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How big is the lower league financial doping problem?

Cycling is once again involved in yet another doping scandal, this time involving British Cycling and some jiffy bags delivered to Bradley Wiggins. Experienced journalists, such as Paul Kimmage, are asking the tough questions and engaged in trying to discover just why he got a TUE to take the corticosteroid triamcinolon right before the start of grand tours, thereby giving him a significant advantage over other riders. Whilst many football fans may seek to use this to show the superiority of football’s supposedly clean competition, it’s more extraordinary how the systematic doping ruining football brings no outraged but is instead widely accepted as part of the sport.

A classic example of this was Newport County, who financially doped their way to a win over fan owned Wrexham in the 2013 Conference Play-Off final, winning 2-0 in extra time.

Newport’s success was funded by Les Scadding, the former mechanic who scooped a £45 million lottery win and spent a substantial sum of cash on his adopted hometown football club, Newport County. With this money they were able to push their way into the Football League.
Meanwhile, the more well supported Wrexham, were denied regaining a place in the Football League and are punished every single year because they decide to live within their means, instead of spending lots more money they could generate naturally.

Already, I can hear a few of the obvious questions. Firstly, who can really begrudge Les for throwing a few million quid at Newport and giving them a day in the sun? How is a club supposed to grow if you don’t invest in the team in the first place? Well the first question is simple to answer, Wrexham and every other club who isn’t doped by a millionaire. When clubs spend money they don’t have and can’t sustain, all other clubs are cheated out of the opportunity to succeed and leads to a poisonous choice for others: either dope or accept you can never compete. Both choices lead to poisonous outcomes.

Football is littered with the clubs made homeless or driven to ruination by spending far beyond their means in a bid to keep up with other teams who are financially doping. To name a few: Hereford and Kidderminster are the most recent examples. It’s the need to spend more than you can afford to compete which makes clubs vulnerable to extinction, just look how the vultures swarmed around Hereford when they went bust, desperate to get hold of the land the club sit on for development. Secondly, it (almost) never lasts because the ‘investment’ is completely lop-sided towards playing staff and not infrastructure. For example, Newport are now under fan ownership after Les pulled out and have unsurprisingly dropped to the relegation one of the Football League whilst having no long term ground security. This is not to slang off the supporters now running Newport and they do have a fighting chance of staying up but permanently staving off relegation is not a rosy long term prospect.

If we want to see what investment looks like you’d go to Maidstone United, whose owners rebuilt the club after they went homeless, built a state of the art ground and generated a budget off the income. The problem is of course the absurd National League bottleneck but the answer here is to increase promotion and relegation places so smaller teams like Newport can have a real chance at promotion, without doping. The great thing about the pyramid is clubs can rise and fall without it needing to leave the club homeless, the fact that one relegation can kill a club means that the club and the system is already broke.

The final argument, to the untrained eye, is probably the most persuasive. “Oh Edward, I suppose you only want big teams like Wrexham to have success then and have league position awarded by attendance?” Well, actually… No and to prove my case I give you Hendon vs Margate.

In the 2015 Ryman Prem play-off final, small and then homeless Hendon (who had become homeless after, you guessed it, the previous owner spent more money then the club had and then the new owners asset stripped the ground for property development) were having a stunning season. They finished just three points behind the aforementioned Maidstone United and just below them were moneybags Margate, doped on a pile of cash from the new owners. Despite an amazing season, Hendon would lose to Margate 1-0 and miss out on promotion to the Conference South and the small financial boost it would have granted them.

Flash forward less than two years and Margate are heading for relegation back to Step 3, after the money (quelle surprise) ran out and attendances dwindled. Meanwhile, Hendon themselves are now struggling at the foot of the Ryman Prem but at least they have a permanent home again. For all the money spent at Margate, their infrastructure remains as decrepit as it was two years ago. The reality is that by limiting the amount clubs can spend, it actually reduces the spending gap and makes it easier for smaller teams to have days in the sun a lot more regularly than we see now.

