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.