Football: Football's big question: how to spend the lolly

In 1988 football made pounds 5m from television. Next season it will receive pounds 243m from the same source. As the Premiership chairmen ponder the division of the spoils, Glenn Moore fears it will just be a case of the rich getting richer
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They came in their hundreds, some wearing this season's shirt, some linked to the club by memories alone, all stirred into action by Bournemouth's plight. With debts of pounds 4.4m the club was teetering on the edge of extinction.

So they gave, 50ps and fivers were stuffed into collecting jars, bigger sums pledged on credit cards. By the end of an emotional night the receiver announced that the club was pounds 50,000 richer. The interest could be paid for another week.

While that meeting was taking place at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens a very different assembly was gathered at the Houses of Parliament. This time the crowd had come to hear one of the chairmen who are the game's modern-day barons pass judgement on football's new wealth.

"It's prune juice," he thundered. "Give it to the clubs and it passes straight through them in higher wages, higher transfers, agents' fees and so on. There is no real benefit in giving it to them. It should be used for the good of game."

Bournemouth in receivership, Millwall in administration, Brighton heading for oblivion. Meanwhile, at the other end of the game's financial league table, the chairmen appear to be queueing up to cash in on the City's current love of Premiership football.

Sir John Hall, Peter Johnson, Martin Edwards and Alan Sugar are just a few of the chairmen who have seen their wealth (paper or actual) rise exponentially through their investment in football. Some will argue that they have rescued their clubs from financial crisis and their personal rewards are merely a reflection of the club's new wealth. This, in some cases, is true. But the new relationship between a club's economic fortunes, and that of the man who determines its course, is a dangerous liaison.

The threat is twofold. The obvious one is that perceived at Tottenham where football glory is alleged to have been sacrificed for the benefit of the balance sheet. Less overt, but more damaging to the game as a whole, is the effect this link may have on the current division of television's spoils.

Thanks to television the game is enjoying the most bounteous period of its history. The escalation of television income is truly staggering. In the last decade it has risen from pounds 5m to pounds 243m a season, 48-fold. And that does not include European football.

The vast bulk of that goes to the Premiership. Leaving aside earnings from FA Cup and European games the Premiership clubs will get pounds 185,750,000 between them next season. Some of this (about pounds 10m) will go to the Professional Footballers' Association to be used for various schemes which provide for the welfare of players young and old and the excellent Football in the Community programme.

This will leave about pounds 175m to be divided by the clubs, or rather, by their chairmen for they will make the decision. This unelected body of men is currently deciding what to do with the money. It is a heady responsibility.

The 20 could simply divide it up, bringing them nearly pounds 9m each club, or they could decide to skim off a percentage to be used for the greater good of the game. For those chairman whose clubs are floated on the stock market, and those who are thinking of following them, the choice is inevitably clouded by the knowledge that every penny that goes into the club means an increase in their personal fortune.

Rick Parry, the retiring chief executive of the Premiership, has often said that the chairmen are more altruistic than popular legend would have it. So far there has been little evidence to support that view. Not that it is just a question of greed. One chairman, whose motives are not in question, declined to be quoted but said his team needed as much as possible to make up for a relatively small income from commercial activities, sponsors, and gate money.

Few others of the 20 chairmen replied to the Independent's enquiry on this subject last week. One who spoke elsewhere was Sugar. He was the "baron" addressing a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Football. He also said: "I am very keen for some of this money, 20 to 25 per cent, to be given to another body, such as the Football Trust, to be used for the good of the game such as a youth programme."

It seems the chairmen, who are meeting later this month, are likely to give some money to a youth system. Those clubs which did reply, such as West Ham, indicated as much. It may take the form advocated by George Graham who said: "I want to see a central fund which would reward clubs investing in the future." Graham believes that could include special payments being made to clubs when young players complete 20 first-team games.

