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Football clubs and the fear of failure

On the way back from stadium:mk the other night (what a ridiculous name for a football ground that is) I was listening to an interesting debate on Radio Five Live regarding why clubs in the Football League in particular are struggling to make ends meet when there has never been so much money in the game.

It featured former Brentford, MK Dons and Leicester manager Martin “Mad Dog” Allen and the former Leeds United chairman who is now an administrator at Bournemouth (I forget his name, Gerald something), and they both agreed that the main reason clubs get into so much trouble is that they continually attempt to spend what they do not have, in the hope of being successful and therefore bringing more money into the club.

Nothing particularly ground-breaking there, but the bit that grabbed my attention was the example they used of Mansfield Town.

The club has been up for sale for about a year, owns its own ground and has money in the bank. In other words it is a “properly” run business that doesn’t spend what it doesn’t have. Where are they in the league? Second-bottom of League Two and all set for relegation to the Blue Square Premier.

For every Premier League side such as Wigan Athletic who were bank-rolled to success (or the promised land of the Premier League anyway), there is a club or two in the Football League that gambled and lost.

The Football League is littered with clubs who tried to live outside of their means and ended up in trouble – Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Bradford City and Sheffield Wednesday spring to mind almost immediately.

The message would appear to be clear: If clubs spend within their means they will most likely fail. If they don’t, they gamble everything on promotion and pray to the god of their choosing that it pays off – otherwise it’s an express ticket to administration and the subsequent long road back to normality.

It’s that rock and hard place thing again isn’t it?

In the case of Norwich City, “failure” in the eye of most supporters is probably not challenging for a play-off place. We don’t necessarily expect promotion every year, but for a club of our size with the number of season tickets we sell etc we expect our boys to be there or thereabouts at the end of April.

We’ve all heard the quote “prudence with ambition” 100 times which must result in a very delicate balancing act, but I think that if in doubt it’s always prudence that comes through. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want the board to suddenly “do a Leeds” and go all or nothing, but the occasional calculated gamble wouldn’t go amiss.

The last time I can recall the board taking such a gamble was with the loan signings of Peter Crouch and Darren Huckerby during the Championship winning campaign. That time it paid off in spectacular fashion, but to be fair it’s been pretty much downhill since then.

I’m not saying that the board hasn’t backed the manager because I think they have – in fact one of the criticisms of the Peter Grant regime is that he didn’t spend all of the money that was made available to him – but I think they could have done more.

A lot of people have asked where all the money has gone considering the transfer fees and parachute payments received compared with the transfer fees spent, but I think that a little naïve.

Loan signings cost money as Grant was always pointing out (come to think of it, he really did do a lot of pointing didn’t he?), and we’ve made more than our far share of them this season alone.

In his Eastern Daily Press column recently Neil Doncaster said that he will detail exactly where it has all gone soon. I for one look forward to reading that – I’m expecting to be mortified.



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