The recent stellar-cash purchase of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germaine has brought into question the usefulness of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules (and, if like many, you’ve never really been able to get your head around FFP, you can read all about it thanks to this report from AskFans, the football fan-generated content site).
What began with UEFA trickled down to the English Premier League, and then the Championship. Even League One and League Two in the UK have rules linking wage bills and income. The question posed here though is will FFP rules ever be instigated in non-league football?
Non-league football may be seen as an indulgent passion by some. Crowds are small meaning that income is low, which in turn means that wages are low. What is the point of owning a non-league club other than the very worthwhile sake of playing football?
To complicate matters non-league football is now littered with previously-established Football League teams who’ve been relegated out of the league. Clubs such as Leyton Orient, Tranmere Rovers and York City are finding it tough to climb back to the place they habitually called home, and there must come the temptation of spending big in the hope of playing league football again. What is there to stop these teams going downhill in the same way as the original versions of Halifax Town, Chester and Darlington?
The rewards of getting into the EFL are plainly evident. Just as non-league is littered with ex-football league clubs, the EFL is full of ‘new faces’ who previously were lifelong members of the ‘non-league cartel’ until a few years ago. Burton Albion have made it as far as the Championship, while AFC Wimbledon and Fleetwood Town are this year playing in League One. Better opposition means bigger crowds, bigger crowds means more income, more income means higher wages, higher wages means better players (hopefully) and (also hopefully) better players means a greater chance of success.
Becoming established in the EFL is the goal of most non-league teams – particularly teams in the National League – so any limitations to such clubs achieving this by limiting cash injections or overspending are likely to be frowned upon by those clubs at the very least. Non-league has always been full of ambitious owners with dreams of one day welcoming Manchester United to their club’s humble little ground for a league fixture.
Money does not necessarily equal success though. Most non-league fans are aware of the tale of seventh tier Billericay Town who were taken over by businessman Glenn Tamplin in December 2016. Tamplin used his wealth to attract some high-profile talent including ex-Liverpool players Paul Konchesky and Jermaine Pennant, and former Tottenham and Wolves midfielder Jamie O’Hara. Tamplin even installed himself as manager but Billericay could only manage an eighth-place finish in 2016-17.
So, will we see FFP enter non-league football? In all likelihood, not for the foreseeable future. It’s the traditional nature of non-league football to see clubs collapse, merge or disappear entirely. That’s not something that’s ever likely to change.