How football's poorest clubs gave agents £1.4m in just six months

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The Independent Football

Football League clubs spent £1.4m on agents' fees between January and June this year, the Football League revealed yesterday, with Derby County, who splashed out £279,000, topping the table of high spenders below Premiership level.

Football League clubs spent £1.4m on agents' fees between January and June this year, the Football League revealed yesterday, with Derby County, who splashed out £279,000, topping the table of high spenders below Premiership level.

The figures are disclosed in a ground-breaking report, compiled by the League and published yesterday, which details for the first time exactly how much money is being drained from football by agents.

All 72 clubs in last season's First, Second and Third divisions, many of them in perilous financial positions, were compelled to disclose full details of every contractual deal they made in the first six months of this year. Of 963 deals - including transfers, loans and contract amendments - 119 involved payment to an agent. On average, agents earned £11,765 per transaction.

In the period under review, Derby handled 12 new registrations or transfers, five loans, three contract updates and two contract cancellations, making 22 deals altogether. Agents earned an average of £12,682 per transaction, and that despite Derby's debts of £30m.

Murdo Mackay, the club's director of football and a former agent himself, defended his club's spending. "It does look like a lot of money but what our fans have got to remember is that this isn't money which has gone straight out of our bank account, it's money which will be paid out in instalments over the course of players' contracts.

"And when you look at the players we've brought in - people like Morten Bisgaard, who's a Danish international, Mo Konjic, who's a Bosnian international, Paul Peschisolido who's a Canadian international, Marco Reich, Jeff Kenna, Jamie Vincent and Tommy Smith - I think supporters will see we've signed quality.

"It should be remembered that all of those players have arrived on free transfers, and when we bear in mind some of the fees paid for players by other clubs in this division, I think people will begin to realise we've actually pulled off some very good deals. Then, if you take our average fee per transaction, you'll see it comes in under the average amount spent by, let's say, Wigan."

Wigan and West Ham spent more than Derby on agents per transaction (£18,000 and £13,527 respectively), but less overall (£145,000 and £243,5000). Crystal Palace, in contrast, spent nothing whatsoever on agents. Iain Dowie still managed to win promotion, transforming them from being mid-season relegation fodder to play-off winners.

Five other First Division clubs, including Crewe, spent nothing on agents. "Our manager, Dario Gradi, and chairman, John Bowler, have a policy of avoiding dealing with agents whenever possible," said Andy Blakemore, Crewe's finance operations manager. "We try to bring players through our youth system. When that's not possible, we prefer to deal only with the player and his solicitor, for the sake of simplicity. I'm not saying we never pay agents but we prefer to keep things simple."

By publishing the payment information in full, the Football League has thrown down the gauntlet to the Premier League - the world's wealthiest league - to open up their payments to public scrutiny. In May, Manchester United were found to have spent £13.4m in agent's fees on transfers totalling £158m over three years. The agents' fees of some £750,000 to bring Louis Saha from Fulham highlighted the enormity of the sums at the top level. Yet the Premier League has no plans to follow the Football League's lead.

England's 20 élite clubs have always been reticent about the vast sums spent on agents' fees and most will continue to keep that spending private, citing "commercial confidentiality".

It is understood that the Premier League will be introducing new rules of "internal disclosure" for the coming season. Top-flight clubs will be forced to tell the Premier League and Football Association about all payments to agents, although that information will not be made public.

Sir Brian Mawhinney, the chairman of the Football League, trumpeted its fresh approach. "We are delivering new standards of transparency and good governance to the football industry," he said. "I hope it is a lead that others choose to follow.

"In releasing these figures we do not seek to pass judgement on the stewardship of individual clubs. It is simply our view that money being lost to the game through such payments should be a matter for public information and debate."