Northampton Town Podcast Football Finance – Charles speaks to football finance expert, Kieran Maguire about the 2019/20 club accounts which were released in March.
At the end of March, NTFC released their annual financial accounts for the year ending June 2020 so Charles invited football finance expert, Kieran Maguire for a chat about what they say.
On this special episode of It’s All Cobblers To Me, Kieran walks us through what the accounts say about the finances of Northampton Town, tips his hat to the club for their extra transparency this year and suggests some ideas on how the club and supporters can come closer together through financial transparency.
[Music playing & intro]
Hello, Cobblers fans and welcome to a special edition of ‘It’s All Cobblers To Me’.
I’m Charles, and on Wednesday March 31st, NTFC released their annual accounts for the year ending June 2020. Over the last few years, the club’s accounts have been a hot topic of course; first there was the case of the missing loan money under the previous ownership, questions around the 5U Sport deal as to where the money went, if indeed it ever arrived, the ongoing saga of the land development to enable the completion of the east stand, and that’s all before you get to the questions about the day to day running costs of the football club. And as you all know, I am no expert in football finance, or finance whatsoever, which is pretty bad as a self-employed person, but it’s okay, because I’ve sought the help of someone who is a lot cleverer than I am. He is a senior teacher in accounting and finance at the university of Liverpool Management School, the author of The Price of Football book and co-host of the hugely successful podcast of the same name. I am delighted to welcome Kieran Maguire, to Its all Cobblers to Me.
Thanks very much, Charles, I’m looking forward to this. It’s a busy time in the world of football finance – every club and its arm is publishing accounts this week, so I’m in spreadsheet heaven!
Now the first thing that actually I wanted to go into is the actual statement that was released by the football club when they announced the accounts. The bit that’s really interesting for me, and I know for a lot of other Cobblers fans, and for probably yourself, is the final paragraph of this statement, which says, ‘this year for the first time, and to provide added transparency, the club has filed a more complete set of financial statements over and above legal requirements and also included a financial results and business review section’. So in the past, what we’ve had on the accounts has been a contents page, then an overview that’s about a paragraph or two long, followed by the balance sheet, and in total, the accounts are maybe four or five pages long. The accounts that we’ve had released this year is 15 pages long. First things first – I know that you’ve a big advocate of clubs being more transparent, I’ve heard you talk about how, I think Carlisle, are one of the clubs that have released more detailed accounts and you’ve mentioned before as being a club to sort of look up to in that regard of how much data they release – do the accounts that have been released by the club meet that kind of transparency level that you’re looking for?
First of all, I would say, let’s give some cheers to Northampton Town because have they shown more information in the accounts than they are legally forced to? Yes, they have. So I’m going to give them two cheers because they don’t have to, and they have published them at the right time – I’m still waiting for Derby’s accounts from two years ago, so I’m going to give them two cheers for that. They’ve shown more information – we can now see how much money the club is bringing in, we can see how much money they’ve spent. What they’ve not done is tell us perhaps some of the key things which as fans we’d want to know, in terms of okay, well, where is the money being spent? How much of that is in relation to the way that they deal with the transfer costs? How much is going on wages? How much are the Directors paying themselves because it is our club and remember you, as a Northampton Town fan, and I have to apologise here, Charles, I don’t know what the policy has been at Northampton, but I do know at many clubs, fans have donated season ticket refunds for 2019/2020, the club said, look, legally we are obliged to give you the money back, if you want to donate it to the club’s charitable arm, community arm or even the club itself, we’d be absolutely delighted, but we know that contractually we are obliged to give you your money back. Now if a football club wants to do that, then it surely should give you, as a fan, more information, because you’re doing far more than you’re legally obliged to do as a fan – you’re entitled to money back, you’re being good folks – and that’s why I believe the club should do the same. So I do think that this is a step forward; I certainly welcome it. What’s frustrating for me, and you know, I appreciate that I am obsessed with numbers, is that they’ve increased the detail but it’s not, for me, it’s not quite granular enough. So, it’s good to see that the club’s income has gone up by half a million pounds, fantastic. Is that due to ticket sales? Is that due to increased money coming in? They’ve got a mysterious number which they just describe as ‘other operating income’ – £483,000 – that’s great, but what is it? Is that money from the furlough grants? Is that money from the profit on the sale of players? Because those are two completely different things. So through not having to do very much, perhaps another couple of pages, then they could get a gold star from me, instead of a silver one.
