Earlier this week Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers were handed transfer embargoes until the end of the season for failing to adhere to the Financial Fair Play regulations regarding acceptable losses for during the last accounting period.
In reality, none of these clubs will face a true embargo as they will all be allowed to sign players under restricted circumstances. Namely, if they have fewer than 24 “established” players- established being over the age of 21, having made more than 5 first team appearances- clubs are allowed to sign players on a Bosman or on loan with no fee being exchanged. The wages of any player cannot exceed more than £600k per annum. Clubs are also allowed to sign goalkeepers on emergency loans in accordance with existing regulations. If a club has 24 established players – like an overcrowded nightclub – they are allowed to operate a one in, one out policy, again with wages limited to the magic £600k a year figure.
A transfer embargo is no laughing matter for any club, but the winner of today’s Sky Bet Transfer fund is. Both Leeds United and Nottingham Forest had fans in the running for the prize, and in the end it was Nottingham Forest who emerged victorious, winning a £250k prize which cannot be spent on a transfer fee (due to the aforementioned embargo), but can be put towards wages.
The whole affair was laced with a wonderful (or tragic depending on your point of view) irony, and feels too much like a theatrical farce than a real situation. For a team under a transfer embargo to scoop first prize in a competition to win a transfer fund would probably be too contrived for the best comedy writers. It feels like Del Boy and Rodney winning a permanent contract as Chandelier Installers, or Laurel and Hardy as Piano Delivery Men.
In many ways it sums up the main contradictions in English football, contradictions which have removed the game from its traditional roots and isolated so many. While the Football League attempt to curb spending and stabilise the financial environment for clubs, the big backers which sponsor clubs pile money in and encourage clubs to go out there and spend more, whilst encouraging the fans to expect increased spending from their clubs.
Well done to Nottingham Forest for winning this year’s Sky Bet Transfer Fund – I hope that it helps bring back some of the success that the club has missed out on in recent years. In the meantime, I’m going to home and try to work out whether I have imagined the whole thing.