League fears over cost of window shopping

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The Independent Online

While Chelsea and their Premiership rivals put the finishing touches to their pre-season spending spree, the 72 professional clubs below the top flight are bracing themselves for another period of grave financial instability.

While Chelsea and their Premiership rivals put the finishing touches to their pre-season spending spree, the 72 professional clubs below the top flight are bracing themselves for another period of grave financial instability.

The Football League chairman Sir Brian Mawhinney revealed yesterday that his members have been given only one more season by Fifa, football's world governing body, to continue all-year-round buying and selling before falling into line with the rest of Europe and honouring transfer windows.

At present, Football League clubs are allowed to do business throughout the season but any deals with the Premiership or overseas clubs are restricted to the January and summer windows. These limitations have caused a crippling reduction in revenue yet as from 2005-06, even trading among themselves will be forbidden unless the League can get Fifa to change its mind.

"We've been told by Fifa that there will be one more season of the status quo but there will be no dispensation after that,'' said Mawhinney, who is pushing for an open market for League clubs and has had several personal hearings with the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter. "The number of professionals leaving the game is a big concern and will increase further if our talks with Fifa, which are at a detailed stage, do not alter the situation. Transfer windows are very bad news for us because transfer values are now broadly about half of what they were. These are people's careers we are talking about."

The Football League spokesman John Nagle said Fifa's intention to curtail all-year-round trading, which would also outlaw loans, came as a big surprise. "Obviously it would be an enormous problem for League clubs because transfer revenue, even in a depressed market, has been crucial. It's a very serious threat."

In order to make their clubs more financially accountable and bring salaries under control, the League is extending its wage-capping policy to League One - the old Second Division - next season. From now on, all Football League clubs outside The Championship will be able to pay no more than 60 per cent of their revenue in wages.

Effectively, this means that half the professional clubs in English football are now subject to some form of salary capping which, Mawhinney said, could only be a good thing. "Our experience is that it works very well," he said.

Mawhinney was speaking at the launch of the Football League's new marketing campaign aimed at developing stronger commercial opportunities and raising the profile of the three tiers below the Premiership. He rejected claims that the League's recent rebranding, which coincided with a multi-million pound, three-year sponsorship deal with Coca Cola, was simply a public relations stunt aimed at taking some of the limelight away from the Premiership. The old First Division has been renamed The Championship while the other two divisions are now called League One and League Two.

Ever the strategist, just to prove his point Mawhinney displayed the First Division trophy won last season by Norwich which is engraved with the words "League Championship trophy." He said: "Far from being an arbitrary, pretentious choice, we have in fact gone back to our roots. It is a reaffirmation that this league is the authentic football league watched by more people than any other sporting competition in Europe."

The new marketing campaign aims to introduce 21 million new spectators, a 30 per cent increase, to the League by the year 2010.

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