The Premier League and the Football League: A financial gulf too far? by Callum McFadden.
Macclesfield Town football club founded in 1874. Bury Football Club founded in 1885. The Premier League founded in 1992.
Two historic footballing institutions: Macclesfield – formed by volunteers enthused by both rugby and football in their town and Bury – formed local footballing enthusiasts with links to church football with the aim of creating clubs that a community could follow and support for generations to come. The other – The Premier League – a modern phenomenon founded by television executives and elite club chairman and chief executives with the aim of maximising financial rewards from television to aid the progression of the beautiful game.
Fast forward 145 years since the formation of Macclesfield, 134 years since the formation of Bury and 28 years since the dawn of the premier league and football has reached what feels like a cautionary time. 28 years in the premier league has 20 clubs within it who share the spoils of £5.14bn of income from television alone. The EFL on the other hand has just agreed a £595 million tv deal to be shared between 72 clubs over the next 5 years. With such a cataclysmic gulf in finance and marketability of EFL clubs compared to their fellow English – albeit world renowned Premier League – clubs, it is no real surprise that the reality and future for fans of football league clubs compared with those of the premier league paint a stark contrast.
The examples that showcase this stark contrast and worrying gulf currently must be Macclesfield and Bury – two traditional English clubs as equally important to the English footballing pyramid with thousands of loyal fans as the elite premier league clubs are. Both clubs have had a deeply distressing 2019 and go into 2020 not knowing what the future holds.
Bury football club were expelled from the English football league due to financial complexities in 2019 and go into 2020 having formed a phoenix club – Bury AFC – who are aiming to play in the tenth tier of English football after applying to join North West Counties Football League. This potential new dawn for Bury will be six tiers below league two that they played their last match in on may 4th drawing 1-1 with port vale in front of over 6,000 fans as they celebrated promotion to league one not knowing that the end of their club as they knew it was just around the corner.
Macclesfield ended the 2018/19 season in jubilant mood after surviving relegation out of the football league under the management of former England international Sol Campbell who took over when the club were seven points adrift at the foot of League Two. The positivity surrounding Macclesfield’s miracle and the work of Super Sol was not to last as long as the fans hoped for. Campbell left the club in the summer to seek a new challenge – which he has since found at league one side Southend United – and the club appointed former Ebbsfleet manager Daryl McMahon to steady the ship. McMahon and Macclesfield started the season relatively well and managed to stay clear of the relegation zone.
Although, just as in Bury’s case, the club’s situation has taken an unusual and concerning turn in recent weeks as they have been docked six points for failing to fulfil an EFL fixture against Crewe amidst alleged financial concerns. This has taken them closer to the relegation zone than they would like, and they head into 2020 with the pressure on both on and off the park to avoid another energy sapping relegation and survival battle.
These two clubs along with others who have struggled in recent times both on and off the park such as Bolton and Blackpool highlight a deeply concerning issue for English football. While tv revenues and interest in elite football continues to rise at a rapid rate, historic community led institutions such as the clubs mentioned in this article fight for their survival and growth to serve the people who depend on them: their players, employees and of course their loyal fans.
I only hope that 2020 can bring prosperity and joy to the fans of all local community clubs and clubs at every level within the footballing pyramid because in a global world that at times feels unsteady and uncertain the beautiful game can play a massive part in empowering people from all walks of life and inspire hope across generations and communities.