Financial Unfair Play’s Why Fleetwood Leave Us Cold

So why do we all resent Fleetwood so much? Because, let’s be honest: we really really do!

Want proof? Have a look at Red Passion, where the forums are full of annoyance at the Cod Squad (Army seems too large a unit by far!); the always entertaining Friday column by Andy Gilpin also articulated the depth of feeling amongst supporters; and if we’re to judge by the prominence BBC Wales give the issue in the post-match press conference, it’s all we think of up here.

It feels like it goes way beyond the normal feelings you have against your closest rivals, and I’ve got be honest and say that I feel it too. For me, it’s about something a little more fundamental than who wins the Conference title though. It strikes at something very important about Wrexham FC and our recent history, which is also a crucial issue for the future of the game.

Quite simply, you get the feeling that what Fleetwood are doing is simply bad for football.

You might accuse me of sour grapes, but I plead innocent without a moment’s hesitation. It bothers me that folk are willing to cheer on such a crazy model in these of all times. Enjoy it while you can, because I sense there’ll be no club to cheer at Highbury in ten years time.

That might seem a somewhat apocalyptic statement, but if you want to understand what I’m saying, just look at the evidence all around you. What happens to clubs who overstretch themselves? The headlines are grabbed by cases like those of Rangers and Portsmouth, and certainly Pompey illustrate my point quite nicely; absolutely, Harry Redknapp enjoyed success there, but most managers would have done if they were allowed to spend beyond their club’s means.

Football somehow seems to think that, as it rouses passions like little else and can rely on the undying support of a team’s fans, that it’s untouchable, operating outside the normal rules of economics. It doesn’t. Those fans whose loyalty has been bled by venal clubs through the good times remain committed, but they aren’t bottomless pits of charity. In these straitened times particularly, hard choices have to be made, and any sane person chooses family ahead of footy.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand and complaining about UEFA’s Financial Fair Play legislation, clubs like Chelsea ad Manchester City ought to be thanking Michel Platini for trying to put a structure in place which might one day save them.

At the lower levels there are cases more pertinent to us, whose similarity to Fleetwood is striking. When Crawley can spend more in a Summer than the two divisions above them combined, when Neath can outbid us on a player’s wages on crowds of two hundred, and afford to sign Lee Trundle at the same time,  then it’s fair to say they’re living beyond their means.

They ought to be careful. Spending a massive amount more than you earn is a great ride – while it lasts. Then it’s devastation, destitution and destruction. Ask Rushden and Diamonds. It’s all very well enjoying the largesse of a sugar daddy, but reckless spending can’t go on forever, and when benefactors grow bored, become skint or die, few of them have a plan for a legacy in place like Jack Walker’s. In a decade or two we might look back and see that his was the only major investment in a football club which allowed it to maintain an elevated place after the funding ran out.

So Fleetwood strike a raw nerve in Wrexham fans for reasons beyond the fact that they are the one barrier between us and a return to the Football League. As Gilpin rightly points out, that sense that we ought to be back up there is certainly a factor, but it’s the nature of the opposition we’re up against that’s really the issue, not just the fact that someone has the temerity to block our path. Fleetwood are an artificially pumped-up club whose star will flare beautifully for a few years, then collapse in on itself. It’s a real shame that the authorities allow clubs to run themselves like that, gambling on the present and then suddenly being hit at some point in the future with the reality that they’re a club paying Championship wages on crowds of 2,000. It’s even more of a shame, from our perspective, that for two seasons the top spot in The Conference has been blocked by exactly that sort of flash in the pan club. After we beat Barrow we stood eighteen points clear of Luton. EIGHTEEN POINTS CLEAR OF LUTON! Just think about that for a moment; if Fleetwood weren’t having their brief, fatal flirtation with glory right now, the title would be pretty much wrapped up by now; we’d need just fifteen points from the last thirty to claim it. Why couldn’t Andy Pilley have bought a Caribbean island instead?

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11 thoughts on “Financial Unfair Play’s Why Fleetwood Leave Us Cold

  1. FootballManagement’s consistently excellent: although the post is about last season, the comment on Fleetwood feels more apposite than ever. It feels nice to look back at the situation we were in a year ago and feel we’ve come a long way though!

  2. You’re spot on as usual, Mark. I was genuinely delighted to see Wimbledon go up last season, and was glad we never had to play them in the play-offs as there would have been real mixed feelings whatever the result. But, as you say, at some point Fleetwood is going to crash and burn. When that happened to us, the fans cared enough to pick up the pieces – but what will happen at Fleetwood?

  3. And Wrexham are a shining example of how a club should be ran? Obviously feeling the pressure, and really dont fancy your chances in the play offs. Neither would I, I watched you against Luton you were average, what are your plans next season when half your squad retire?

