saints in crisis

One rule for one...

April 2, 2009
By Dale Johnson

The demise of a football club is never be to reveled in, but the rest of the football fraternity can at least hope for a level playing field.

Southampton fans
Empics / JonBuckleSt Mary's: In Swiss hands

When Southampton's holding company went into administration on Thursday morning those also in trouble at the foot of the Championship table could be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief. After all, a 10-point deduction would surely follow, condemning the south coast club to life in League One.

Apparently not. Southampton are insisting that the trouble affecting Southampton Leisure Holdings plc has no bearing upon the football club, despite administrators stating the club could yet fold before the end of the season. As such, it would appear they will escape a points deduction.

When different rules appear to apply to different clubs, it's not surprising that rivals will cry foul. Representatives of Barnsley and Plymouth, just outside the relegation zone, have already questioned the fact that a parent company can have debts upward of £28m and ringfence that poor financial management away from the club itself.

When you consider that £24m of the debt alone is owed to Norwich Union for funding of Saints' St Mary's Stadium there is a clear link between the debt and the club.

What must clubs such as AFC Bournemouth, Luton Town and Rotherham United feel having started this current campaign in League One with heavy points deductions for their financial problems? How about Darlington, who recently entered administration themselves?

Are we going to see a trend of football club boards setting up parent companies to protect the football team from picking up financial penalties? Does this mean the Football League will return to its old ways of spend, spend, spend and to hell with reality?

The sad thing is that the Football League had the chance to close this loophole in October 2003 when Derby County Ltd were put into receivership by the Co-operative Bank. No points penalty to the team followed. Insolvency rules were first drawn up at the start of the 2003/04 season so the Football League must surely have seen there was a problem.

And it's not the first time. There was huge uproar in 2007 when Leeds United and Boston United went into administration in the last week of the season to avoid a points penalty for the following campaign. What many fail to realise is that Cambridge United did exactly the same thing two years previously but the Football League failed to address its rules.

Of course, when Derby got into trouble it was near the start of the season. However, had the 10-point penalty been applied they would have been relegated that season.

Why did the Football League not tackle this issue? Again, they will act too late in tightening up their rules.

Granted, there are times when a parent company may get into financial trouble which is clearly not related to the football club. Perhaps it has other business interests. But when it is the stadium itself which is the albatross around the neck how can it be unconnected?

We can only pray that if Southampton manage to stay up this season there is not a Carlos Tevez-style battle for compensation launched by the club that finishes 22nd. God forbid, please not that again.