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Getting football's house in order

Empty seats at Hampden Park
Scottish clubs face a battle to keep bank balances out of the red

By Chris McLaughlin

Over the next couple of days the movers and shakers in British football will descend on Manchester for the annual Soccerex forum.

It's a chance for clubs, Football Associations, sponsors and geeks alike to partake in a bit of networking, flesh-pressing and prawn sandwich munching.

This year though, there's a distinctly different taste. The sandwiches will be the same but the agenda will be dominated by one subject - finance.

Last year the two-day event revolved around sponsorship, the year before was club ownership, but this time those making the decisions within the beautiful game will gather to talk tactics in a bid to stop the rot.

Uefa will be in on the action too. The European governing body is to give delegates an overview of their new commercial arm - elaborating on the motives and strategy behind it.

It won't make sexy back page headlines, but it is further evidence that an ill wind is blowing through the game and the meteorologists at the top are sounding the alarm bells.

Scottish football is listening. Representatives of several clubs will be in attendance, alongside Scottish Premier League chief executive Neil Doncaster. And if they look less concerned than their English counterparts, that is because they are.

The Scottish game is not a picture of financial health; one look at the books at Rangers, Hearts or Kilmarnock will testify to that. But it is not facing anything like the same challenges as the clubs in football's Promised Land.

The Soccerex forum coincides with a Uefa report that gives an overview of the football landscape. Its findings make grim reading for some and for the English Premier League in particular.

The document shows that Europe's richest league owes more than everyone else put together. The combined debt of all 20 clubs is just under £4bn. That's four times more than La Liga.

This worrying statistic is all the more concerning given that the report's figures are taken from the annual accounts of 2007/2008. This was before the world economic downturn.

The current financial plight of Portsmouth may be a better indication of the scale of the problem at the moment. Only time will tell.

Manchester City fans joke about their wealthy owners
Billionaire club owners are thin on the ground in Scotland

For now, the banks remain fairly happy with the cash that is coming in but Uefa is taking no chances.

By 2012/2013 clubs must break even under new rules and despite protests from some quarters in England, billionaire owners will not be allowed to fund big money transfer deals.

In effect, clubs will be asked to wash their own faces. Those left dirty could be in trouble.

So what does all of this mean for Scotland?

Scottish football has its critics but financially the house was put in order four to five years ago.

It can't feel overly smug about this though - the action was not due to financial foresight or mystic predictions of the impending credit gloom.

The banks started to bite as the disparity between spending and TV revenue grew ever larger. Maybe bigger leagues close by should have been watching with interest.

Since 2004/2005, Scottish clubs have realised that big wage bills needed to go. What went with it, were the big-name players who joined the English gravy train.

But in the land of milk and honey, the cash cow may be running dry and the sweet taste of the sugar daddy's bank balance may no longer be relevant.

Those who think the credit crunch has passed football by should pop into the Soccerex forum. The worried faces will have nothing to do with the size of the queue for the sandwiches.

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see also
Football finances under spotlight
01 Mar 10 |  Business
Pompey administrator role probed
02 Mar 10 |  Portsmouth
Credit crunch hits Scottish football
24 Mar 09 |  Scotland
Scots chairmen attendance fears
19 Mar 09 |  Football
Scottish clubs set to trim squads
18 Mar 09 |  Football
Scots clubs braced for hard times
17 Mar 09 |  Football

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