    • Well, we’re a fan-run club committed to running within our means, and therefore won’t be gambling with our future in order to go up, so yes, I’m pretty happy with your description of us as a shining example.

      As only three of the side that beat Luton are over thirty, and one of them has been signed on a short term contract anyway, while the other two had just 21 appearances between them this season, I don’t feel too worried about them all retiring either!

  4. I’m no fan of Fleetwood Town being a Southport supporter but I find it a bit rich that you predict their financial demise and almost seem to want it to happen your being the supporter of a club that has been so mismanaged over the years that there were strong doubts that Wrexham would even start the current season. What makes the clubs like Wrexham, Darlington and Kettering “spending a massive amount more than you earn” better than Fleetwood? Why do you not predict the demise of clubs like Luton and Grimsby, both of whom are carrying huge and barely sustainable debts? From my visit to Fleetwood on Boxing Day they look like they’re doing quite nicely (though it pains me to say it) – their stadium was good, pitch was immaculate and their fans created a great atmosphere. They also stuffed us out of sight at our place on New Years Day – Vardy is the best player I’ve ever seen at this level and he ripped us to pieces at Haig Ave. I hope Wrexham go up this season mainly because I don’t like Fleetwood because of the history between the two clubs but sanctimonious prats like you do your club no favours to be honest. I suspect the real reason you want them to go bust is simply because they are a threat to your own promotion aspirations – how petty.

    • You need to read it more carefully – what worries me is that clubs are being run on unsustainable grounds, and it’ll lead to disaster. Your other examples are fair ones, but I worry that the examples I cited are those in the greatest danger.

      For the record, I certainly don’t want Fleetwood to go bust – such a fate for any club horrifies me, and there’s no way that could happen in a timeframe that could affect this season, so I don’t see your point about me being petty. On the contrary, their demise is why I feel strongly enough to write about it – because it’s inevitable. Clubs can’t go on living way beyond their means, and when they do so as massively as Fleetwood, Crawley and Neath, there’s no way back once reality kicks in.

      Our history is utterly shameful, and if the fans hadn’t taken over we’d have ended up on a similar road. What happened last season, with the begging bowl out for fans to pay the taxes, and the Conference rightly demanding evidence that we could finish the season, were heart-breaking. I don’t want fans to go through that.

      Shame you resorted to name-calling at the end, by the way, as I lost respect for a well-formed argument when I saw that. I suggest you stick to winning your case with cogent arguments rather than insulting people you’ve never met because you know you’ll never have to justify yourself face-to-face .

  5. I am a Wrexham fan through and through but I still don’t see how we are much different from Fleetwood. Even now there is a massive gap in the funding which though there is a plan in place I have not seen anyone say how this gap will be plugged after next year. Are we not banking on going up and hoping that it will somehow fill the huge hole in the budget. That is what it seems to me from looking at the club accounts during the takeover process that we were all sent (WST)

    • Fair points: you’ve made me stop and think. My reading of our situation is that the unexpected windfalls-big transfer fees, a cup run and getting high earners off the payroll, plus the beginnings of a commercial set-up being established-have made the big difference the WST have reported.

      My worry for Fleetwood is that their spending is offset against the donations of a sugar daddy, and if he withdraws his largesse they’re in a hole.

      But I accept that we’ve been lucky this season and can’t hope that will happen every year! Mind you, I think it’s the good fortune we needed to wipe out the unfortunate legacy we inherited.

      • I see your points and completely agree it is stupid when a backer throws all this money in and if he gets bored then they are out of business.

        My worry with Wrexham is that the balance sheet is not close to being balanced. Too much on the hope of us increasing business by x% (I hope we do!!). I have not seen anyone give estimates as to how much going up brings, for example, the loss this year does seem covered with various initiatives etc. Therefore, if promotion covers that budget gap it is a fair risk, if we fail, you cut back to next years budget. My worry is we wouldn’t cut back then we are in trouble as future losses are not covered by the plan!

        This is fair play in my opinion (this should apply for our government too as it is budget time). You spend what you bring in!! So if we bring 100k, 1 mill or 10 mill…..you cant spend above that. If you have a backer then any cash he gives should be a gift not a loan to be repaid.

        The problem with football is it is not a closed league. In Rugby, NFL etc they can have a salary cap because no one can be relegated. The NFL system is the best I have seen. Player cap is set as % revenue of the TV contract and thus no one can go bankrupt. They also have collective merchandising. Again, this is cos it is a closed league with good management.

      • Excellent points: to sound an optimistic note, hopefully the assumption of financial growth is built on us carrying out work on the commercial side where previously none was done.

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