It’s time for action to protect our beloved football clubs before it’s too late

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The future of several clubs remain at threat - and it’s time for the authorities to take their roles seriously and put proper processes in place.

Away from the bright lights and multi-billion pound television deals of the Premier League, questions need to be asked and action is needed.

At a time when every penny and pound is stretched and clubs are still fighting to remain alive in such a challenging financial environment, there are numerous clubs that are being placed at threat by mismanagement, haphazard decision making and individuals allowed to do as they please, despite the obvious damage they are doing.

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Scunthorpe United have signed a winter window transfer target of Bristol Rovers. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)Scunthorpe United have signed a winter window transfer target of Bristol Rovers. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)
Scunthorpe United have signed a winter window transfer target of Bristol Rovers. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The scars of a club being dragged to the precipice are still worn long after those that have created long-lasting damage have moved on to their next target. Just four years ago, I witnessed Gateshead taken to the brink by one such ‘businessman’, who was allowed near free reign to act as he pleased, despite the impact it made on the local community.

A whole host of bills went unpaid, local businesses withdrew support in protest, players were sold seemingly without the manager’s knowledge, questions were raised but went unanswered, key staff had their employment terminated by text and email and a credible takeover bid was brushed off and eventually withdrawn as frustrations grew.

With just 72 hours until the club tumbled into the abyss, a rescue package aided by newly-formed supporters group Gateshead Soul hauled it back and the recovery process that has consisted of enforced relegation, promotion, a Wembley visit and four visits to the FA Cup ‘proper rounds’ began in earnest.

Gateshead were lucky, others were not.

The number of clubs that have been branded as ‘in crisis’ in recent years still fails to be addressed. These are not just newcomers or clubs that have risen up the football pyramid ahead of schedule, they are some of the most historic names in the English game, with Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth providing the biggest examples of what can happen when the authorities fail to do their job.

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But they are far from alone. Supporters of Bury and Macclesfield Town have witnessed their clubs fall foul of certain individuals despite the numerous warning signs and protests that were flagged up throughout those troubled times.

Similar situations have continued to this day at Scunthorpe United and Southend United, where the soul-crushing and draining process of life on the edge is being lived out each and every day by supporters at both clubs.

These are clubs that have competed in the EFL in the last five years and actually swapped places in the Championship and League One at the end of the 2006/07 season as Southend suffered relegation from the second tier as the Iron side containing the likes of Billy Sharp and Jermaine Beckford were crowned League One champions.

Roots Hall, 229 milesRoots Hall, 229 miles
Roots Hall, 229 miles

On the day this piece was written, there have been some suggestions Southend could have some late hope as a rescue package has taken a step closer to coming to fruition. For Scunthorpe, there seems little hope as lifelong supporters rightly questioning the club’s owner have been handed banning orders.

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There is a concern a dispute and court case between former owner Peter Swann and current owner David Swann could force the club over the edge and bring an end to 124 years of existence.

Once again, the ones that will suffer will be the ones that hold the club closest to their hearts. The ones that have put in the unseen hours, travelling on rail and road to watch their side in the hope that the good times will return.

Just as I witnessed at Gateshead, the link between the club, local businesses and the local community as a whole will be damaged to a stage where repairing that connection can be a long-term process and not always a wholly successful one.

Now is the time for the Football Association, the government and different bodies throughout the football pyramid, from Premier League to non-league to come together and implement more stringent checks on prospective owners to prevent similar situations happening in the future.

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Those checks must be an ongoing process, to ensure regulations continue to be met throughout their ownership and the short, medium and long-term future of the club is protected and any issues are identified before they threaten their existence.

All clubs, whether part of the established elite or a non-league club looking to progress up the food chain, remain a community asset after establishing themselves within their local towns, village and cities and bringing pride and joy to those around them.

Now is time for those in charge of our game and those making decisions that impact on the country as a whole to front up and put processes in place to ensure our football clubs are prevented from falling foul of individuals who have anything other than their best intentions at heart.

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