'Smaller clubs face bankruptcy'

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The Independent Football

Football supporters and officials have taken their transfer fees campaign to Europe, arguing that many smaller clubs face bankruptcy unless they are protected by planned reforms of the system.

Football supporters and officials have taken their transfer fees campaign to Europe, arguing that many smaller clubs face bankruptcy unless they are protected by planned reforms of the system.

With uncertainty still surrounding the future of transfer fees, the 30-strong delegation, including the chief executive of Oldham Athletic and the president of the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs, lobbied MEPs and officials at the European Commission yesterday. Clubs in the lower divisions are concerned about their future if they are unable to recoup their outlay on spotting and training new talent.

The debate follows a Commission declaration, after more than two years of discussions with Fifa, over the implications of the Bosman ruling on the free movement of workers in Europe. Brussels decided that Fifa regulations on international transfers breached EU law by laying down a system for the sale of players under contract. Failure to amend the regime could lead to another Bosman-style court ruling against the football authorities, stated the Commission, although it argues its concerns are based on international and not national transfers.

Arlene McCarthy, Labour MEP for the North-west and organiser of yesterday's meeting, said the occasion provided an opportunity "to get across the view that, depending on the changes that are made, this could have a bad impact for clubs which depend on fees to make up the money they cannot raise on the gate. We know that the Commission has the law on its side, concerning the freedom of movement issue, but our view is that it has not taken the economic impact sufficiently into account."

That viewpoint was rejected by a spokesman for Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Education and Culture. "We do not consider that there will be a negative impact for small clubs because they tend to take part in national, and not international transfers, and these are not at stake in the Fifa discussion," the spokesman said.

Brussels also backs the use of new mechanisms to compensate clubs for providing training, an idea incorporated into Fifa's latest plan.

However, campaigners have released a series of letters and e-mails from alarmed officials and supporters.

Francis Collins, the chief executive of Rochdale AFC, argued that "if the transfer system is abolished, as is suggested, this will certainly sound the death knell for dozens of smaller clubs."

The transfer fee, he argued, "not only compensates the outlay on training young players but also stabilises a club that loses money weekly because it doesn't receive the same support and television money as the bigger clubs."

Bill Melling, the chairman of Wigan Athletic's supporters and travel club, argued that the changes could bring about the "distinct possibility that some of the smaller clubs, such as Wigan Athletic, could be forced out of business."

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