That makes perfect sense. So on the podcast, we’ve had the Chairman on, we’ve had the Chief Executive on, they’re always very open with us. Whenever I’ve asked them, whenever any other fans have asked or any other media outlets have asked them about the accounts and why they aren’t more transparent or there isn’t more information in there, the answer that they always give is that they don’t have to be, i.e. we’ve already said that they have released more information than they legally have to do – I suppose really what you’re getting at is that it’s a moral obligation because, to use the supermarket analogy, if I go and shop at Aldi and tomorrow they’re not there anymore, I’d go and shop at Lidl. Yes, I’d feel sorry for the people that have lost their jobs, but ultimately, I immediately transfer where I buy my shopping from to a different outlet. I’m not going to go and suddenly start supporting another football club if Northampton disappear.
But Peterborough is quite close, there is nothing to stop you, surely!
Oh, there’s a can of worms!
Exactly! You see! Can you see? You’d rather chop off your arm than support Peterborough!
And I understand that, and you understand that. I understand where the Chief Executive and the Chairman are coming from – we don’t need to, but they’re operating as if the club therefore only exists for the shareholders. You, Charles, and all of the other Cobblers fans, you are the biggest investors in Northampton Town Football Club because you will go to Oldham on a Tuesday night, see them lose 5-0, drive all the way home, turn up for work the following morning and anybody in their right mind would say, I’m never going to see that shower of shite again, and on Saturday, you’re there! Now, where do you get that degree of devotion to an individual business in any place other than football? And when the club’s asking you for the season ticket money in March and you’ve finished 16th or 18th in the league and you’ve been pretty poor, what do you do? You do it. Because it’s your club. So, they do have, in my view, a moral and ethical obligation to say, look, we are going to show you the full information, we are not going to put anything out which is competitively sensitive, I understand that, and I don’t want to see individual player wages, or how much they pay the Manager or individual things – that’s private, that’s between the club and the employees – but I think they could show you respect by saying, you are fans, we appreciate everything you do for us, and I know that probably 98% of you at least aren’t interested in this, but for those of you that just want to see, this is where we are generating the money from, this is, in the main, it’s being spent on, this is the amount of cash we’ve put in to the club, this is whom – again, not individuals unless it is people connected to the club – this is who we owe money to, I think that’s just god behaviour. And the thing is, if you do have good behaviour, I’ve mentioned to you a few clubs such as Tranmere, Accrington Stanley are another really good one – if anybody is not following Andy Holt on Twitter, he is absolutely brilliant because he will wake up in the morning and he’s been thinking about something all night and he will send a huge thread, and he is so passionate. So all of these lower league clubs are putting out more information to fans, and in doing so, I think they are treating you with respect and they are acknowledging that you go far beyond what you’d normally expect between a business and customer relationship. We are football fans – I had tickets for the Euro 2020 tournament, I was flying to see [inaudible 00:09:58] in Dublin, so you know, I’ve got tickets from Gatwick to Dublin and back again. When it came to my football club last season, I’m a Brighton fan and I talk about … I support a Premier League football club that’s gets all this money from the Premier League, we are owned by a very successful, rich businessman, and I’m on a teacher’s salary. They wrote back and they said, right, you can have your refund, or you can keep the money in the club, or you can give your money to the club’s charitable arm. So I said, myself and my missus, we had a chat and we said, right, we’ll give half to the charity and we’ll give half back to the… I’m giving money to millionaires! Now, I didn’t do that with my flight with Ryanair. As soon as COVID-19 meant that the flights weren’t going to take place, I’m straight on to the refund part of the Ryanair website which you have to go through 17 pages to get to and be able to speak Polish to fill in the form, but you know, when they didn’t pay me after four weeks, I’m emailing them, I’m straight onto them. We treat our football clubs in a completely different way to how we treat any other relationship, which is business to customer. I don’t see myself as a customer – you don’t see yourself as a customer of Northampton Town football club, Charles, and all of the other Cobblers fans are the same – because the fact that you refer to them as ‘our club’, but because you go beyond what you’d expect from any other relationship in terms of business to customer, then they should go beyond the bare minimum which is their legal obligation. That’s where I’m coming from.
