Clubs in the poverty trap

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Football may be coming home, but is it going bust en route? Down at Dean Court, home of second division AFC Bournemouth, they know all about financial crises.

In January the Dorset club, founded in 1899, was put into receivership, owing pounds 4.8m, with little chance of ever paying the money back.

Since then, however, a mini-revolution has taken place which may have implications for those Football League clubs which suffer from the "wealth gap" with the big boys in the Premier fast lane.

Bournemouth has re-scheduled its debts, sold a player for pounds 800,000 and worked out a viable plan for the future; it has even had enough to buy a player from Inter Milan this week.

Its new chairman, Trevor Watkins, a local solicitor and fan, believes his club has seen the future. "The way ahead is to diversify into other areas, so that financially you do not just rely on football. Conference facilities, cinemas, you name it. This is a mini-revolution," he said.

However, despite rising gates and more money from television deals, the soaring costs of wage bills is threatening to cripple many clubs. In the last five years the salaries of players in the three lower divisions have risen by 63 per cent.

Mr Watkins said Bournemouth had been considering signing a centre forward who ended up moving to a lower division side because he could earn more money. "Some of these teams are paying players pounds 90,000 a year. Players have the whip hand."

He recommends a solution which exists with American football sides in the United States, where teams are capped on the total bill for their salaries. "If you had a cap say of pounds 750,000 a year you would soon see who the best managers were," he said.

The idea seems unlikely to catch on where players and agents are constantly trying to make a fast buck.

Chris Hull, spokesman for the Football League, which represents the lower divisions, says that if the issue of players' salaries is not addressed, "there will be serious problems. There are many very generous benefactors who help out football clubs but not even they can compete with the escalating costs."

Clubs where wages exceed turnover

Division One

Norwich City 108%

Portsmouth 108%

Reading 108%

Ipswich Town 104%

Millwall 102%

Division Two

Notts County 121%

Hull City 110%

Oxford Utd 109%

Brighton 101%

Division Three

Wigan Athletic 223%

Lincoln City 147%

Cambridge Utd 137%

Colchester Utd 131%

Scarborough 103%