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The Premier League is papering over the cracks in English football

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Expert
25th August, 2019
14
1887 Reads

Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Arsenal at Anfield was thoroughly entertaining but the Premier League’s success is masking some big problems within English football.

Let’s start this one from left field. How good was Coventry City’s 1-0 win over Gillingham in League One on Saturday?

It was an important early-season win for everyone connected to the club. Except, of course, local fans who happen to live in Coventry, because the Sky Blues aren’t playing their home games at a 32,000-capacity Ricoh Arena that was purpose-built for them.

Instead they’re hosting games more than 30 kilometres away at Birmingham City’s home ground St. Andrew’s.

Why? It’s a long story.

David Conn spells it out neatly for The Guardian and points out this is the second time in five years the club’s hedge fund owners Sisu have forced Coventry City to play home games miles away from their actual home.

It’s not like all this has gone down without protest. The Coventry Telegraph’s #bringCityhome social media campaign was short-listed by the British Press Awards for the Campaign of the Year in 2014.

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But despite the local newspaper’s vocal campaigning and the visceral anger of Coventry fans, it all seems to be futile as long as Sisu retains control of the club.

And as strange as the situation seems in Coventry, Sky Blues fans might still consider themselves lucky to have a club to support at all.

Because in Lancashire, fellow League One combatants Bolton Wanderers and Bury FC could both go out of business for good this week.

Separated by a distance of less than 20 kilometres, the two are neighbours in geography if not necessarily recent circumstance.

Bolton were in the Premier League as recently as 2012, but a handful of relegations and debts of more than $AU300 million saw them almost wound up in December 2015.

The situation hasn’t improved since and the club went into administration last season over an unpaid tax bill, meaning they started the new campaign with an automatic 12-point reduction.

Players have gone weeks without being paid, a league fixture against Brentford was forfeited last season and there were even reports some players were relying on food bank donations just to survive.

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The situation is similarly dire down the road at Bury, who have spent the past decade bouncing between the third and fourth divisions.

Bury FC fans protest.

(Photo by Dave Howarth/PA Images via Getty Images)

They too have suffered severe financial problems in recent years, prompting businessman Steve Dale to buy the club for a pound in December 2018.

Stricken by debt and with the English Football League demanding proof that Dale had the funds to run the club for a full season, Bury should have been celebrating an improbable promotion back into League One.

Instead, they’ve had all their early-season fixtures postponed as the EFL continually seeks assurances that the club is actually solvent.

Dale supposedly sold the club over the weekend – he reportedly turned down an earlier offer “in search of a better deal” – however Bolton’s 12-point deduction and Bury’s inability to even play matches has wreaked havoc with the fixture list.

It’s prompted the Bury-born former Manchester United and Everton star Phil Neville, whose mother and late father both worked for the Shakers, to call the situation “a disgrace”.

But with Premier League giants Manchester United and Manchester City vacuuming up most of the local support and fellow Lancashire clubs like Blackburn and Blackpool having their own ownership dramas, it often feels like the list of lower-league problems is never-ending.

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That’s before you factor in a club like Salford City, who have rocketed into the Football League on the back of investment from a group of Manchester United Class of ’92 players like one Phil Neville.

If these are local problems with local solutions, then the global appeal of the Premier League isn’t doing much to help.

And while clubs spending beyond their means is nothing new, going out of business after more than a hundred years of existence most certainly is.

Here’s hoping Bolton and Bury can both survive the week. Because without the clubs, there’s no football to support.

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