BY SAM BRYANT
When clubs get relegated from the Premier League, we often hear about a ‘2-year plan.’ This basically means they need to get back into the Premier League within two years before their parachute payments run out.
The vast amount of money in England’s top division is extremely well-documented and it is clear that if a club does get relegated, their best chance of a return is in the immediate season or two that follow.
After their 13-year spell in the Premier League ended last season, Fulham would have been looking to do just that. However, a chaotic 18 months led them to a different kind of dog fight at the wrong end of the Championship table.
But what about elsewhere in the club? How else does relegation from Europe’s richest league affect a football club?
The Fulham FC Foundation is the community branch of the club, ran by Steven Day. The organisation turned over £2 million for charity last year and will do the same this year.
A number of schemes and initiatives are run, including programmes in education and training, employability, disability sport and family learning. Despite suffering the financially-dreaded drop, Fulham’s Foundation still run Premier League Kicks programmes. Kicks was set up in 2006 as a pathway for disadvantaged children to enjoy football and reduce crime and has steadily grown to become one of the Premier League’s most successful community projects.
In addition to that, Fulham also entered a team into this year’s Premier League Enterprise Challenge. The task was set by Richard Scudamore to increase the number of families attending football matches. Fulham’s team, made up of youngsters from Harris Academy, reached the final. So the club’s community department can still attach itself to the empowering brand of the Premier League. Ties were not completely cut the moment that final whistle went at The Britannia Stadium on 3rd May 2014. The fat cats are not that mean.
But there have been some changes, as Steven Day explained: “As a direct result of the relegation from the Premier League to the Championship, some of the core funding models are slightly different.
“The Premier League provides the community schemes of all Premier League clubs with some central funding and the funding at the Championship level is slightly less, so there is a direct correlation.
“Also, media interest is significantly less in what Fulham does generally. When you are in the Premier League there are a phenomenal amount of column inches and TV time slots to fill with content and when you are in the Championship there is not, so we do notice when we have an event or player appearance the number of media attendees has fallen.”
It is worthwhile to flip it the other way and look at the wider impact of gaining promotion to football’s top league. Ellis Cashmore is an experienced professor of sociology and sport and he explained the sociological reverberations of reaching the football pyramid’s summit.
He commented: “There is a certain kind of prestige attaching to Premier League clubs so that when a team in your region gets the top status, it grants civic pride because the city actually uses the club as a vehicle for promotion.”
The benefits can be far reaching, but Cashmore warns against getting carried away when talking about how powerful the Premier League can be. When Stoke City gained promotion in 2008, there was quite a fanfare about the town and local business owners thought the moving advertisement that the Premier League provides would lead to economic growth for the area. As nice as an idea this is, Cashmore argues that the reality is that it never quite comes to fruition.
He said: “It has a common sense logic to it, but I have not seen evidence that suggests it is the reality.
“It has a charm to it to think that would happen but it really does not really materialise in the long term.”
Stoke City also run a very successful community operation. Head of their Community Trust, Adrian Hurst, has seen a marked change in the local area since the club’s arrival in England’s top league and is hopeful that can continue to aid the charity work they do.
He commented: “The biggest difference we have seen is, pre-Premier League you would drive around the city and you would see a large amount of other strips across the city. Now you do not see as many, you still see some, but you see a lot of young people wearing Stoke shirts.
“We have got a role to play. A Premier League logo and the Premier League badge of Stoke City Football Club does provide a tool that sparks a little bit of interest in some young people.
“There is a lot of inspiration around the football club and there are many examples where young people have got involved in our activities and that has been one of the catalysts that has allowed them to adopt that change and move forward in their lives.”
The new £5 billion TV deal announced recently has incensed the debate regarding the distribution of the Premier League’s wealth. The Football Supporters’ Federation were hot on the heels of the announcement and were outside HQ within days demanding cheaper match tickets, a notion which has received support in recent days from a host of current professionals.
Another hotly demanded change was for more money to be planted into grassroots football. With players’ wages, agents’ fees and sponsorship deals continuing to surge, local children are still being forced to play on inadequate pitches and referees are falling out of the game at an alarming rate.
The Premier League are aware of the demands that will fall on them. At the announcement of the latest TV deal, even the invitation to the press conference had a nod to their community programmes proudly printed on it. This amounts to no promise or certainty that anything will be done, just a sly bit of free PR demonstrating the organisation’s portrayed good will.
Hurst knows the extra cash will result in an expectation of more being done by clubs to help the fans.
He said: “There will be more and more work that our departments will be required to do with the announcement of the TV deal.
“There is going to be a lot of pressure on the Premier League to develop facilities in grassroots football with this new deal, so it will be very interesting to look at how that will filter down to an 11-year old boy who is never going to play at any more than local leagues.”
The amount of money in football is publicised, written about, criticised and analysed every day. The amount of money in the Premier League is particularly eye-watering. So how can a club who suddenly have their umbilical cord that is drip-feeding them all this cash suddenly cut and thrown away continue to operate at the same level?
It is without argument that a football club’s community department is not central to its day-to-day running. Both Fulham and Stoke City are clubs that speak of a strong family and community spirit, pushed right through from the very top throughout each club’s long heritage. But neither Day nor Hurst would argue against the fact that the primary objective of a football club is to win football matches and turn a penny. For all the good work each club does in a community, it is not vital to the club’s existence.
So as Fulham continue to lose that steady stream of Premier League investment, how will their foundation carry on at the same high level? Day explained exactly how.
He said: “There have been a few negative impacts of the relegation but if clubs like Fulham manager their charity well, they will always have a contingency plan in place.
“We have always had a plan up our sleeves should the worst happen and sadly last season it did but the foundation is financially well governed and well managed.
“In many ways we have seen the least amount of affect from the relegation compared to other areas of the football club.
“It is a different world that we operate in now but we are certainly not weaker than we were last year and arguably we are stronger. That was the path we were taking, whether we were relegated or not.”