Unfair play

Dave Woodhall casts a jaundiced eye over current financial developments.

1989 was a significant year for discerning Villa supporters in two ways. Not only was there the possibility of spending fifty pee on quality literature but the Beer Orders were introduced.

This was one of those seemed a good idea at the time proposals, aimed at helping a sector suffering due to the actions of six companies who were monopolising the industry, squeezing out smaller competitors and driving up prices to the customer. Does something sound familiar?

The Beer Orders came about because those six companies owned almost half of the pubs in the country and supplied them with three-quarters of the beer sold. The idea was to provide more choice for publicans and customers. The reality was that the breweries sold their pubs to huge companies who still sold the same beer, often at extortionate rates to publicans who still had to buy what they were told.

FFP and its successor PSR have had much the same effect. The theory was fine – too many clubs were spending money they didn’t have, mainly to either stay in or get to the Premier League. The collapse of ITV Digital in 2003 had seen a host of clubs, including such previously well-run affairs as Ipswich Town and Barnsley, going into administration. It was too easy for clubs to run up eight figure debts, have them wiped out and carry on with hardly any consequence, leaving bills unpaid and better-run opponents with a sense of morality struggling to compete.

But, as with the Beer Orders, the good idea got used and manipulated by those at the top of the food chain to the detriment of the ones it was supposed to protect. The big brewers turned into even bigger leisure conglomerates while their former tenants struggled to cope with onerous contracts and ever-rising prices. Manchester City ignore 115 charges and their business associates shrug, then carry on as normal – football’s version of the Untouchables.

And naturally it’s the Villa who are worst-hit by the ongoing fiasco. Manchester City, with a squad both worth and costing billions, can spend what they like. Villa, with a genius of a manager who overachieved beyond all comprehension last season, have got to sell players and are limited in who they can buy. A club owned by men with a combined wealth of $12 billion at the last count, who could afford to buy any player in the world and with plans to transform a rundown inner-city area, are hampered in their aims by rules drawn up to stop Bradford City not being able to pay their paper bill twenty years ago.

Not that they’ve been particularly effective where we’re concerned. They didn’t stop Tony Xia spending a fortune, nor from taking us to within days of administration,

The FFP limit of £105 million losses was introduced for 2013-14. Back then, the biggest fee an English club had ever paid was when Chelsea bought Fernando Torres for £50 million. Our record signing was the £18 million Darren Bent. Prices have increased, the rules haven’t. It might sound like sour grapes but even if it wasn’t Villa being affected you could still see the utter insanity of the club best placed to break the monopoly having to sell at least one of their star players.

Something has to give – we can’t go back to the situation that enabled, to quote the worst example, Leicester City to come out of administration on the back of a deal that meant they’d pay back most of what they owed if they got promoted and a pittance if they didn’t. Clubs have got to see what’s best for the game as a whole rather than just for themselves, and not just over FFP.

For the moment we’ve got to do more re-building than should be necessary and we’re lucky to have the best manager in the country for doing just that. Then again, if he manages to perform miracles for the third year in a row don’t be surprised if some rule isn’t brought in saying he has to spend a couple of weeks every season in charge of each club in the league. It would be just as daft as everything else they’ve done on this subject.

And so we go into the summer, handicapped by a set of restrictions so blatantly unfair that they’ve even got Newcastle supporters on our side. There can be no greater proof of their unfitness for purpose.