Football: TV money highlights club divide

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The Independent Online
Nationwide League clubs last night admitted they have reached the edge of an unbridgeable gap following Sky's pounds 670m investment in the Premiership as the top clubs offered politically correct utterances over how they plan to spend their pocket money.

The Crystal Palace chairman, Ron Noades, a last-gasp play-off volley away from the Premiership, is now even more piqued the First Division spurned a joint television partnership with the top-flight clubs last December. At the basement end Mike Bateson, chairman of Torquay United, acknowledged the 72 Football League clubs are now completely reliant on "any small crumbs" the Premiership cares to offer.

David Dein, Arsenal's vice-chairman, spoke altruistically of the Premiership's responsibilities but in truth the top clubs are here to stay and the rest can look after themselves.

"The Nationwide League clubs are left with a major problem," said Geoffrey Richmond, chairman of newly-promoted First Division Bradford City. "The gap, already vast, comes close to being unbridgeable."

Bateson added: "Good luck to them. The gap's well set and can now only continue to grow wider. It is always possible the Premier clubs may get interested in Football League clubs' youth development policies and if they could scatter the odd pounds 10 or pounds 15m in our direction we'd be very grateful."

The Premiership's bounty will start falling from the Sky at the start of 1997/98 at an average annual income of pounds 8m per club over four years. Taking into account BBC's pounds 73m offering over the same period, ensuring Match of the Day lives on, the top 20 clubs will be sharing pounds 186m a year, almost four times their current yield.

Dein said: "These are very exciting times for football. Attendances are up and it's flattering the television companies are prepared to throw so much money at our game. Now football has got to be very careful how that extra income is disposed. Clubs are going to be evaluating their youth policies and further improving stadiums to make sure that fans benefit. It's very important that the money is used wisely and that it shouldn't just go on inflated transfers."

Bateson pointed out that the full impact of the Bosman ruling may delay transfer mania, while Richmond forecast that the players, via wages that in the Football League alone have doubled in five years (from pounds 48m in 1991/92), will benefit most. "I don't think there's a way off this conveyor belt," he said. "Despite all this money, the clubs won't ultimately be any better off - the whole lot will end up with the players."

Noades' angst at missing out on the bigger slice is augmented by the fact his lead to jump aboard the Premiership's gravy train last year was frustrated by the Football League Management Committee who instead opted for Sky's on-the-table offer of pounds 125m over five years.

Noades said: "We warned them when they signed with Sky and ITV that they'd be much better off going on a percentage basis with the Premier League, that we shouldn't be selling our product independently. The present deal just announced would have been worth pounds 37m a year to us as against the pounds 25m we're getting."

His chagrin was however tempered by his belief the new Sky deal will make the Premiership the best league in the world. "It's marvellous for British football because it will enable the Premier League to attract the best players in the world - not only the ageing masters but the best of the young players."

Not that they are likely to be heading for Crystal Palace, who are established among a gang of perhaps six "pendulum" clubs set to be thrashing it out for promotion and relegation on an alternate basis.

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