BARNSLEY may have lost their battle to stay in the Championship. But it is the whole Football League that is losing the war.
A war against fat cats intent on ensuring the Premier League cash keeps rolling in. A war against men who would happily extinguish drama and competition for a few shirt sales in Hong Kong.A war, as ever, against the Premier League.
The Tykes annual playing budget – the wages paid to their first team squad – is about £4m. Five or six years ago, that was adequate. Not to harbour Premier League dreams, nor even to attract the odd ageing maverick. But enough to give the club a fighting chance of staying up, of standing toe-to- toe and giving the big boys an occasional black eye.
Now? It is like taking on Chris Hoy armed with a unicycle. It would be remiss to suggest that Barnsley’s players are hard up. Even if they are ‘only’ on £3,000 a week, none of them need to be working nights at the The Nag’s Head to make ends meet. But money is relative.
Three grand may seem like a handsome pay packet but if your rivals are handing out ten, fifteen and twenty, the best players will give you a swerve.
That is the reality for Barnsley. They are the krill of the Championship, feeding on plankton before being devoured by the leviathans of the ocean. In recent seasons, they have made a gritty stand. Simon Davey, Mark Robins, Keith Hill and David Flitcroft – all of them kept the Tykes up on resources that should have guaranteed relegation.
Now, though, the leviathans are growing. And the reason they are growing is parachute money. The Premier League’s golden kiss-off may not hinder the likes of Leicester and Cardiff, one-city clubs with wealthy backers and large fanbases.
But for small to medium-sized clubs like Barnsley and Yeovil, the £46m handed to sides relegated from the top flight makes ‘competing’ in the Championship little more than an exercise in futility.
It’s very sad, because it leaves just two options. Spend responsibly in the knowledge you are beaten from the off. Or bet the house and risk destruction. One will lose you fans, the other pretty much everything. Neither are viable long-term.
And that is exactly what the Premier League had in mind when they browbeat and bullied the League into accepting the revised parachute payment scheme in 2012. To cocoon the elite few by crushing the competition. To encourage the kind of lavish spending that brings superstars to the top flight. To ensure that nobody again will ever ‘do a Leeds’.
Don’t worry, they said, splash out. Relegation clause? No need. We’ll give you so much cash that the pond life in the Championship won’t have a prayer. So it has turned out.
With each passing year, three new clubs will arrive laden with loser’s gold. The gulf, already huge, will widen to a chasm. And clubs like Barnsley will be pushed towards oblivion.
Best League in the world? No. The most irresponsible? No question.