The one thing actually that I pick up on here, so with Brighton’s owners, multi-millionaire as you say, one of the things that we actually talked about a couple of weeks ago on our podcast, we’d lost – I can’t remember which team it was against because we’ve lost that many times this year – but one of the things that we got talking about, and one of my co-hosts, Neil, just instantly turned around and said, that’s it, I’m done with this, until we’ve got a billionaire in charge, that’s it, nothing’s probably going to happen, I don’t care, so let’s just concentrate all our efforts on finding a billionaire. The thing that makes me laugh, and I mean, we were laughing about that, of course, because it’s not like there is a magic billionaire tree, but it’s probably the only way really that a football club will be able to go from League 2 and go all the way up to the Premier League and then stay there for a considerable amount of time. You mentioned the fact that essentially, you’ve given half of your season ticket money to the club, but essentially that’s owned by a multi-millionaire. When you put it in those terms, you suddenly go, yeah, hang on a minute, what am I doing? And one of the things that I know our club, we have a segment of supporters who are very vocal about how much they don’t think that the owners of the club are doing good things, now I’ve got my own opinion on that, but there are always going to be polarising opinions on certain things, and one of the things there that you do think about is well, by giving money back for a season ticket, you’re, yes putting it into the football club, but the football club is owned by people who have got much more money than probably any other fan of Northampton Town, because let’s face it, if somebody was a fan of Northampton Town and they were a multi-millionaire and maybe a little bit silly, they’d already own the football club. I mean, I get it because football clubs mean different things to us. But actually when you put it in those terms, do you not go and say, hang on a minute, what am I doing?
Yeah, I do, and I went through that process, and I wrote it down! Because I thought this is an opportunity for a gag on the podcast, and I think what football fans have done in general, especially in Leagues 1 and 2, the generosity of supporters – because this money ultimately is going to pay the wages of people that are earning far more money than them – it is an irrational thing, but that is football. If I’d lived most of my life in Manchester, why am I getting up at six o’clock on a Saturday when Brighton are playing at home, catching the train to Brighton, when there’s probably three or four football clubs in the north west at least, that are okay. I used to have membership at the Etihad, purely because I go and watch the Champions League matches on a Tuesday. If Brighton weren’t playing, I’d go and watch City. I’d loads of mates, I used to play for a Sunday morning team and most of my mates supported City and the team, so you go along when you have a spare point in time. But this is why football is the greatest sport in the world. This is why – I can’t remember, it’s one of the … it could have been Carlo Ancelotti, football is the most important of the unimportant things in life, but boy, is it important, because it will shape the next 48 hours after a match. And you say, hold on – and I’m sure you ask yourself, I ask myself – I’m a grown man, why am I upset about the result of a sporting competition, because somebody has got to lose and normally the person that loses is the person with the least resources, i.e. the club which is least wealthy and you know supporting Brighton in the Premier League, that means we are going to lose more than we are going to win. But it makes the victories all that more enjoyable and it makes the memories, and I’ve always advocated that if you think about your life and you list the top 10 moments of your life, and yes, the moment you met the woman that you fell in love with and yes, the birth of your kids is up there, but probably half of them are going to involve your football team. And that’s not a bad thing, because those memories keep being reinforced, because every time I go down the pub with my mates before a match, we’re saying who are we playing today, well, it’s Southampton – do you remember 1987/88 when we won 2-1 and Gary Nelson scored both goals and do you remember the carnage afterwards?! And we’ll have a 15/20-minute conversation just of these memories, and that’s the greatest thing about football – it gives you this amazing sense of togetherness and memories which nothing else can really replicate in my view.
Absolutely. And by the way, number 1 – beating Liverpool at Anfield in 2011 – there you go! [Laughter] One of those things then. So let’s go to the actual accounts, Kieran, if we can. Can you give us just a brief overview of what they’re telling us, as a Cobblers fan, please?
Northampton Town are spending more money than they are generating so therefore they are losing money. Now I’ve got a spreadsheet in front of me, and I’ve got every set of Northampton Town Football Club’s accounts going back to 2008, which you know, I bet that impresses the ladies! During that period, they have made a profit twice, so it has been a challenging period of time, and in 2020, it was actually they’re second-best year out of the last seven, so the results weren’t great. In terms of the day to day running of the club, it lost just over a million pounds. Now, they managed to halve those losses, and I’m not quite sure how they’ve halved those losses; I don’t know whether that was due to money coming in from the furlough scheme – you’ll be able to tell me this – did you sell a player during the season, 2019/2020, or did you have a knock-on fee from a previous selling that came through…
We had a Cup Run, so we got to the fourth round of the FA Cup last year, that’s probably where that came from. I think we worked it out on the podcast as being close to about half a million quid.
