Why Scally put his house on a brand new start

Artificial makeover or the real thing? We've got our act together, say clubs
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The Independent Football

Only the names have been changed, for their own protection. Football League clubs were a hunted breed less than a couple of years ago, but they are fed up with being chased and are coming out of hiding, albeit with new identities to help shield them from the past.

Only the names have been changed, for their own protection. Football League clubs were a hunted breed less than a couple of years ago, but they are fed up with being chased and are coming out of hiding, albeit with new identities to help shield them from the past.

The League gets a head start on the Premiership when it kicks off this week, and it needs it. The gulf between clubs in the League and the Premiership clubs has never been wider, but a new brand and a new sponsor are giving them confidence that the gap can be narrowed. Some 12 League clubs (Lincoln, Bradford, Carlisle, Notts County, Barnsley, Leicester City, Port Vale, York, Ipswich, Huddersfield, Wimbledon and Oldham) went into administration following the collapse of their seemingly lucrative television deal with ITV Digital in Spring 2002. Now there are only two - Bradford and Darlington.

Time has proved a great healer for most of the clubs hit so hard in the pocket by the loss of that revenue stream. Inflated contracts made on the back of television money are coming to an end and new deals are being put in place to come in line with the League's salary cap which restricts clubs from spending more than 60 per cent of their turnover on wages. The League further moved to protect and build on their brand at last year's AGM when they came up with the idea of scrapping the titles of the First, Second and Third Divisions. Now, with an internationally known principal sponsor, we will be listening out for results in the Coca-Cola Football League Championship, League One and League Two.

They have got a week's start on the big boys but it will take us longer than seven days to get used to the new titles. Coke naturally want us to think it's the real thing, however artificial it tastes now, which is why they are putting in around £15m - their biggest ever domestic football sponsorship - over a three-year deal. Gillingham's chairman Paul Scally agrees to a point as he is still getting used to the old First Division being replaced by the Premiership, but he has so much faith in the League's renaming and future that he has put his house on the line for the sake of his club.

He conceded: "With the new name and the Coca-Cola brand behind us, it is going to be much easier for me to go out and convince sponsors and people to get involved in our competition. All credit to the Football League for pulling it off.

"Football was dealt a massive blow by a massive national broadcaster. No matter how you dress it up they should never be forgiven for what they did to football and I shall never forgive them personally as a chairman. They put my whole future, my livelihood and everything to do with my club on the line. For the last two years and this year coming we are feeling tremendous pain, as are all 72 League clubs, as a result of a contract which was reneged on. I shall never forgive them for that, but we have drawn a line under that to take a very positive approach. We've pulled through two years and we'll get through this season and from next season things become much easier for us.

"So, I am looking forward to the future in a very positive mind. I don't intend to let the club go into administration. I don't even talk about that any more. We can see light at the end of the tunnel. I've put my house and my livelihood as security up for the bank again which I haven't done for eight years, but I've done it because I believe in the club, I believe in football and I feel quite comfortable doing that.Football has cleaned itself up, got its act together and I'm very excited about the next few seasons ahead.

"I'm an old traditionalist. Since I was six or seven I've been going to football in the Fourth Division, Third, Second and the First. I struggled with the Premier League 10 or 12 years ago, but I've learnt to live with that now and I think renaming the First Division as the Championship and the League One and Two is absolutely the right thing to have done, but I do find it difficult getting my head round it."

Peterborough manager Barry Fry has had his head turned by Coca-Cola's pledge to share a further £1m for clubs to fund new youth players should they combine to score 4,500 goals next season. Attack-minded Fry managed Barnet when they scored over 100 goals in three separate seasons and said: "It's a great incentive to play attacking football. I'm either going to sign seven forwards or order my players to score own goals on the last day of the season if it means we can tip the total over the barrier."

Relative newcomers to the League are Boston United, if not their new player-coach Paul Gascoigne, who went down with food poisoning yesterday but otherwise is fighting fit and eager to press on with his new role. Boston were a non-League club and their director of football Jim Rodwell still a player when the ITV Digital deal crashed. But the renaming appears to have given them a summer promotion without kicking a ball. Rodwell said: "We were careful not to tell any of the players or they would have been knocking on the door asking for a promotion bonus. If it helps puts bums on seats then I think it's fantastic.

"Renaming worked for the Premier League so why not the Football League? I'll leave that to the marketing gurus, but it is still three up and one through the play-offs." So maybe it is all cosmetic after all? Not so says Richard Masters, the League's commercial director, who also explained that it was their idea, not Coca-Cola's, to change the names as part of a strategy to strengthen the future of the League's clubs. "We started talking about it at last year's AGM. It started with renaming the First Division. We went through a long exercise involving ourselves and some agencies and we came up with a renaming plan. We tested it with supporters and other groups, too. We expect a certain amount of resistance, but the whole thing is aimed at attracting the next generation of supporters.

"Last season we had an aggregate attendance of 16 million - the highest total for 40 years. We want to take that up to 21 million by 2010. The focus for us is retaining the Football League's relevance for the next generation of supporters and our position. This is the perfect platform.

"All the activities we are running are about bringing more people in, new people in and new commercial partners of which Coca-Cola is the first. You could almost say it has been a success already." And they haven't even kicked a ball yet.

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