Stephen Cleeve: High price to pay for chasing the dream

BT Sport cameras in the main stand at The Walks

King's Lynn Town haven't quite been out in force at The Walks this season - for a number of reasons - Credit: Ian Burt

The scale of Derby County’s debt has yet to be revealed, but buyers are rumoured to need £60m to make it through the season after the club’s collapse into administration a few days ago.

There are clearly lessons that need to be learned, but there are also as many questions as answers when one looks at the overall situation.  

A general view of Pride Park Stadium, home of Derby County. Picture date: Wednesday September 22, 20

Derby County - in administration - Credit: PA

In 2016, the English Football League allowed clubs to sell their stadiums (these could be sold to related parties) and it allowed owners via a backdoor route to inject funds into their clubs. Four teams took advantage: Birmingham, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Reading. All four have subsequently had point deductions or are amid proceedings that may see points docked. Is there a correlation, I wonder?

In 2018/19, the average Championship club spent 107pc of their turnover on players. Derby County’s recent wage bill was 161pc of turnover and Reading’s was around the 200pc mark. Clearly, these figures are not sustainable unless owners are able to fund these losses personally or through their other businesses and they do not break any league financial fair play rules in the process.

Under Melvyn Morris, Derby County have spent £200m chasing the dream. There are players at Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland being paid between £ 30,000 and £ 50,000 a week. There are seven ex-Premier League clubs now plying their trade in League One and it shows how well Norwich City have done to have been promoted to the Premier League without having to bet the club in the process.

Accrington Stanley achieved promotion to League One in 2018 with a budget of just £900,000 and the team that they beat that day, Yeovil, now find themselves playing in the National League against teams like King’s Lynn Town.

In the National League, we have teams with budgets of well over £2m and one manager is rumoured to earn over £10,000 a week. Fans want a winning team, and they need to look at their role in all of this; are they vociferously encouraging owners to bet the club? I accept that no one puts a gun to any owner’s head, but fans need to be realistic in their demands, taking their own individual club's circumstances into account.

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Parachute payments clearly take a lot of the blame for the mess as they distort what some clubs have on day one and other clubs need to find to be competitive.

Clubs relegated from League Two into our league are given £750,000 a season as a parachute payment so how can we be competitive against clubs with single payments that far exceed our entire season's gate receipts?  I am pretty sure parachute payments will be dispatched sooner rather than later, which will make the leagues fairer and hopefully will stop the need for excessive spending by club owners.

Next week we are delighted to welcome Norwich City’s Under 23s to The Walks as they play West Bromwich Albion on Monday night at 7pm and Fulham at the same time on Friday, October 1, in the Premier League 2. We are looking forward to watching their future stars in action and hope that the experience is a positive one for all involved; tickets are just £5 for terrace or seating and £1 for children. We are very grateful to Norwich for allowing us to host these games. 

Before that, of course, we play Wealdstone today in a hugely important game for both clubs. Once we take out the big guns there is a mini league that involves both King’s Lynn and Wealdstone, a league within a league if you will, and this game is vital for both teams. Wealdstone are a decent outfit and have scored four times in their last two fixtures so for any neutrals it will certainly be an attractive fixture.

Behind the scenes we have several projects we are working on and are looking at ways of bringing more families to The Walks; those that come really enjoy the day out, but we must be proactive about it rather than just waiting for them to turn up.

There is no doubt that home crowds this season have been disappointing, and I put this down to several factors. Firstly, the playing squad has had a complete overhaul and fans have yet to connect with the players. Secondly, locally there still seems to be a Covid hangover - many businesses I speak to are trading way below pre-Covid levels. Thirdly, we increased adult and concession prices by a £1 so we can pay down debt and this has upset some fans, but would they rather us go the way of Derby County? Finally, some fans, due to the loss of momentum caused by Covid, do not seem to be having the connection with the club that they once did.

I can understand some of these points and we are doing all that we can to address them. We can, of course, reduce prices, but we would then be unsustainable in this league and would need to operate as a part-time club again.

Would fans really prefer us to be playing in the National League North? It may surprise some fans to note that we are spending more than 100pc of our gate money on footballing wages. I really believe that we are playing the best football in the club’s history, and it seems a shame not to support us whilst we are experiencing a few teething problems.