Yeah, right okay. I think actually there’s another half a million pounds, because if I compare the money that Northampton Town generated in 2020 – £5.4 million, in 2019 – £4.9 million – I think that’s your extra half million pounds from the Cup Run. There’s another half a million pounds further down the accounts and I think this is where the club has made a step forward, applaud it for that. If only they could say okay, we’ve stuck this mysterious number in, this is what it means, it will take one line and it will stop me sounding like a grumpy old man!
[Laughter] I’m wondering whether this is it, so there is a … on page 2 of the accounts, under the title ‘Loss’, there is a sentence that says, ‘the owners continue to support the club financially and funds were introduced of £532,000 during the year to fund this loss and maintain a competitive playing budget while also continuing to invest in other aspects of the club’. I don’t know whether that gives you the half a million that you’re wondering about or whether that might be somewhere else…
Yeah, that’s going to increase the debts – that increases what Northampton Town football club owe to this mysteriously named ‘Belle De Jour Limited’, based somewhere overseas, as we both know.
Yeah, it’s definitely a contention that we’ll probably come on to, if you don’t mind, in a little bit. Is there any more information regarding the accounts that we maybe need to know or is that essentially the crooks of it? That we are making a loss and…
Well, it’s making a loss and those losses are going to be incurred every year. Realistically, if you’ve got any ambition, if you want to be competitive, it’s a really tough business. There are some good bits. Clearly we went into COVID-19 last March with a genuine fear that clubs would go to the wall but Northampton Town, they had £136,000 stuck in the bank account at the end of June, and since then, of course, whilst they’ve been playing matches behind closed doors, they have received some money from the Premier League in terms of the grant, and they’ve had their broadcast money and they’ve had money from [inaudible 00:20:46], so that appears, I would say, as a positive. You signed players for £114,000 in 2019/20. Half the clubs in the bottom two divisions spent nothing in terms of a player transfer fee, so that might surprise fans, or it might now, again, you’ll know that. You sold some players, by the looks of it, that were at the end of their contract, I don’t know whether you… The club spent nothing on the ground itself, again, I suspect that is a bone of contention, but I know that your circumstances are unusual, to put it mildly. And then the final thing to note is that you do owe quite a bit of money to the Government. Now I’m not party political by the way, but Rishi Sunaq did two things that benefitted the club – first of all was the introduction of the furlough scheme, and secondly, was the introduction of what’s called the ‘pay delay’ scheme when it comes to paying your employment taxes. So therefore, Northampton, at the end of 2019, they owed just over 200,000 in outstanding tax, because the Government said you don’t have to pay us our PAYE, because that’s going to help you in terms of your cashflow, by the end of 2020 that had gone up to over half a million quid. Now, the Government is not going to say you don’t have to pay us the taxes, it’s you don’t have to pay us the taxes now. That scheme is coming to an end, so at some point, the money is going to have to be generated, or that money that we did see in the bank, some of that’s going to have to go to paying what’s owed in terms of employment taxes. Now, I have been asked by a few people, does this mean that HMRC are going to put clubs out of business when they start making these tax demands. From a legal point of view, that is feasible. I think from a practical point of view, the Government and individual MP’s, do not want to be seen to be destroying a football club, so, I think HMRC will be saying you need to pay us sometime, and they’ll probably come to some form of arrangement with clubs, because they don’t want to be seen as being the big bad wolf here.
Is that what we’ve seen in the past when it comes to, Southend comes to mind, HMRC, they’ve had a tax bill that whether it was a Court case or something that was adjourned consistently for months or a month at a time, that’s essentially HMRC saying, yes, you owe us, yes, you need to pay it, but at the same time, we are not going to be the evil guys that completely bankrupt you.
