Accrington owner Andy Holt has blamed the football authorities for the financial crisis that has engulfed the club’s neighbours and League One rivals Bolton and Bury.
Both were given 12-point penalties for entering administration after the end of last season but Bury have not even been able to start the new campaign, while Bolton cancelled Tuesday’s game against Doncaster because they only had three senior players available.
Bolton, who were relegated from the Championship last season, had hoped to be under new ownership by now but that process has stalled because of a legal challenge from a rival bidder and uncertainty over the prospective owner’s business plan, which hinges on gaining control of the hotel at the club’s stadium, which is also in administration.
They, however, have at least played three league games and an EFL Cup tie this season, even picking up a point with a very young side against Coventry.
Bury, on the other hand, have had their first six games postponed by the English Football League, been removed from the EFL Cup and face the very real prospect of being ejected from the league on Friday if their owner Steve Dale cannot prove he can fund the club. That would mean League One proceeding this season with only 23 teams.
In a recent interview with the PA news agency, the EFL’s interim chair Debbie Jevans denied this was evidence the league was failing.
“I would push back against that because, depending on which measure you use, the EFL is the fifth or sixth most popular league in Europe and the Carabao Cup is watched around the world – it’s a successful league,” Jevans said.
“What I would say is we are stepping back and looking at our governance. We know there is a big reliance on our owners, so we need to look at that, player wages and the overarching way we do business.”
Holt, however, is not convinced the EFL’s leadership has grasped just how precarious life is in the league or how many clubs are in danger of going under.
Speaking to PA, Holt said: “It’s becoming farcical – I know they like to talk about the 18 million fans every season but it’s very difficult to argue the league isn’t in trouble when you look at Bury and Bolton, and they’re not the only two on the edge.
“This situation has been allowed to develop. We have known clubs were getting deeper in debt for years. Combined debt in the Championship is £1billion.
“I like Debbie Jevans, I think she has a lot of integrity, but the problem is as clear as the nose on your face and it can’t go on like this.”
Accrington’s first scheduled home game of the season was cancelled because of Bury’s difficulties but Holt’s frustration goes far beyond that, as he runs his club on a tight but sustainable budget, in compliance with the league’s rules.
“The real problem isn’t owners like Steve Dale; it’s the system. It encourages clubs to stretch themselves.
“I want to make Accrington a decent club that will be around forever but, the way things are, the logical thing is to gamble.
“It’s not a coincidence that all these owners in the EFL have all gone bad at the same time – it’s the system, it’s crap.”
Holt said he did not blame the likes of Derby owner Mel Morris looking for loopholes in the rules, such as selling a club’s stadium to a related party and leasing it back, because “what choice did he have when you have the vortex of the Premier League sucking all the money in the game upwards?”
As Holt mentioned, Bolton and Bury are not the only two clubs to have experienced financial difficulties in the last 12 months, with Macclesfield, Morecambe, Notts County, Oldham, Oxford, Reading and Southend all failing to pay wages on time at some point last term.
Asked for a solution to the crisis, Holt said: “One simple change would be to immediately treat the non-payment of wages as an insolvency event, which it is, by the way.
“That should be a three-point penalty but it should also ring a huge alarm bell for the EFL to go in and help the club. They should send in a football administrator.
“It’s criminal to let these 130-year-old clubs go bust. It’s a football problem and it’s on us to sort it out. But if you sit back and do nothing, you’re complicit.”
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