Coronavirus will only deepen the football divide - and Town are on the wrong side
Ipswich Town fan and writer Matt Francis considers the impact that the coronavirus pandemic will have on the football food chain in our latest Your Posts piece....
Football has entered a unique period of uncertainty. No one, from the authorities to the fans, has any idea when, if or how the season will resume following the coronavirus lockdown.
Different questions are being asked, with many people focused on the outcome of the current 2019/20 season.
As an Ipswich Town fan, that questions is almost rendered obsolete, with the club sitting 10th and posing very little threat to the play-offs. Regardless of the plan instigated to resume the season, it looks as though Town will be spending another season in the League One doldrums.
Therefore, in this piece, I want to talk about the knock-on effects that the coronavirus pandemic will have on football clubs and their finances, as the footballing food chain looks set to be rocked for the foreseeable future.
The financial implications of the pandemic have left many clubs fighting for their lives. Regardless of government schemes and funds, many clubs find themselves living on the brink.
While not so problematic in the upper echelons of the Championship or the Premier League, many National League, League Two and even League One clubs are finding themselves facing an uncertain future. Lower league English football suffers from a lack of investment and exposure as it is, despite many games providing more entertainment than a ‘Super Sunday’ clash between Bournemouth and West Ham.
When combining that lack of exposure with an apparent reluctance from the Premier League to filter down their riches, and the potential future of many months without gate receipts, clubs are left staring at a bleak financial landscape.
As seen in the natural world, the vultures begin to circle, with the ever-widening gap in quality and finances set to expand even further.
For example, let’s look at Ipswich. Despite the club’s financial status being slightly more stable than a club like Accrington or Macclesfield, they are still suffering from the loss of revenue from gate receipts.
What does this mean? Ipswich, just like many other League One and League Two clubs, will be forced to cash-in on their assets, likely for a cut-price.
The proverbial ‘vultures’ (rich Championship and Premier League clubs) can swoop in and take advantage of club’s financial insecurities. Town’s most valuable assets are Flynn Downes and Luke Woolfenden, two home-grown players with huge potential and ability.
In January, a case could be made to say that the pair were worth between £10-15 million combined. Now, a few months later, due to the impact of COVID-19, Town could be forced to sell for a quarter of that price in order to plug the gaps.
Marcus Evans doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation as a shrewd negotiator and, if a ‘take it or leave it’ offer was to be made for Town’s young stars in the summer, it’s hard to imagine Evans turning his back.
Obviously, the summer transfer window is a secondary thought and shouldn’t be a priority. There is a case to be made that the summer window shouldn’t happen at all, but with the FA taking more of a ‘wealth over health’ stance, that prospect looks unlikely.
Rather, it will be a summer in which young talents are hoovered up for tuppence, resulting in a more uneven playing field.
Unfortunately, Town find themselves in a vulnerable position due to league standings. Short-term planning in regards to contract negotiations looks set to come back to haunt the club, and whilst no one could have predicted just how bleak a shadow this pandemic would cast, I hope the circumstances teach the club to adopt more long-term strategies in the future.
Of course, no one comes away guilt-free. Ethics and morality have disappeared from football over the past decade and that will only be accentuated by the current climate.
If Downes and Woolfenden are sold on the cheap, Town will likely then be forced to take advantage of the deteriorating financial status’ at clubs in League Two, who will then look to exploit the struggling National League clubs; so on, so forth.
Football has, and always will have, a food chain. Players, old or young, have dreams and aspirations of playing in the highest leagues and competitions possible, meaning they will always have a motivation to move on and prosper elsewhere.
Long gone are the days of one-club heroes, they are now ruled by money-hungry agents looking to exploit a lucrative market.
This summer will be fascinating: leagues must be decided, expiring contracts must be settled and assurances must be made to lower league clubs to protect them in an exposed transfer market.
With the uncertainties caused by the virus affecting far more than simply the problems of today, it will be interesting to see how football clubs like Town recover in the wake of tomorrow.
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