MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: There are two injustices of Conference life
9:00am Tuesday 23rd October 2012 in Sport
I THINK if there were one single factor we as football supporters can all agree on then it would be that money talks in the beautiful game.
In fact, money doesn’t just talk; it positively screams at the top of its lungs like Brian Blessed on class A drugs with a megaphone, a booming distraction that reverberates around the grounds and through the divisions.
However, in no other division is the deafening sound of those who have been lording it over those who have not louder than in the Conference, currently, and undoubtedly, the most flawed concept in British football.
The Conference is failing on two fronts and both need to be addressed for the betterment of football in Britain.
The biggest issue by far (as pertains to the Conference) is the ridiculous scenario of only one side getting automatic promotion and only two being permitted to join League Two in total.
Four League Two clubs have a similar opportunity for ascension per season and in no way, shape or form does that make sense.
The rules simply must be changed because anyone with even a modicum of common sense could tell you that there are several clubs in tier five with fan bases well in excess of what is typical at Conference level.
Luton, Stockport, Grimsby, Mansfield, Wrexham and Newport all attract enough supporters to punch their weight in Leagues One or Two, yet the prospect of doing so becomes harder and harder.
Putting aside national rivalry, there is no better example than Wrexham. Their efforts last season, in a campaign let us not forget where their very existence was threatened and they lost their manager, was remarkable. Their points haul of 98 quite simply means they deserved to be promoted, to be rewarded, yet this rule anomaly of second not being good enough cost them.
So that’s my first grievance and it ties in with grievance two, one that’s harder to address and change and one that’s providing an equally skewed view of life in the Conference.
Because let us not forget why Wrexham’s 98 points weren’t enough. It is because they came up against a Fleetwood Town side with a financial clout that blew the others out of the water.
They became the second successive team to earn promotion by virtue of pounds equalling prizes, like some kind of Bruce Forsyth game show.
“You get nothing for a pair, not in this game, but you can sign a striker for a six figure fee. Higher or lower?”
And the answer is always the same. Higher! More, more, more.
It was Crawley two seasons ago, Fleetwood last year and now it’s the turn of Forest Green Rovers to attempt to buy their way to promotion.
Let’s not sugar coat it, let’s not pretend it isn’t happening, let’s be honest about what even non-league football is becoming about.
Who can spend, spend, spend their way to the ONE position in the Conference that guarantees promotion?
Forest Green had become the epitome of a club who had found their natural level, working miracles to remain the Conference’s longest standing club despite such a meagre fan base and catchment area.
But now? Now they are exactly the same in terms of support, stature and history, it’s just that they’ve got a very large wage bill and spend transfer fees.
They have a squad deep enough to mean they’ll have players who’d be top earners at other clubs not even featuring on match days, and it’s all because of their supportive chairman Dale Vince.
There is a very reasonable argument to say that Mr Vince, who owns a green energy company, is well in his rights to spend his mon-ey as he sees fit and that’s impossible to argue.
But at what cost? How far could anyone possibly take a club like Forest Green who simply don’t have a solid consumer base? Even in this, their best season in ages, they have the 18th highest average home attendance in the division with just 1,039.
If, or when, Mr Vince tires of being in charge of a football club, where do they go then?
I ask similar questions of Crawley, entrenched as they are in Brighton territory, and Fleetwood, perennially a non-league side.
Both are in the top four of their divisions (Crawley steamed through League Two last year) and yet Crawley have only the 19th highest attendance in League One and Fleetwood 15th in League Two.
Where is the sustainability? Clubs with the fanbase of Leeds and Portsmouth nearly went belly up for overspending, living the dream so to speak. Look at Rangers for goodness sake.
Business people have every right to own football clubs, just not to ignore every principle and instinct that made them rich in the first place because it’s a hobby and a pastime.
I’ll close by admitting I am aware some will accuse me of hypocrisy because County have a multi-millionaire chairman who could, if he chose, bankroll them in a similar fashion.
But luckily Les Scadding has made clear he doesn’t want it to be like that. Neither do his fellow directors and nor do the consortium who I believe, ultimately, will still end up coming on board at Rodney Parade.
County are self sufficient with a growing fanbase and realistic aspirations for going up and staying up without a mountain of debt. Thank goodness.
It’s just a shame that moneybags clubs and preposterous rules make it so difficult to get there.
Just ask Wrexham.
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