Stephen Cleeve: Money matters, Hollywood A-listers ... and the FA Cup

King's Lynn Town were one of a number of non-league clubs to spring an FA Cup upset when they won at

King's Lynn Town were one of a number of non-league clubs to spring an FA Cup upset when they won at Port Vale Picture: Gerard Austin - Credit: Gerard Austin

The FA Cup first round results took many members of the media by surprise – I calculated nine non-league teams, including the mighty King’s Lynn Town, knocked out league opposition.

Actor Ryan Reynolds now has a stake in National League club Wrexham Picture: PA

Actor Ryan Reynolds now has a stake in National League club Wrexham Picture: PA - Credit: PA

One of those teams, Marine, play four levels below the football league and their beating of Colchester United was the only true shock of the round.

I had the game pencilled in as a possible shock, though, as I personally know some members of their board and they had told me that it’s the best team that they have seen come out from their side of Liverpool in their lifetime.

Darlington and Chorley went through from the National League North and the other six teams all came from The National League. Most years throw up a shock or two and there is usually always a smaller club (think Wycombe Wanderers in 2001, who came close to knocking out Liverpool in the semi-finals) who the country unites behind and follows their fortunes throughout the competition; but nine shocks are unheard of in one round.

We find ourselves in a far from shocking situation – League Two clubs have been operating under a salary cap with no more than £1m being able to be spent on players’ wages and that includes all bonuses and appearance monies other than promotion bonuses. National League clubs have no such issues and can literally spend what they want and, despite what some of the clubs would have you believe, they are doing just that. I know of one National League player on £4,000 a week and many that are on around the £1,400 mark, whereas League Two salaries average out at £1,000 per week. I even know of a National League North club that are paying £1,800 a week to their prized central defender. We are now in the bizarre situation where clubs promoted from the National League into the Football League would have to reward their players with a pay cut.


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Of course, football would not be football without one or two chairmen trying to circumvent the rules and I understand one League One chairman has done exactly that, sponsoring players from one of his personal companies to boost up their pay packets – of course, the players have no protection if he decides to stop paying for his expensive image rights.

We are seeing League One players now drop into the National League as they can simply earn more money that way and it is my belief that the National League and the Championship are the two hardest divisions to get out of in the entire pyramid.

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Look at some of the teams that have dropped out recently from the Football League; Chesterfield, who are languishing at the wrong end of the table, and even Notts County found that they could not bounce back at the first attempt. Conversely, when did the last club promoted from the National League get relegated straight back down again the following season? Giving promoted clubs a few seasons to implode still makes very good odds for those teams in question; I accept Macclesfield Town were relegated last season, but that was caused by points deductions and financial mismanagement and other than Barnet, who seem to yo-yo between the two leagues, the last club to be promoted from the National League and find themselves back there now is Torquay, who were promoted in 2009. If we include Barnet that’s two in 11 years; if you compare that to the statistics of promoted clubs arriving in the Premiership it makes pretty good reading.

With all this money at the top end floating around it should have been no surprise that the Hollywood A-lister Ryan Reynolds and actor Rob McElhenney purchased the longest-serving members of the National League, Wrexham football club, just this week. It could be a very astute move with no purchase price and just an investment into the club needed to get them on board. Wrexham have a huge fan base, indeed social media shifted 400 shirts in just one day after the stars’ takeover and I am sure they could end up with lots of worldwide fans who in all probability will never make it to Wales, but will ensure that the subsequent documentary gets excellent viewing numbers when it comes out, as I am sure it will in a year or two.

It will be interesting to see what Mr Reynolds and Co make of The Walks when they visit at the very end of January – no doubt if we are allowed fans back into the stadium it is not a game we will struggle to sell the sponsorship for.

Back in the real world, our part-time players will make national TV next Saturday as we take on Portsmouth at Fratton Park, and so they should with their excellent performance at Port Vale and no doubt most of the country that tune in will be wanting an upset and will get behind the Linnets. It is after all what makes the FA Cup box office. I have no idea if we will succeed in upsetting the odds, but I do know that if they do the media coverage would give Ryan Reynolds a run for his money.

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