Doomed to failure? – Non league clubs and big financial backers

If you’re a regular listener to the podcast I take part in, then no doubt you’ll have heard me, time and again bemoan the governance of football clubs.

Every season, we hear or read of clubs going out of business, some because they can’t go on, and some for want of proper management. 

A lot go out just because their permanent struggle has become too much, Romford on the outskirts of London being one to decide enough is enough recently. This a club that played in the earliest ever FA Cup competitions, deciding they can’t go on any longer.

There many other reasons why a club might have to fold. HMRC bills not paid, ground rent arrears and debts to suppliers are all common reasons why a club might fold, but there’s one thing that really winds me up, and that’s seeing non league clubs used as a moderately-rich-man’s plaything.

A lot of clubs get by on a hand to mouth basis with the occasional transfer fee and big match to swell the threadbare coffers and sometimes that’s pretty much non league football to a tee. However, when a local businessman decides he want to take his nearest club up to the National league or beyond, in a big announcement, then I shudder.

The latest to go down this road is at Billericay Town, and local businessman Glenn Tamplin is bankrolling the club’s push to leave the Ryman League and become a football force in Essex again.

To this end, the club are now full time; players the calibre of Jamie O’Hara and Paul Konchesky have been brought in plus they’re signing players who would be not out of place in the National League itself.

It’s brought the fans out, altogether about 1,000 people attended a Tuesday night game vs Dulwich Hamlet at the end of March, which the Blues lost, making their chance of reaching the Ryman League playoffs much harder.

It’s nice to see crowds turning out midweek, but as I followed the game on Twitter, I ended up fearing for Billericay.

Why, you ask? Well, as we all know in our personal lives, money is a finite resource, and even more so in football, at least outside of the very top. It’s not for nothing there is the saying “If you want to make a small fortune in football, start with a big one!”

There’s been many times that a backer like this has come on board, and disillusioned with the life, they move on, leaving the club in with mounting bills and little possibility of how to meet them.

Then, with the club having no money, players are released, results invariably slide, and the club is lucky if it doesn’t return from whence it came if not further!

For me, the most disagreeable aspect to this, when said club has to fall back on its shell-shocked and suffering fans to make ends meet. Bucket collections, fans fundraising and supporters trusts pitching in, all to keep a club alive.

Margate, in the National League South, have found this out after their backer Bob Laslett decided to find something else to do. This season Margate have had to trim their cloth to match their crowds, leaving little money to pay their players and they look certain to return to the Ryman League.

I’ve said it before, a club with a big backer is but one breath away from likely penury and relegation. If the backer has an accident or suffers a sudden death, the source of money has gone almost immediately, and like Margate above, if the backer leaves, the future then becomes bleaker and a lot tougher.

In the end, if the backer hasn’t made plans for when he leaves, its the fans who have to carry the can. Those fans that enjoyed time in the sun, they then have to become the ones to do the back-breaking work of keeping the club running. Fans, who might have been following the club for years, who will always be there, will be the ones to lose out.

I’m not saying clubs should not be accepting help like this, but personally, I would prefer to see owners put something back into the infrastructure of their club; improve the ground, smarten up the facilities and leave something tangible, instead of throwing it in an inflated playing budget (Billericay’s is rumoured to be around £20k!), which could leave the club in trouble.

Most clubs will go on, just about, without having huge wads of cash thrown at them, as long they can pay their way in the world. A lot of clubs that we’ll never hear of, run by sensible boards and committees, doing what they need to. They are the clubs I have time for, not those who accepted the risk of someone’s overfilled pockets, and found it it wasn’t bottomless.

I’m sure many of you will have some sympathy for these clubs. But I ask you this, why should we? They took a gamble and it didn’t come off.  

Some clubs do make a success of their investment and sustained it, and I congratulate them on that, but it seems to me that big money men and non league football aren’t necessarily a good blend. I hope I’ll be proved wrong about Billericay, but somehow I’m not that sure…

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