Yeah, I mean, Southend were quite fortunate because it does come down to individual decisions made by individual tax inspectors. Southend did not pay a lot of tax for a long period of time and I would have said, in the second half of 2020, apart from Macclesfield Town, who were owned by somebody best described as a ‘wrong-un’, who was not really interested in the club, and whilst people say, okay, the club is still there, people have lost jobs and Macclesfield Town doesn’t exist, we’ve not got Macclesfield Football Club and good luck to Robbie Savage, I used to do my marathon training around Macclesfield because it’s really steep there, and Robbie Savage is actually a really good guy, and I know this is probably – I’ve got people throwing tomatoes at the screen or whatever listening to – Robbie Savage is a good guy. So Southend were very fortunate because HMRC ran out of patience in the end and they were the club, in my book, who were most likely to go bust, somehow, they managed to put the money together. It could be that the owner had been sitting on the money all the time and sometimes the club owners, they get some sort of Machiavellian pleasure out of putting the fans through, is this the last day. And there has been so many clubs over the years who have almost gone bust. So, those are the main points. The very final point in the accounts is something called ‘Related Party Disclosures’, and this is the relationship between the football club as a company and other companies owned by the club owners. Now, I think fans will know that there is this Northampton Town Ventures, well the football club, in theory, owes £1.3 million to them and then there is this company called Belle De Jour, and you will see, if anybody is interested, that the amount of money that the football club owes to Belle De Jour has increased by around about £530,000 which was the figure you brought to my attention a little while ago.
Yeah. For anybody that doesn’t know, and therefore is sort of going, okay, who are these companies; so first of all, Northampton Town Ventures Limited is the company that was set up by David Bower, Kelvin Thomas and Mike Wayling, the Directors of the football club, when they took over the football club, so that’s essentially the company that bought the football club from David Cardoza and that lot – last time I mention them, I promise. And then Belle De Jour is a company that I believe is registered in the British Virgin Islands, and was created, or at least the first time we knew about them would have been the last time that we were in League 1, so the start of 2016/17 season. There was investment supposedly made by a Chinese company called 5U Sport and essentially that money, according to the club – and this is what the Chairman and anybody else in relation to the football club will say – is that the money never actually came to the football club and never left China and there were apparently political reasons that that might have happened, where China said no more investment in overseas companies or, anything like that. But what had already happened is that the football club had already gone out and spent an awful lot of money on the basis that they believed it was coming in. Therefore that left a shortfall and although it was called an investment rather than a takeover, my understanding – and I’m sure that Kelvin Thomas or anybody else from the club that’s listening will be the first people to tell me that I’m wrong with this and I’ll happily hold my hands up and say I am, if I am – but my understanding is that, actually, Kelvin Thomas, David Bower had to buy their way back into the football club, and that is how they did it, using Belle De Jour, and I know we’ve just said that there’s an extra half a million pounds on it now, but let’s just say at the end of 2019 it was 4.4 million by the looks of that, roughly, that is basically the money that didn’t materialise from China – well somebody had to pay the money that we paid out on wages and transfer fees etc, etc, because there was a heavy investment made into the playing squad under Justin Edinburgh in the second half of that summer transfer window. So that’s what I believe is those two companies and what that money is. Obviously, the big question that is always asked by, I suppose anyone, including yourself, Kieran, is well, why is it an overseas company, we can’t see those accounts, there isn’t a Companies House access to that, is essentially in a tax haven. So I suppose the obvious answer as to why that company is set up there, is basically for tax – not avoidance, that would be bad – but…
I wouldn’t, Charles, even say that it is for tax avoidance reasons because Northampton Town have lost so much money over the years that they ain’t gonna pay tax for a long, long time. There is an unusual relationship between Hong Kong Chinese investors and BVI – British Virgin Islands. So yesterday, Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s football ground was 75% sold to a company or person who has mysteriously just appeared on British Virgin Islands and Bournemouth’s accounts came out two days ago and they owe £129 million to a company called AFCB Enterprises based in the British Virgin Islands. British Virgin Islands is a place you go when you don’t want anybody to know what you’re up to. Now, could that be legitimate? Absolutely. Could it be that the person involved has got money from sources which are unusual? It could be. We don’t know and you’re never going to find out. You go to BVI for secrecy – that’s why places such as these exist. So it’s not even necessarily for tax issues, it’s just that if you are very … we are talking about numbers that have got so many zeros after these names, these people, is that 100 million, is it a billion? You lose all sense of empathy for the numbers because you know, if I look at my bank account and I’ve got £20 in it, and its two days before payday, I’m going woohoo! It’s happy days for me. But it’s concerning because it’s your club and your club now owes £5 million to a company of which we have no knowledge, and we have no knowledge of its intentions. If it calls in the loan, what happens next? You know, that will be my concern and you’re never going to find out. Now there’s no point calling in the loan because Northampton Town Football Club aren’t going to have the money to repay it but it’s just something that makes you feel slightly uneasy. And I can’t give you a definitive answer as to why the British Virgin Islands as opposed to the Isle of Man or Guernsey or whatever, except that it is very popular with Chinese investors who want to have some of their resources not either on the island of Hong Kong or mainland China, where the Chinese authorities can make it very difficult for you to get the money out.
