and say again that we are dealing with unprecedented times that will call for unprecedented actions.
Even at Swansea's level taking a 20% cut off the wage bill for even one month of the playing side of the club would have a massive positive impact on the cashflow position. Make that for three months and it could easily be the difference between survival and administration.
We know our owners are unwilling to support the club financially (the next level remember) and so the burden was placed yesterday on the fans with what will start as a guilt trip but whilst we are the constant the biggest change needs to be made elsewhere for the club to survive this.
At this point in time I fear for the future of the professional game in this country. Or at least certainly in the format that we have all grown up to know it in. I fear that the endless amounts of money that circulated that created this problem will be it's downfall (which we probably all knew it would be at some stage) but mostly I fear for the fact that the people who earn their livings from it are being told by their union to do nothing and that will be the ultimate decline of the beautiful game.
And that is why this is football's biggest battle and one that right now is destined to be a losing one unless something changes that is both big and quick in equal measure.
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