No, they are not the biggest players in the market. But when a small businessman can’t get a loan for a transit van while a loss-making football club can access finance to spend on the Premier League’s wage excess, something is seriously wrong.
The state has spent billions rescuing Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland and yet when I spoke to representatives from both institutions they appeared not to recognise that there was any issue with this.
They came up with a variety of evasions: we don’t do that much (but they do still lend to the League); the figures are old (but they are the most up to date available and I’d be willing to bet the next lot will show similar levels of loss-making); and they couldn’t give further details because of the “commercial confidentiality”.
Which is a little bit cheap. With the state a 40 per cent shareholder in Lloyds and 81 per cent in RBS and a lack of credit hampering Britain’s recovery, it is a legitimate question to ask.
Perhaps there is a good reason for being in the football financing business, however. You see, banks are very much like Premiership football clubs. Both seem to be run not in the interests of their owners but in the interests of their star employees. In the clubs’ case, this means players and managers. In the banks’ case, it means executives and investment bankers.
Both of these groups have remarkably similar salary expectations. They ask for, and get, multimillion pound packages containing generous bonuses. Both, as businesses, lose lots of money – although football club losses pale in comparison to the deficits reported by Lloyds and RBS for last year.
The only difference is that football clubs can’t expect to get bailed out by the state if it all goes horribly wrong.
But if you wondered why Lloyds and RBS are so keen to lend to football clubs, perhaps this explains it. When they look at them they see the same sort of things that they see when they look in the mirror.