Football: Economic plight throws spanner in the works: As Gary Lineker joins a football team owned by Toyota, Jasper Rees looks at factory clubs at home and abroad

Jasper Rees
Sunday 21 February 1993 00:02

A FEW years ago a non-league club in the Midlands folded when the owners of the turf they played on decided to sell the ground. What could AP Leamington (RIP) possibly have in common with PSV Eindhoven, whose stadium is now being renovated to the highest standards of comfort and aesthetic appeal - heating in the seating, the whole bit? The clue is in the initials. AP stands for Automotive Products, PSV for Philips Sport Verein. Both clubs were founded as the footballing outlet for company workforces. In time they grew into more than just a distraction from the production line, but one of them grew rather more than the other.

There haven't been too many AP Leamingtons in England, and now there isn't one at all, so we are not familiar with the concept of works teams. But on the Continent such clubs have won European Cups, and there is more than an echo of the trend in the new Japanese League that Gary Lineker is joining. His Grampus Eight team is, in effect, the Toyota team; the other teams all belong to businesses.

Lockheed Leamington, as they were originally known, were an arm of the company's sports and social club. When they sought to be more than a recreational side and began their ascent towards the highest non-league division, they were obliged to raise their own money, but the company whose name they bore provided facilities, or at least did so until the recession before this one bit too deep and AP had to liquidise assets. The club was given first refusal on the ground, but could not come up with the funds and after failing to find alternative premises disappeared, unlamented except by very few, off the footballing map.

The example of PSV, which without stepping very far from under the Philips umbrella moved from similarly humble beginnings to become the leading force in Dutch football, suggests that they manage this sort of thing much better on the Continent. In fact most of western Europe's high- profile works teams have a common denominator: they are provincial and unfashionable. Philips SV, as Uefa now allows them tobe known, are a rarity - a works team who leading footballers want to represent.

Others, from countries where the leagues are more competitive, have not had it quite so good. The French team Sochaux have the same relationship with Peugeot as Eindhoven with Philips - nominally independent, but an interest- free loan is always theirs if they want it - with the key difference that they have no clout in the transfer market. To keep Gerald Vanenberg from the lure of Italy, PSV could offer him a contract to keep him with the club until he is 60. They secured Gheorghe Popescu from Steaua Bucharest by throwing in a new set of Philips floodlights. And when they signed Romario from Vasco da Gama after he impressed in the Seoul Olympics, they paid up in local currency through their Brazilian office.

Sochaux have had their illustrious players - the French internationals Yannick Stopyra and Joel Bats made their names there - but despite their long tenure in the First Division and a recent Uefa Cup semi-final place the club still have to find most of their players locally. When they did sign Francisco Carrasco from Barcelona a few years ago he surveyed the premises, complimented his employers on their training ground and wondered where the stadium was. Overwhelmed by the come- down from the Nou Camp, he did not last long.

Bayer Leverkusen, originally the works team of the pharmaceutical giant Bayer, went one better than Sochaux in the Uefa Cup, winning it in 1988, but they are beset by the same problems. They also have minimal gate receipts, but with an avuncular owner there are no money worries - they have just recruited Dragoslav Stepanovic, formerly of Manchester City, as coach with the offer of a sizeable salary. But Andreas Thom, the first player to cross from the east, runs against the general trend: turning out for Leverkusen, or, even worse, the company's other satellite, Bayer Uerdingen, is not the most glamorous job in the Bundesliga.

For the more wayward footballers there is the added disincentive of off-the-field codes of conduct. Just as PSV players are expected to be on their best behaviour even off- duty, a Sochaux player was fined for telling L'Equipe that he preferred Audis to Peugeots. Contrary to the common misconception, this would never happen to David Platt if he refused to drive a Fiat: Juventus are not the footballing arm of the car conglomerate. The only Italian works team of any significance were Lanerossi Vicenza, who were founded by a once-mighty manufacturer of woollen cloth.

On the other side of what used to be the Iron Curtain an exodus is happening. Most of the big clubs in eastern Europe had big state backers - the railways, the mines, the electricians, the army. The collapse of Communism introduced a harsh economic reality that only the super rich can afford to ignore: there are better things for companies to spend their money on than propping up a football team.

Most troubled of all these clubs, though, are the old police teams, and the Stasi's very own Dynamo Berlin in particular. Going under a new name of FC Berlin, they now play as amateurs in the Third Division of Germany's north-east FA. No one wants to bear the stigma of playing for them. But at least they are still there. Even if you wanted to, you cannot play for AP Leamington any more.

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