I was going to finish by pointing out that even with lots of money, do we really want the owners at clubs Man City and Chelsea spreading through the game like a virus but that is for another time. Instead, I’ll merely note that the next club spending money like water is Billericay Town, who have now signed up a host of players with a wage bill that is going to blow everyone else out of the water. Call me spiteful, but it the same way Paul Kimmage wasn’t applauding when Lance Armstrong was winning races, none of us should be applauding when Billericay start winning games.


About Edward Anderson

Edward has previously ran a blog on fan ownership, where he blew considerable sums of money to visit such as Dorchester and Barry Town United. He is currently laying low in Catalonia.

Follow Edward on Twitter: @eddyman00

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  1. Is this some sort of joke? Wrexham lived beyond their means for years and were still running at a hefty loss for the first few years of trust ownership.

    They had to raise £250,000 in 48 hours to save themselves from bankruptcy a few years ago, have a ground that is subsidised by the UK taxpayer and if it were not for a few consecutive years of FA cup runs, would probably have sunk to the same level as Stockport by now.

    Yes, Newport County enjoyed the generosity of a rich fool to get them back into the FL earlier than we were ready, but to say that “well-run” Wrexham deserved it more because they get more supporters through the gate is a joke.

    Do some research you absolute buffoon.

  2. I’m assuming this is written by a 16-year-old, but the clunky cycling “doping” analogy is absurd. Almost stopped reading when I spotted that the writer thinks the phrase is “starved off” rather than “staved off”.

  3. it was 2013. Who was the Dope who wrote this?

  4. It’s hard to know where to start on this, but one thing the author misunderstands is that the League won’t admit a club sharing a ground as Newport do unless it is totally satisfied about security of tenure. Newport have contributed to infrastructure by helping finance pitch and other ground improvements. It now transpires that the rugby club’s finances are in poorer shape than the EFL thought when it gave the green light and the Welsh Rugby Union may buy the ground. This is what poses a threat of homelessness, nothing to do with money having been spent on the team that could have gone elsewhere.

  5. 2003 is a typo, fair enough. The fact that Wrexham lived beyond their means doesn’t undermind the point that doping in football is bad though does? To metion that Wrexham fans had to raise so much money without mentioning the private ownership of Alex Hamilton, who wanted to make a significant profit from the club and then when this failed, attempted to boot the club out of the ground so he could sell it gives an incredibly false picture.

    So in short, typos happen and so does financial doping.

  6. Typos happen, as does lazy research and a chronic failure to proof-read. This ‘article’ is littered with so many mistakes and falsehoods that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Although it’s entirely possible the true facts didn’t quite suit the author’s agenda here?! Firstly, as has already been pointed out, it was 2013 not 2003. Secondly Newport won the game in normal time, not extra time. Thirdly, Wrexham living within their means is misleading at best and an outright untruth at worst; a quick glance at their recent history and five minutes of proper research suggests that is clearly not so. Lastly, Les Scadding entertained Newport County to the tune of £1.3m, not the “few million he threw at them” stated here – plus the fact the fans are paying a third of that back to him in instalments has also been lost or conveniently swept aside. So not quite the outrageous sugar daddy suggested when you delve a little deeper hey Edward? A kindly helping hand yes, a generous benefactor most certainly, but outrageous financial doping? Hardly. I could go on, except to say it’s a pity the important points the author clearly intended to make were lost amidst a sea of unsubstantiated waffle and bluster.

  7. Did Newport dope their way into the League? Yes. You’ve not made a dent in that argument and the fact that you are paying back money you couldn’t generate in the first place doesn’t change it. For what it’s worth I hope Newport stay up but when clubs do it the way Newport did and FGR are trying to do, it creates bad incentives.

  8. I’d recommend you stop digging and use your time more wisely instead Edward, possibly by doing some basic research into the known playing budgets of Mansfield, Kidderminster, Wrexham, Forest Green and Grimsby circa 2013 – the clubs ‘moneybags’ Newport were competing with.
    Or if you like, those poor clubs we “cheated out of a place in the League.”

    The results may surprise you.

    In the meantime, give me your address and I’ll send you a free J-cloth to wipe that egg from your face.

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