Recession could finish football clubs

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Football League chief Greg Clarke"Just because it is a long time since we lost a club doesn't mean it can't happen." That's the view of Football League chairman Greg Clarke (left) who, despite describing himself as "a raving optimist" expressed worries over what could happen to football in the midst of what Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has said is the worst recession in 70 years. Clarke says clubs will have to adapt or they will go out of business.

Clarke, who has been in the chair for 18 months, made his remarks in an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Post. He said: "I am a raving optimist, you have to be in football. But I am pessimistic about football finances because if we get complacent then we will start losing clubs."

Replica shirts

He says the fans are telling him times are hard, and that they are "trimming at the edges", cutting down on buying a replica shirt or a pie at half-time. But, he says, "if the economy continues to struggle then people are soon going to have difficult decisions to make with regards going to football games."

The truth is, those decisions won't be too difficult for most people. If the financial pressure is on, the season ticket or the visit to the match will be one of the first economies. And that's why Clarke reckons it's so important for clubs to "have a sustainable cost base".

He reckons the recession means that owners "know we can't just talk about something, we have to do something." The fact that the Football League has agreed to a salary cap in League One from 2012 and to the adoption of system which requires clubs to break even over a three-year period would seem to back him up.

Premier League

But the way football is structured provides an incentive, almost an imperative, for clubs to spend their way to success, rather than build a sustainable business base. And that does not look about to change. The Premier League is where the money is, and within that it's the top four places and European football.

With the rewards for success so disproportionately weighted towards the top, the gap between the successful few and the unsuccessful many – a gap which is an important part of defining what sport is – can only grow; while at the same time the need for clubs to do whatever it takes to become one of those successful few grows.

Clarke's words are welcome, particularly when he talks about sustainability and clubs having their roots firmly in communities. But it's going to take a much more radical rethinking of the way the game is organised for real change to happen. At the moment, football clubs think they are too important to fail. For some, there's a nasty surprise waiting.

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