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Hunty’s Column: English Football Must Get Its House In Order

Our columnist turns his attention to the financial state of the game.

Reading v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Aside from Reading FC, the bigger picture of football is a bit of mess. Birmingham City have now joined the relegation party as well - totally not Harry Redknapp’s fault of course - and similarly Bolton’s fans now have an anxious wait to see if their club has a future, despite Parky performing the same miracles as Nelson’s physio.

What about little old North Ferriby? A club with a long history who have been wiped out of existence over an eight grand debt. Blackpool are also fighting back after previous owners nearly ruined them. Our best buddies Oxford United seem to be in financial strife too. Oi, stop laughing, it’s not funny!

And we ourselves all know how close Reading have been to going under - thanks to the incompetence of a number of previous owners. A number of other clubs apparently face sanctions for overspending - how the hell are they allowed to get in such a mess? Certainly, the right and proper checks done on potential owners seem to be very flawed. We wouldn’t be having these ongoing issues at a number of clubs if a better system was in place.

Does any real football fan get any pleasure from seeing a club go out of business? Teams at our level and below are all about the fans, and have a history of being supported through thick and thin - so let’s embrace that heritage.

In the national lottery of football, clubs like Fulham spend £100 million, only to be relegated back from the Premier League. Look at the mess of our own last promotion and the impact we are still feeling all these years later. For Bully’s special prize you get a hangover of a massive wage bill. Personally, I would have preferred a caravan or speed boat!

Fulham FC v Manchester City - Premier League
Fulham are struggling in the Premier League despite a huge summer spending spree
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

I know it won’t ever happen in my lifetime, but I would love to see people that run the Football League impose a salary cap for all clubs. The Premier League would never do it as it has disappeared too far up its own backside.

You see a seven-year jail sentence for someone illegally streaming games over a number of years, but other more serious crimes get far less in the way of punishment. Madness, they call it madness!

Breaking the current financial fair play regulations is a form of cheating, but the punishment comes too long after the event. So why not be ahead of the game and not allow it to happen in the first place?

Such a salary cap has happened already in the National Rugby League of Australia, where the Melbourne Storm were stripped of a few titles. Although there are a few issues with the system, the Football League - which has a much more global market - could learn from these lessons and make things a whole lot better over here.

The consequences of not doing it are severe. How many clubs have to go to breaking point before rediscovering their roots and identity to bounce back? We have seen this in particular with Portsmouth and Jobi McAnuff’s current club Leyton Orient - who are now in the National League.

Could this happen with Reading, as it did with Wolves and Sunderland, if we go down? Quite possibly! But hey, we’ve just had a big win and I’m trying to be positive. I’m only talking in theory so don’t rip me apart here, but Australian football shows the way forward.

After a few disasters, the A-League has finally got its act together regarding club spending. Teams now have to invest in youth, rather than the inflated, overweight and overrated marquee player signings. Robbie Fowler anyone? No, don’t panic, we ain’t signing him!

A-League Rd 26 - Glory v Gold Coast
Robbie Fowler spent time down under in the latter stages of his career
Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images

What’s the most important consideration? Is gambling the long-term future of a club over a season in the stars really worth it? In any other business, bad ownership leads to losing staff and possibly shutting down. So why isn’t there more of an instant response in football? We all want to be a Premier League side but is it worth it for 90% of clubs trying to get up there?

My parents and grandparents grew up following the Royals and I want my little girl to do the same. I love Reading Football Club. Even when we didn’t get promoted, how great was it to see us challenge for the play-offs for a number of years?

It’s all about the right blend. For years we were mixing red wine with coca cola and coming up with a bad romance. Now we need to focus on the combination of youth and the right experienced professionals - a fine blend that even coffee aficionado George Clooney would be happy with!

Luckily, we’re on the right track. This season has been a breakthrough for so many academy players. Now, in total, we’ve seen fifty of them play first-team football for the Royals - much better than seeing fifty odd mercenaries who couldn’t care less about the club.

Don’t you think we are slightly more sympathetic and forgiving if one of our own makes a mistake? Certainly in comparison to some highly paid bloke who played in the Premier League a couple of seasons ago. I’m sure we are not the only club who have had the same problem.

I’m not having a go at so-called journeymen footballers in general here. There are so many great professionals who will do a brilliant job for whatever club they’re at. Jobi McAnuff and Jamie Cureton spring to mind as great examples of people who just love the game.