Misguided Football League wrong to penalise Plymouth

by Will ODoherty

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

It is no secret that the football authorities of this land are as useful as chocolate dildos but yesterday’s announcement that the Football League were deducting 10 points from Plymouth Argyle was further confirmation of that fact.

The penalty was an automatic one, foisted on the Pilgrims after they appointed administrators to help them out of the financial mire.

But why?

Penalising those unable to run within their means can be interpreted as the Football League protecting the clubs from themselves (and potentially lethal short-termism) and maintaining fair competition.

On neither front is the penalty satisfactory.

After dropping to the third tier last summer, Argyle have endured a torrid campaign but they had managed to garner 33 points, and a 2-point cushion from the drop zone.

The deduction sees them rooted to the bottom of the table, eight points from safety: a position that their exploits on the pitch do not warrant.

The Football League might argue that a club that spends more than it can afford deserves to be relegated more than its rivals but, in terms of on-pitch achievements, that does not wash.

Against a backdrop of unpaid wages, is it not more likely that the players’ performances and morale have dropped and that, if anything, the financial crisis has probably cost the club points?

With the chances of survival now greatly reduced, do not expect morale to surge. A club that needed no help hampering themselves but got it anyway may well limp to the line, and find themselves in League 2 next season.

The biggest reason to query that is not the club’s potential to climb out of the bottom four, but its future existence at all. The last thing that will attract much-needed investors is League 2 football.

As the people responsible for the fiasco are replaced by the administrators, it will be the players, the manager and, above all, the fans, none of whom had anything to do with it, that will suffer the most.

The integrity of the league suffers too. In terms of strength, a weaker rival will most likely survive while a stronger one fails.

This is not an issue that will just affect Plymouth: the teams that play them, especially if they are doomed at the end of the season, stand to benefit from their demotivation.

Finally, the penalty is a joke because it shows just how much the authorities still have their head in the sand.

Plymouth might be in worse financial peril than those around them but there are many clubs who are not far behind. The League should be looking to nip the problem in the bud, not punish the teams that have already hit the wall.

What if Plymouth were to go down by one point and the club that survived in their place announced administration in August or hung on by a thread, is there truly that much difference? Not ten points-worth, that is for sure.

If the authorities are serious about bringing clubs back from the brink, they need to impose minimum financial requirements at the start of a league season, making promotion an impossibility, or withdrawing revenue until the clubs have shown themselves to be watertight.

Stopping clubs from getting too close to the precipice would be a genuine service to the league and fans. Waiting for them to be clinging on and then prying their fingertips free, is no service whatsoever.

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  • Martin

    Any club found to be spending beyond its means, to the extent that it can not afford the wage bill of the players that it has brought in, and can not afford to pay the taxation on those players wages, and then seeks legal protection to prevent winding up orders against those debts, and takes actions towards junking those debts, has to be penalised. I’ve got nothing against Plymouth or their supporters, but it is a rule applied to all Football League clubs and everyone knows the rule. The Football League don’t MAKE clubs overspend. Plymouth’s board choose to over-stretch themselves, and that’s the upshot of it. If the League didn’t punish clubs that incur insolvency events, then it would not be fair on the other clubs in the division that do live within their means.

    As for the idea that the League should take proactive steps to keep League clubs in line, they are already doing this – and Plymouth were already well aware of this. Any team that fails to pay its taxes on time, or fails to pay its wages on time is subject to a transfer embargo, preventing it from bringing in any further players. The embargo is only released when the arrears are brought back into line. Argyle have been under a transfer embargo on and off for many months now. If they reach the stage where they bring their house back into order then they’ll be allowed to sign players again.

    The other point you’re missing is that the Football League is a Private Members Club. Thus the 72 members vote for their own rules. The League Committee has proposed numerous items on its agenda throughout the years, including salary caps, bans on clubs splitting their property assets from their footballing operations, double relegation for clubs that go into administration and all have been thrown out because the turkeys have refused to vote for Christmas. Thus when you blame “the Football League” you’re actually blaming the 72 members, including Plymouth themselves (subject to the way they voted on each issue) who declined to bring in stronger actions (but actions the member clubs complained would result in too many restrictions to their trade) that would make it harder for such cases to happen in the future. It’s up to those Member Clubs if they want it to happen – the League Committee can merely advise them of best practice and recommendations. The clubs themselves have to take on that responsibility and stop blaming anyone and everyone else apart from themselves.

  • Chris

    Appalling. I am a QPR fan, so i see this from a different perspective, but teams like Man United and West Ham are in a universe of debt, yet continue to spend. West ham also got away with a similar situation after the Carlos Teves incident left them with huge debt, yet they were not penalised with point reductions. I feel the clubs like Plymouth in this case, really are being treated in an unjust manner.

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