Okay. just to go back and, obviously it falls under Related Party Disclosures, which is section 11, and the reason why they’re related is because it’s, both companies, so Belle De Jour and Northampton Town Football Club, Northampton Town Ventures Limited as well, are all owned or controlled by the same people. So in essence, and you’ve just said this anyway, Kieran, but I will repeat it, is that if Belle De Jour Limited wanted to get their £4.9 million back and claim it back from the football club, then that is akin to the people that run the football club – Kelvin Thomas, David Bower – basically saying I want my £4.8 million back please, and they’re basically wanting it to come from the same place.
And if you owe money to someone, how do you get it back? Then you have to think about selling assets and things of that nature, and there’s no evidence that they do want the money back. And I’m going to say something here that might sound scary, but it is a technicality – technically Northampton Town Football Club are insolvent because the liabilities which is what they owe to other people, is much, much bigger than the assets, which is the things that they own. Now there’s lots of reasons why, in the real world, that might not be the case, but if they were to call in the loan, I can see no benefit in them doing so – that’s the good news. What they would be better off doing is trying to sell the football club to somebody else who is prepared to pay more money than the assets… The asset values in the accounts by the way are nonsense; accountants don’t know the value of anything. If I’d been living in a house for 50 years and it cost me 20 grand 50 years ago, the accountant will say, well, your house is worth 20 grand. So don’t worry too much that the liabilities are so much more than the value of the assets – there are ways that we can deal with that. I think looking at the level of debts that the club has, if the owners want to get their investment back out, it’s not going to be getting out from the football club itself, unless you sell a player for £10 million and with due respect, possibly not this summer window, from what I’ve seen!
[Laughter] Well, considering last summer we sold Charlie Good to Brentford for £1.5 million or money rising to that, and that was our record, so yeah, 10 million, probably out of reach for many years to come for us, unfortunately. Brilliant, thank you very much, Kieran, for that because I think that has explained the accounts pretty … even I understood what you were saying, so that’s how good it was. Thank you for that. If we can, very quickly, talk about what happened before. So with the money that was loaned to the football club by Northampton Borough Council, I think in the end it totalled 10.25 million that was received by the football club and then obviously not all of that made it into the places that it should have been going to. This kind of goes back to the whole transparency thing and how we can, as fans, hold owners to account. If there was more transparency with the accounts for example, and also then with any subsequent loan deal, could we as fans have been able to be in a position to actually maybe stop that from happening, or is it just a case, Kieran, of well, these people own football clubs, like me or you could own a business, and therefore we can do what we want with it, because we own it?
I don’t think you would have been able to do anything with respect to what happened to that £10.25 million. We are looking at the accounts for the year ended 30th June 2020, and we are talking on the 1st April 2021 so it’s been and gone, so all that the accounts do is give you a crumb trail, okay, this is what we did last year. What I want or what I think is appropriate is that there should be more crumbs, just so that we can see in a bit more detail, otherwise you can go off… In respect of the issues to do with the money from the local authorities, there was a failure at the local authority level in my opinion. They are responsible towards the council taxpayers, the people of Northampton, and I think they failed in that duty, because if somebody comes in for a large amount of money, you do your background checks, you do your checks and balances. If the council had said, we will give you the money, but at the same time, we want to appoint a non-executive Director onto the board, or perhaps alternatively, we want to be a co-signatory effectively on the bank account for all amounts of money over £100,000. Then they could have stopped this. Or even that they would have been given access to the club’s … they could get a warning flag from the bank for any monies that went out above a certain level. There were lots of things that could have been done, which are just good business practice. So I don’t think here, the fans, would know anything and would be expected to be in a position to do anything, because this is… I don’t know what Brighton Hove Albion do on a day-to-day basis, and I know a few things about numbers and finance, but also, I don’t expect to know – it is a private business, but if it is in receipt of public money, then there should be more scrutiny from the public sector authorities.
