I am sure that Richard will tackle this subject in his notes but there really are some questions for the authorities to answer regarding this competition. Why are the ties staged on a Saturday when the equivalent competitions in the Football League are played midweek? Why are there replays when the equivalent competitions in the Football League ensure a result is achieved in the original tie? Even if both clubs had been free on Tuesday, and agreed to play the tie, we would not have been permitted to do so. Yet if the original tie was postponed because of the weather we would play the rearranged game on a Tuesday night. And any replay would be on a Tuesday. Make sense? NO!
The result is that your fixture list becomes totally disrupted and is even more out of equilibrium than the original programme. And that takes some doing! As you know, the Football Conference fly in the face of logic in how they organise their fixtures. You can play teams twice in a month (such as Kidderminster in February & March), another twice in the first few weeks of the season (Aldershot), others twice before Christmas (Hereford), other not at all before Christmas (Dartford). And that is the case for every club. There is no symmetry, not even to the extent that you play a club once before and once after Christmas. It is unfair because in this league especially the respective strength of teams can differ so greatly at different stages of the season. When a club has a run in the FA Cup it can make them stronger after January, other clubs gamble with their budget so make cutbacks at the season progresses, some clubs start badly and pick up form, others do the opposite, suspensions are not a factor early in the season but play a big part at certain stages. There are a myriad of factors that dictate fairness can only be achieved by each club playing the other in both halves of the season. That lessens the likelihood that a single club could benefit or suffer by playing one club twice in a short space of time, either in the first or second half of the season. When you then consider the disruption caused by the FA Trophy, it can distort the fixture list still further. We could have five consecutive away games in the league because of the FA Trophy before we play Grimsby on Tuesday 28th January.
There are factors just as important as league points and league position to consider as well. Every round in which you progress means another league game to re-arrange. If the ties happen to fall predominantly on home games (today we should have played Alfreton at home and should we win today then the next round clashes with our home game against Wrexham) then there are financial and in particular cashflow issues that can cause difficulties to clubs through no fault of there own. Not only can it leave you for weeks without a home fixture, it then means that invariably they are re-arranged during February, March & April, thus clashing with the wall to wall coverage of the Champions League. The die-hard fans may choose Cambridge United v Alfreton Town ahead of Bayern Munich v Arsenal or Manchester City v Barcelona but unfortunately these fans are the ones who probably bought season tickets. It is the walk up crowd and therefore the cash takings on the day that suffers. And it’s a double whammy, because only the die-hard fans watch games in the FA Trophy. Therefore, you get a lower attendance for the FA Trophy tie on the Saturday than would have watched the league game and a lower attendance at the re-arranged midweek league game than would have watched the same game on the Saturday. And a fixture pile up exacerbates the football and financial issues. Points can be lost and league position can suffer if you end up playing four times a week and when a number of home matches are scheduled within a short space of time, the economic climate dictates that people pick and choose their games and can’t afford to come to all of them.
I think the job of the authorities, which in this case is the Football Conference and the Football Association, is to look after their member clubs. They are certainly not doing so with how the games programme and this competition are organised.
The solution is simple. All ties should be played midweek with no replays, so there is the excitement of a result on the night. The move to bring forward the final to mirror the timing of the Football League Cup and Football League Trophy was good, so that it stays away from the business end of the season and the semi-finals can even remain two legged ties.
Then every club would be encouraged to field their strongest team and take the competition more seriously. It would enhance the competition’s profile, status and each clubs attitude towards it. We have written to express our views, but the status quo remains. Perhaps it is more convenient for the various officials to watch games on a Saturday…
There are several issues that should be challenged more vociferously by the Football Conference on behalf of their members. The number of promotion places is one such issue. Eligibility for EPPP, for clubs meeting the criteria, which would allow access to funding and protection for the registration of players, should also be highlighted. And despite our rivalry, we should be united in both of these issues. We would both now be playing in the Football League if there was more than one automatic promotion place, as would Wrexham. We would both now be receiving funding to continue running our respective youth programmes, as would Wrexham. It’s a shambles that both situations still exist. It is also complete nonsense when utterances as useful as “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” are attributed to officials representing our best interests in commenting on the likelihood of convincing the Football League to change the quota for promotion and relegation. The Football Conference should be articulating the argument that relegation from the Football League is only such a complete disaster because only one promotion place is guaranteed each season. If it was three automatic places plus one through the play-offs, which is the case for League Two to League One so it must have some merit, or even two automatic and one through the play-offs, which is the case for League One to the Championship and the Championship to the Premier League, relegation would be less catastrophic. That is the argument that should be articulated to persuade the Football League clubs that it can happen to anyone and if it does, with the current rules, good luck!