That, however, may be where the largess ends. Which would be unfortunate as there are many other ways the money could be put to good use. The most urgent and appropriate is funding the Football Trust. The recent history of the Trust has a cruel irony for smaller clubs. Ever since the Taylor Report it has been primarily working to lift ground standards. Largely funded by a reduction in the betting tax on football pools and spot-the- ball (initially from 42.5 per cent to 40 per cent, now 39.5 per cent) its priority was to improve grounds in the first two divisions as Taylor had ordered them to be all-seat by 1995. This has largely been achieved so, last year, the Trust turned its full attention to the smaller clubs whose Taylor deadline is 2000.

Last year the lottery changed everything. The Trust, dependent on the football pools, has seen its income collapse from pounds 36.5m pa to pounds 16.8m. A further decline of up to 60 per cent is forecast when the midweek lottery starts. The consequence is that the Trust cannot provide for new projects until 2000 when both the Taylor deadline, and the reduction in pools betting tax, are due to expire.

But what happens when the Trust goes to Government and asks for a further reduction in the tax? "There is a perception that football is awash with money," reports Peter Lee, the Trust's chief executive. "It is at the top of the game but it is very different at the lower reaches. It is a problem getting that message through."

So the smaller clubs, especially the 17 yet to be allocated Trust funds - including Bournemouth and Brighton - suffer because of the Premiership boom, a boom that is partly due to the atmosphere created by stadiums which have been expensively refurbished with the Trust's help. Most Premiership clubs received about pounds 2m.

At present the Premiership does give pounds 2m each year to the Trust, but it can only be spent on Premiership clubs. The Premiership attitude to the Football League has not been helped by the latter's separate TV deal. The Premiership insists the League would have been better off combining forces for a TV deal and, among some chairmen, there is a lack of sympathy for their lesser brethren. Thus the recent blackmail of financial help at the cost of a promotion place. These chairmen are more inclined to invest in the national stadium than prop up ailing lower division clubs.

Scary enough so far? It could get worse. The TV deal is being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading which disputes the Premiership's right to negotiate en bloc. If the OFT win, clubs like Manchester United could do their own deals, as has happened in some European countries, leaving the likes of Coventry and Wimbledon to fend for scraps and the lower division sides even more marginalised.

The Premiership hope to keep the bigger clubs within ranks with the lure of pay-per-view which could garner huge profits for the likes of Manchester United while keeping them in the common framework. This is not that far away. Meanwhile the gap gets ever bigger.

It would be tragic if the English game's diversity and mobility was extinguished by impoverishment just as the game was enjoying a goldrush. As Arsene Wenger recently noted "the passion fans have for all clubs, not just the big ones, is one of the English game's great strengths".

It is time for the barons to do the decent thing. As their medieval equivalents knew, such status brings responsibility as well as privilege.


How football's income from television has exploded in the last 10 years

Pre-1988 pounds 3.6m pa for Football League (BBC/ITV); pounds 1.4m pa for Football Association (BBC/ITV)

1988-92 pounds 44m over 4 yrs for FL (ITV); pounds 30m over 5 yrs for FA (BBC/BSkyB)

1992-7 pounds 304m over 5 yrs for Premiership (BSkyB/BBC); pounds 72m over 5 yrs for FA (deal superceded the final year of previous deal, BSkyB/ BBC); pounds 24m over 4 yrs for FL (ITV, ended 1996)

1997-2001 pounds 743m over 4 yrs for Premiership (BSkyB/BBC); pounds 130m over 4 yrs for FA (BSkyB/ITV); pounds 125m over 5 yrs for FL (BSkyB/ ITV, this deal started in 1996)

FA includes FA Cup and England's home internationals; FL includes Football League and League (Coca-Cola) Cup

Does not include figures for away England matches (Channel Five paying pounds 1m for Poland v England), European domestic games or Champions' League (ITV paying pounds 75m for 3 yr deal starting next season).

Welsh League have pounds 1m deal with BBC Wales; Scottish League have pounds 2.5m deal with BSkyB.