Finally, and whether or not you’ll be able to answer this or give any sort of answer for this, I’m not 100% certain, but we go back to the fact that we are, as a football club, losing money every single year; you said before that actually this set of accounts showed the second best year out of the last seven, and we still lost half a million quid, so things aren’t brilliant by any stretch of the imagination there, and yet we know that there are football clubs – and okay, granted, coronavirus and all of that is going to have a huge effect that we will probably see most of it in next year’s accounts for everybody’s football clubs. Is there anything that you’re seeing that football clubs like, say, Accrington that you’ve mentioned, I’ve mentioned before we started recording, Shrewsbury, is there anything that those clubs are doing which is enabling them to, well, not make a loss, basically, that you could actually turn around and say, well, do you know what, if you just did this, these are simple wins or simple gains – and I’m not talking about things like find a gem of a player and sell them for, you know, x amount, because obviously that’s…
That ain’t never gonna happen.
Yeah, I think there’s a couple of things. First of all, engage with the fans; people will attack you on social media and people will attack you on phone ins and so on, go out to the fans, call a meeting and say right, this is where we are, and get them on board. So Lincoln City have, I think they have two or three board meetings a year at which fans can attend, and that will often go out, or sections of that will go out on Facebook live and things of this nature. I attended one of those meetings following Project Big Picture, to give an assessment for the club. So, you’ve bought in the fans in terms of their interest, and you say, right, we’ve got nothing to hide and if fans start to understand that just spending money isn’t a solution – it’s not a solution at home, is it? If you’ve been through a bit of an unhappy period in life, spending money on your credit card, which this is the equivalent – spending money you’ve not got… If you or I, if we go and spend money on our credit card, we know deep down that that is not a solution. You know, if I say, I’m going to buy myself a holiday which I can’t afford and worry about it. What happens is I get there and start worrying about it whilst I’m on the holiday? So if you get fans to realise that a football club is just like our own personal finances, so therefore, spending money that we haven’t got isn’t a solution. I’ve seen the relationship that Andy Holt has with the Accrington fans – they are 100% on board. It’s the same with Lincoln City. If you look at the satisfaction scores that Lincoln City generate, off the scale. Why? It’s because they engage. So that’s the first thing – engage and communicate. And that will mean that the fans will turn up at other events. So football is a really dumb sport – Northampton Town is going to be open for business in a normal year, 25 or 30 times a year, so it’s sitting there, Sixfields is there 300 days a year when it’s not really being occupied, so the next thing to do is let’s see if we can sweat those assets. So can we get a 3G of 4G, some training facilities which the players can use, and we can start renting those out in the evenings. I do a lot of … I talk to a lot of people who are involved in the community schemes that football clubs run because Merseyside and Manchester have both got huge areas of social deprivation and what we find is that if you’ve got a young man or a young woman who is in danger of being excluded from school, is in danger of moving into, you know, they’re being offered stuff by the local drug gangs, the proceeds of crime seem enticing, things of that nature, a teacher saying don’t do that, don’t waste your life, they’re not going to listen. A social worker – they’re not going to listen. If you can get those people involved in a scheme organised by the local football club, the first thing that happens – and I’ve seen this, I’ve seen the transformation – is the person, the officer from the football club says, you a red or a blue, and conversations have started, and then it starts to turn around. Now what we are seeing, the Home Office and local authorities are willing to give football clubs money to run those schemes because they are successful. Well, why can’t that be done at your club? And I don’t know enough about Northampton, but I suspect that there are areas of social deprivation, I expect that there are issues to do with petty crime which can lead to more significant crime. There are kids who will end up being excluded from school and they will be disadvantaging themselves for the rest of their lives if they take that approach. Football clubs have the ability to step in, so you get involved, and therefore the local authority – this is where the local authority gives you money and you spend it for good things rather than – houses!
So you know, those are the type of things that I would encourage a club to do. Make it more of a 365 day club, get the fans to buy in and to take advantage of this unique place that football holds in our hearts, that it can reach out to people who would say no to other parts of local and central Government offices.
