Football: High fees put smaller clubs under threat

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As Everton and Manchester United prepare to push the fortune spent on players since May over pounds 70m, warnings came that escalating transfer fees and wages could force smaller clubs into extinction.

John King, the manager of Tranmere Rovers, who have got within play- off distance of the Premiership for the last three years, and Gordon Taylor, chairman of the Professional ers Association, fear financial ruin for members of the Endsleigh League who cannot afford players and who have seen little of the huge sums that have been circulating in the close season.

Taylor said: "The danger is if the market collapses then some clubs will face financial insolvency, as happened to Wolves, Charlton and Middlesbrough in the Eighties. Those clubs had to restructure.

"Endsleigh League clubs cannot afford to compete with the Premiership and are being left behind. But the worrying thing is that top clubs are not buying down the League. Only a few years ago, about 65 per cent of players coming into the Premiership were from the lower divisions. That figure is falling rapidly."

Relegated Leicester and Crystal Palace have been the only Endsleigh League clubs to be paid substantial fees by Premiership clubs this summer, while David Platt's transfer from Sampdoria to Arsenal sent Premiership spending to nearly pounds 60m.

"Perhaps there is a shortage of quality," King said, "but the worrying aspect is that there have been no major buys from the lower divisions. That means there is no transfer revenue coming into those clubs and some of them need the money to survive.

"Not only that, you now have a situation when a player knows his days in the top flight are numbered, but he wants similar wages from a First Division club. Some of them will pay it because he may be a big-name player, even if they can't afford it. You need a wage structure and to go outside it is asking for trouble in more ways than one."

Tranmere bought the Wrexham striker Gary Bennett for pounds 300,000 this week, a substantial sum for them, but one that would only cover the wages of Platt for five months. The gulf between the Premiership and the Endsleigh League has also been widened by three years of the haves receiving their share of the pounds 300m BSkyB television deal.

"It is difficult to see how we can close the gap," King said. "There must a ceiling on what clubs can afford to pay, but as long as teams like Manchester United keep spending, others will follow. We know we can't compete at that level. The most I have ever spent is pounds 400,000."

John Dennis, the chairman of the First Division club Barnsley, said: "One of the by-products of high transfer fees is that they drive contracts up. Players have tended to drift back down the League over the years, but it is not easy to talk to them now. I'm not moaning about it. This is a situation we find ourselves in and we must try and find a solution."

Everton, meanwhile, will attempt to clinch a deal which will put money into the lower divisions with the purchase of Derby's centre-half Craig Short. The Goodison club have offered pounds 2.65m and although they were turned down, they were encouraged to believe a few pounds more would secure the player.

Everton are also interested in Manchester United's Andrei Kanchelskis, and are expected to table a bid when their manager, Joe Royle, returns from holiday. The fee will be around pounds 6m, the same price United hope to pay for Tottenham's Darren Anderton.

Elsewhere, Ian Wright signed a new two-year contract with Arsenal, while Tottenham sold striker John Hendry to Motherwell for pounds 200,000. Birmingham have agreed terms with Stoke's out-of-contract Icelandic international Toddy Orlygsson, although the fee has to be negotiated. Bradford have paid Leicester pounds 475,000 for three players - goalkeeper Gavin Ward, defender Nicky Mohan and their former striker Ian Ormondroyd.