There is evidence that fairness and equality can be achieved between different organisations. If the Football League can secure three promotion places for its member clubs with the Premier League, why can’t the Football Conference do the same with the Football League? And don’t get me started with parachute payments. Again, look what the clubs dropping out of the Premier League get and for how long and then compare it with the miniscule amount when the same happens with relegation from the Football League. Compare it percentage wise. The drop in income from League Two to the Football Conference is incomparable. Look at clubs in this league; proud, historic clubs that have been pillars of their communities, been part of the fabric of professional football for many years, created moments of magic in the FA Cup, League Cup and Football League, produced iconic players, some for the national team, and then they are discarded into an abyss. Suddenly their role to play in their community does not matter, developing young players (maybe even for England national team) is irrelevant and they are left to die or survive in “non league football” with all the odds stacked against them returning. What has happened at Stockport County is heartbreaking. The authorities should think of them when Ricky Lambert is playing for England. So are the difficulties being experienced by Hereford. The authorities should think of them every time that Ronny Radford’s goal is played to promote the FA’s flagship competition.
We still have not received our TV money for the game against Sheffield United because the rules state that it is paid 14 days after the round is completed. Unfortunately, Crawley have still yet to play Bristol Rovers because of the weather. So as we approach the middle of January, cashflow becomes a real issue because of the intransigence of rules that jeopardise the financial wellbeing of clubs. It’s crazy! And we still do not have a confirmed date for our biggest potential revenue from a home game, when we face Luton Town in the league, because the game is being considered for BT Sports. We love the coverage, but surely we should know when we are playing a month after the original game was postponed. And you’ve guessed it, postponed on a Saturday for an FA Trophy tie! You really couldn’t make it up!
Someone needs to start fighting our corner. We may be rivals, but our opponents today face similar challenges. We are both fighting for one automatic promotion place, which does not happen at any other level of professional football. We are both trying to run youth schemes without any funding from the authorities when both our academies have a proud record of producing players and would be the equal or better of many Football League clubs. And we both go into today’s game wondering whether a win is a real victory or not bearing in mind the further fixture chaos that will ensue.
It’s a good job that we have so many good, committed and passionate directors on our board to cover shortfalls in cashflow when success is rewarded by no league home fixture for over a calendar month and just one in seven weeks.
Talking of budgets, maybe our decision to allow Chris Maxwell to return to his parent club at the end of his loan spell and sign John Sullivan from Portsmouth until the end of the season on terms we can afford will once and for all dispel the myth that our competitors choose to propagate that we have endless resources and pay large wages. I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. We are ambitious and desperate to challenge for the ultimate prize but not at the expense of sound financial decisions that will ensure we are stronger every year with sustainable budgets. When people think they have a gun to our heads, we will always have worked hard to have other options. We will always do what is right for our club, with the big picture in mind as well as the immediate future. When a deal gets unaffordable, or unreasonable, we walk away and go elsewhere. We have built everything that has been achieved so far this season on parity amongst individual salaries, a strict wage structure and financial prudence. Our budget is a fraction of what people imagine. We have unbelievable staff, who works tirelessly and diligently, partly funded by other tasks they perform within the trust, and we will not stray off track for any individual or club.
Please welcome John, as you did Chris. January is always a month of uncertainty, especially in the transient world of football at this level, but as opposed to recent years, we have no pressure or desire to sell players and are currently looking at a number of options to strengthen the squad for the second half of the season. Watch this space. It should be an exciting first half to 2014.
Enjoy the game!