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Non-league football’s financial frailties

While the likes of Manchester City can pay out £250,000 a week to a player who refuses to play, some clubs at the other end of the spectrum are facing almighty struggles just to keep their heads above water.

After months in administration, Darlington FC have moved a step closer to ceasing to exist at all after ending the contracts of their manager and all of their playing staff.

The situation at Kettering Town is very similar with caretaker boss Mark Cooper saying how the club might not last into February.

What these clubs have in common is that they are both battling relegation from the Blue Square Bet Premier, a characteristic which makes it hard to command a following big enough to fill their stadiums – and to fulfil the aspirations of their chairmen.

Imraan Ladak took over at Kettering Town in 2005 and has put a lot of money into the club since being there.

But things have taken a turn for the worse in recent times.

Under a transfer embargo since November, the club’s players haven’t been paid in full since, and now the club faces a winding up order in February.

Kettering fans blame Ladak for their beloved team’s situation, especially as they believe he’s stalling the sale of the club.

The Darlington Arena costs a lot to sustain and remains mostly empty

In the case of Darlington, their problems appear to have started with the building of the Reynolds arena in 2002.

Chairman at the time George Reynolds hoped that the all-seater ground that can hold 27,000 would help push the club on to the Championship and beyond.

The reality could not be any further from the truth – the club struggles to attract 4,000 fans at home games.

Unlike the likes of Leeds United, these clubs can’t sell off their best assets at the expense of dropping down a couple of leagues in order to rebuild.

Without some considerable investment into the clubs they could go into extinction – in Darlington’s case that investment needs to come within a matter of days.

The huge gap in wealth between the top clubs in England and those at the bottom of the pile is staggering.

One week’s worth of Carlos Tevez’s £250,000 a week wages would comfortably cover Darlington or Kettering’s overheads until the end of the season.

Already on twitter ‘Balotelli to save Darlington’ was trending, the Quakers hoping that the volatile-yet-charitable Italian will don the Santa outfit one more time.

It one of these clubs did go under, it would not be the first time something like that happened.

FC Halifax Town is one of many reformed clubs which hope to thrive once again

Chester FC was expelled from the Nationwide Conference in 2010 as a result of their financial situation, ending up in the Northern Premier League – the seventh tier of English football.

The same thing happened to Halifax Town. Buried by huge tax debts in 2008, the club returned as FC Halifax Town in the Northern Premier League Division One (English football’s eighth tier).

The passionate fans of lower league and non-league football are one of the things that make British football unique, and if this trend continues that could be in danger.

For the trend to be bucked it may need the FA to share a bit more of its wealth with the lower leagues but these clubs would be in a much better state if it was not for the hasty actions of their over-eager owners.

Simon Murfitt

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