Premier League clubs fail the smell test by furloughing their staff | Paul MacInnes

Belts are being tightened across the UK but it should not be the taxpayer who picks up the bill for a gold-laced league

Under the shadow of coronavirus new rules are being made and unmade. Things that were unknown and alien a week ago are increasingly part of daily life. But some things do not need explaining. They feel instinctively right, or plain wrong and Premier League clubs furloughing their staff is one.

On Monday Mike Ashley took the plunge, announcing Newcastle would be the first club to stop paying all non-playing staff. Instead they could apply for emergency funding, 80% of their salary up to £2,500 a month under the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.

Newcastle turned over £178m in their last published accounts. Ashley was estimated to be worth just under £2bn in the lastest Sunday Times rich list. Yet the move did not surprise many; a week previously Ashley had decided his Sports Direct retail business should ignore the national lockdown and carry on trading because it sold essential items, such as Lonsdale-branded flight bags, until government pressure told.

Twenty-four hours after the Newcastle announcement, amid a lengthy statement calling on the world of football to “wake up to the enormity of what is happening around us”, Tottenham’s chairman, Daniel Levy, said he would be also be furloughing staff, with the taxpayer to pick up the bill. Spurs had just announced a profit of £172.7m with Levy confirmed as the highest-paid director in English football, taking home £7m.

On Tuesday Norwich joined the gang, although they would top up their employees’ furlough payment so it matched their usual salary. Norwich operate on one of the smallest budgets in the Premier League but in 2018-19, in the Championship, they gave their highest-paid director £472,000.

Are football clubs going through straitened times? No doubt. Not only have they been suddenly deprived of the revenuefrom playing matches – from tickets and bar receipts to the ads on electronic hoardings – they face the prospect of having to return money to broadcasters should the season not be completed and to sponsors whose logos will not have been seen as often as they were promised.

In losing out on income they had assumed was guaranteed, football clubs are hardly alone. Some, even in the top flight, could be classed as medium-sized enterprises, taking in less each year than a Tesco Extra. But despite that, football clubs are not an ordinary business.

Tottenham may have to make reimbursements to their sponsors, such as the AIA Group.
Tottenham may have to make reimbursements to their sponsors, such as the AIA Group. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

Of late there has been much speculation as to how the Premier League may complete the season and thus forestall some of its losses. The idea of a sporting “mega event” has been floated, with clubs playing lots of football in short order on TV. It has apparently been encouraged by government which, given the unknowable knock-on effects to public health, sounds about right. Such an event, it has been suggested, could boost the nation’s morale.

This idea attests to an obvious fact: Premier League football plays a central role in British life. Clubs and players are put on pedestals, treated as role models and heroes. They did not ask for it to be that way but to say those at the top do not benefit, and enjoy benefiting, from that privilege is nonsense. That is why actions such as those taken by Newcastle, Tottenham and Norwich have immediately and pungently failed the smell test.

In the middle of all this are the players. We are used to the fetishisation of their great wealth and the question, never far behind, as to whether they deserve it. They did not create this problem but their union, the Professional Footballers’ Association, is wrangling with the Premier League over whether their wages should be subject to alteration in order to help clubs stay afloat.

The PFA does not trust the clubs and perhaps rightly so. On the other hand the PFA is an opaque organisation with questions that linger over what it does with its substantial revenues beyond paying its chief executive, Gordon Taylor, a salary comparable to that of a Premier League player.

The players should take this moment and break from their union. Like many others in this crisis they should use it to do good. Bournemouth are pursuing the same approach as Norwich but Eddie Howe and his staff are taking pay cuts voluntarily.

Premier League players should follow Leeds’ example and offer to forgo a portion of their salary, too, so that none of their colleagues are furloughed and to protect as many livelihoods lower down the pyramid as they can.

It’s clear, from listening to individual players, that this is what many of them want. They should set an example to those higher up the football food chain and just do it. The country would thank them.


Paul MacInnes

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Premier League chief defends clubs' 'restraint' in their furloughing of staff
The chief executive of the Premier League, Richard Masters, has defended the furloughing of staff, claiming clubs have been acting with restraint

Paul MacInnes and Jacob Steinberg

07, Apr, 2020 @6:20 PM

Article image
Premier League clubs ready to provide funds for those in Football League
Meeting of Premier League shareholders is set to discuss providing aid to Championship clubs as well as the number of live TV games with fans still not allowed inside grounds

Paul MacInnes

02, Oct, 2020 @5:49 PM

Article image
Project Big Picture under pressure as Premier League clubs fail to back reform
The reform plans engineered by the owners of Manchester United and Liverpool have failed to gain support from their top-flight peers

Paul MacInnes

12, Oct, 2020 @8:04 PM

Article image
Premier League will hand over £1m to help Women's Super League restart
The Premier League will donate £1m to help the Women’s Super League restart next season but continues to stand its ground on providing financial support for the men’s football pyramid

Paul MacInnes

30, Jun, 2020 @6:59 PM

Article image
Premier League and Championship clubs raise stakes with unprecedented spend
English football has never been so wealthy but there are concerns that those lower down the chain may miss out on the funds splashed around in the transfer window

Paul MacInnes

01, Sep, 2016 @7:02 PM

Article image
Premier League looks armour-plated, whatever La Liga thinks about its spending | Sean Ingle
The La Liga president’s battle to rein in spending is on soft ground because England’s top flight is still on a firm financial footing

Sean Ingle

16, Jan, 2023 @8:00 AM

Article image
Premier League tells PFA players will have to share in financial pain
The Premier League and EFL have urged the footballers’ union to accept that deferral of wages is not enough as the sport grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic

David Conn

01, Apr, 2020 @8:16 PM

Article image
High time Premier League clubs began listening to long-suffering fans | Sean Ingle

Sean Ingle: Everton and Bolton supporters have achieved small victories in recent days, but the big battle over ticket prices has still to be won

Sean Ingle

09, Jun, 2013 @10:40 PM

Article image
Premier League clubs make record £3.4bn with help from FFP regulations
Figures show 14 of the Premier League’s 20 clubs made a profit in the 2014-15 season

David Conn

25, May, 2016 @7:47 PM

Article image
Everton’s Carlo Ancelotti wants Premier League to prioritise punishing ESL clubs
Carlo Ancelotti has said it would be laughable for the Premier League to investigate Everton over possible financial breaches without punishing the six English clubs that signed up for a European Super League

Andy Hunter

12, May, 2021 @9:30 PM