How To Save The National League – And It Won’t Even Hurt

If only there was a magic wand which could be waved, which would save the most vulnerable clubs from COVID oblivion, and make football fans have just a little bit more faith in the greedy clubs who came so close to destroying the game we love last week. A wondrous solution that, incredibly wouldn’t leave anybody out of pocket. Well, there is! For once, there might just be a way for grassroots football to have its cake and eat it!

I learned of the possibility from the excellent “The Price of Football” podcast. Kieran Maguire, the doyen of footy finance and a superb guest of mine earlier this season on Dragonheart, explained to his co-host Kevin Day that there was an interesting situation developing around the Premier League’s parachute payments, because teams are bouncing straight back up out of The Championship.

Parachute payments for Premier League clubs which were relegated last season amount to just over £40 million each this season, and are paid for the first two seasons they are outside the top division. Obviously, any team which comes straight back up in the first season after relegation won’t receive the second tranche of payments because they’ll be back in the promised land. So, when Norwich and Watford bounce back up next season, the Premier League will pocket a tidy £83 million as they won’t have to cough up for their second lot of parachute payments. If AFC Bournemouth are promoted through the play-offs, that’ll be bonus in excess of £120 million for the EPL.

On the podcast they debated whether that money could be given to EFL clubs, but it seemed to be complicated because they have parachute payments of their own: when you drop down the EFL divisions, or into the National League, you get a similar, if considerably smaller, package.

So why not give the money to the National League? The 72 clubs would be getting an unimaginable windfall: even if the figure is £80 million, that’d obviously average out at more than a million per team.

And there’s another advantage of this idea: when the government grants were doled out by the National League at the start of the season, the clumsy way it was administered eventually led to the atmosphere of resentment which fueled the vote of no confidence in the board.

In distributing that money, intended to compensate clubs for losses caused by COVID, equally among its members, it meant that smaller clubs were suddenly receiving more than they had lost, whereas big clubs were only getting a portion of what they’d missed out on.

The issue of unfair distribution and vested interests could be easily avoided in this case though, as the EPL can distribute their largesse however they want. They could decide to give it out on the basis of average attendances from last season, with some adjustment to acknowledge that promoted clubs might have experienced larger crowds, and have done with it. If you don’t like, don’t accept the gift.

The real beauty of all this, of course, is that it wouldn’t cost the EPL a penny because they’ve already budgeted to give this money out to other clubs anyway!

It’s a perfect scenario, and a PR stunt that the Greedy 6 who pushed for the “Super” League ought to be particularly keen on. Their reputation has been mangled, and leading this initiative would hardly fix that. However, if I was CEO of Manchester United, I’d be keen to champion this idea and push it hard. They certainly need some positive news right now! How could the other 14 clubs, who were calling out the selfish greed of the Greedy 6, suddenly say no to helping out the smaller clubs?

Wrexham are fortunate enough not to be in desperate need of a bail-out, of course, but there are plenty of clubs in our division and below whose existence is in doubt. If the “Super” League teams want to sell the lie that their breakaway league would benefit the entire pyramid, this seems to be an easy starting point.

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