I’m trying to think up a new slogan for the club. How about “Rochdale A.F.C.; admin-free heaven since 1907”? Quite catchy that; maybe we should put it on the website. Or what about “R.A.F.C. – a reassuringly inexpensive squad”?, or “Rochdale… we’re good with no money”. I wonder how many other clubs in the Football League will be able to make the same claim?
By the looks of things, not very many. The Professional Footballers’ Assocation, the union of the players, has had to bail out Stockport County, Chester City, Darlington and tomorrow’s opponents AFC Bournemouth to help the clubs pay for their own staff wages. All four are in threat of administration (Darlington have already succumbed) and, according to the article, eight more may be in danger of bankruptcy soon. This season’s Division Four table was already made to look a shambles with points deductions for Rotherham, Bournemouth and Luton Town; next season’s might be even worse. Several people on this morning’s 5Live radio phone-in lambasted the Formula One stewards’ this week for their interference in Lewis Hamilton’s race results after the event, and suggested the sport was a “joke”; most brought up football as a game with more integrity somehow. Are these people stupid?
The Darlington case is a particularly close one to us, in that Darlo and Dale are so similar. Both have relatively meagre crowds of less than 4,000, both have been down in Division Four for yonks and both have big clubs on their doorsteps, taking their townspeople and dressing them up in Barclays Premier League Sportswear. But however similar the two clubs may be in stature and situation, the differences are telling. In 1999, George Reynolds was made chairman and subsequently Darlington built a huge white elephant stadium on the outskirts of their town, went into administration, came back out and bought a squad of Division Four Galacticos, missed out on promotion and then went into administration again. That’s two spells of insolvency since 2003. Darlington’s current league position? 11th, just 12 points and seven places behind Rochdale. It seems the reward for financial frugality is negligible, maybe even non-existant.
Clubs who go into administration should be relegated. There, I’ve said it. Points deductions cock up the league tables and laugh in the face of fair competition; Rotherham have been buying players, playing with abandon and beating everyone for months now without the pressure of a promotion challenge and Darlington have written off their debts when in a “safe” position in the league. The only team who look seriously fucked up because of the points deductions are Luton Town, and that’s only because they were docked an unprescedented thirty points. Come August 2009 they will kick off in the Football Conference after playing a pointless season in Division Four with no chance of even staying up. Wouldn’t it have been easier just to relegate them in the first place and have done with it?
Of course, I have complete sympathy for the fans of all those teams I’ve mentioned and the countless others with histories of bad management. But just because a club has thousands of justifiably bitter supporters does not make it allowable to simply dole out 10 point deductions when a team goes into administration. Let them suffer a year or two in the tier below. 10 points? That’s just 3 wins and 1 draws worth. When put in these terms, administration almost seems desirable.
Rochdale AFC, as you know, have struggled against tight financial restrictions for years; but professional football still continues with sound books in this town with no heart. Possibly, just possibly, these teams could learn a thing or two from us – and then we might be able to play football on a level playing field as it was meant to be played.
Written by Matt Boothman on 4th April 2009