When you talk about getting the fans on side, so you said about how, with Accrington, everybody fan-wise buys into what Andy Holt is trying to achieve and the way that they do it and you know, I am impressed by how such a small club can be so successful, it is brilliant. I mean, are you talking about basically turning around and saying – because one of the things that I always … almost always when I get into a discussion about it, I turn around and say, okay, it’s fine, but you want to have a football club that is financially secure, or even better than secure, but you also want us to be competitive, and you want us to be operating, I don’t know, at the top of League 1, whereas it almost feels that it’s two things that operate completely against each other. So is it a case of actually, or are you maybe suggesting that the buy-in comes from turning around and saying, well look, this is what we are currently making – so they’ve done that with the accounts, this is what we lose on a yearly basis – and turning around to the fans and saying, look, if you want us to be making money rather than losing it like this, that’s going to mean a reduced playing budget, that’s going to mean that we are not going to be able to compete – I mean, at this moment in time it’s looking like League 2 next season – we are not going to be looking at competing to get promoted again, and you’re going to have to either be happy with that, or, the alternative is to be happy with the fact that we are funding the club at this level to be competitive to give you ‘on the field’ success?
Yes. And I think fans will listen and the way that Andy Holt has done it, he says, look, I’ve got a limited amount of money that I can afford – he’s got his … Andy Holt’s Wham plastic boxes – really good plastic boxes, by the way, I recommend them to anybody; I love Andy Holt, he is a fantastically passionate guy who really cares about his local community. And the fans have said, if we got into League 1, that’s fantastic, and if we get relegated from League 1, we are still in league 2, and we’ve been in League 1, and that’s fantastic. We support Accrington Town, we can go and watch Blackburn or Bolton or anybody else, we know we can watch more successful clubs, but we feel part of something, and if you feel part of something, then I think the desire to be successful on the pitch diminishes. I would much rather have an owner who has less money but is more in touch with the club, i.e. the club’s fans, than somebody who just sees it as a vanity project and yeah, we’ve see owners come into clubs, because what happens is if they don’t love that club, they will move on, and you will end up in a similar position to Portsmouth or Leeds or Bury or things of that nature. So it is tough because you’re right, Charles, there are two issues – there is sporting success and there is financial common sense and I’ve got a chart which shows the five clubs which have been most profitable in the history of the Premier League and the two ones which are most profitable are Spurs and Arsenal. Are Spurs and Arsenal fans happy at present that they’ve got profitable football clubs? No, they’re miserable. The clubs which have lost the most, Manchester City and Chelsea, financially, basket cases, trophy cabinet, bulging. So you’re absolutely right to highlight this, and unless you’ve got a Mansour or an Abramovich – and most clubs haven’t – you need to be somewhere in between. And I think communicating that to fans and engaging with them and explaining, look, I’m a local businessman, this is what I can do, and this is how far I can get you, and if it’s not good enough for you, I’m sorry, I can’t… and fans will turn around and say, no actually, we appreciate that you put in half a million pounds every year, we didn’t realise that, yes, we get hacked off if we lose on a Saturday but actually, it’s still a good day out with our mates.
Kieran, I could probably talk to you for the rest of the day, if not even the rest of the month! So thank you very much, it’s been absolutely brilliant talking to you. One thing I will just say, very, very quickly, for anybody that’s listening and wondering, there’s so much more I could have asked and talked about; a lot of the questions I had follow up wise are definitely things that you have covered or I’m sure you will be covering on the Price of Football podcast in weeks/months/years, potentially, to come. It’s a fantastic podcast so do go and follow, subscribe, and while you’re doing that, make sure you’ve done that with ours as well. Kieran, thank you very much and for talking absolute Cobblers with me, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Thank you very much for coming.
Thanks very much for the invite, Charles, and best wishes to all Cobblers fans for not this season, but for every season, it’s going to be with you, god-willing, for the rest of our lives.
Thank you, Kieran, and thank you guys for listening as well, it’s been a pleasure. We’ll be back, hope you’ve enjoyed it, see you soon. Goodbye.
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Charles is the founder and main presenter of the award-winning It’s All Cobblers To Me podcast.
He began the podcast after going self-employed in 2018 as a podcast producer and voiceover artist. The original thought being that It’s All Cobblers To Me would be a place to try out new things – like a test podcast of sorts.
As well as being Cobblers mad, Charles is also a ultramarathon runner and has a blog about that that he tries to keep up to date as often as he can.