Self interest of Premier League will destroy the EFL or force two to split, insists Accrington owner

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Self interest of Premier League will destroy the EFL or force two to split, insists Accrington owner

Andy Holt may not be a household name among fans of English football, and he is certainly not one of the inner circles around those who dominate th

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Andy Holt may not be a household name among fans of English football, and he is certainly not one of the inner circles around those who dominate the game, like the Glazers at Manchester United or John Henry at Liverpool.

But the straight-talking Lancastrian, self-made millionaire, and owner of Accrington Stanley has a detailed understanding of the sport in England and a message those high-rollers need to hear.

‘The Premier League is the root of all evil,’ says Holt, as we sit bathed in thin winter sunshine looking out on an impossibly pristine pitch set in the rough and tumble of the East Lancashire moors.

Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt believes the Premier League is threatening the future of clubs throughout the EFL, as sides are encouraged to overspend in order to compete

Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt believes the Premier League is threatening the future of clubs throughout the EFL, as sides are encouraged to overspend in order to compete

‘It is the problem,’ says Holt, who is fiercely proud of Accrington – the town, the club and the WHAM Stadium. 

‘For me, there is no future in this current relationship [between the EFL and the Premier League], We need to get this financial distribution right or we break up with the Premier League.’

Holt, who rescued Accy when they were £2 million in debt in 2015, is not just good with a soundbite, he is a deep thinker with a direct delivery.

The League One club owner  has put his finger on the critical issue facing the future of English football: To make the game sustainable more money needs to be shared from the bulging coffers of the Premier League and it should be spread out more fairly.

Owners and executives in the top flight and EFL are waiting on the Government’s fan-led review of football, the publication of which is imminent, to settle the issue of financial distribution.

Holt says the Prem is out of touch with fans and the game can't be treated like other business

Holt says the Prem is out of touch with fans and the game can’t be treated like other business 

Accrington's WHAM stadium is high up in the East Lancashire moors - gates are pushing 3,000

Accrington’s WHAM stadium is high up in the East Lancashire moors – gates are pushing 3,000

‘PREM CLUBS ARE OUT OF TOUCH’

At the centre of the squabble over regulators, financial distributions, rules and parachute payments in football is a fight for the heart of the English game.

The critical question, says Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt, is: Are clubs simply normal businesses that live or die by the market, or are they part business-part community asset that deserve a level playing field, so all can survive?

Holt believes there is a fundamental difference in how the biggest clubs want to answer that, compared to the rest of the pyramid.

The Big Six, he says, see their clubs primarily as global profit centres. And by putting their own profit first, the super-clubs are risking the future of the rest.

‘If you are in a private business and it goes bust it doesn’t necessarily matter… the staff will get jobs in other local businesses, competitors pick up the slack,’ reflects Holt. ‘It just dissolves. It’s gone completely, the market absorbs it all.

‘You can’t do that with football. You can’t absorb Bury. It matters. It is not a normal business.

‘Most EFL clubs are run for the communities behind them. The EFL for me is the greatest show on earth but we just don’t know it.

‘The Premier League clubs are out of touch. They have not got what I have got: direct contact with local community and fans,’ said Holt, who maintains a daily and entertaining dialogue with supporters via his Twitter account, a conversation that is replicated down the pub.

‘They have lost the plot. Why would you want to run a club where the people who have supported it all their life detest you?

‘Why would you want to do it? There are loads of things you could make money out of. It doesn’t have to be football. You can make money singing outside pub.

‘Why would the Glazers [who own Manchester United] get involved in football and have all the fans hating them? Why not go and invest in oil or some other industry?

‘Why do they feel the need from America to take over an English club and disregard the fans? Where do they get that from?

‘They don’t have to be involved and if they are involved, they have to respect the history of the game the history of the clubs, they have to care for the people, not just the club, the people whose club is it.’

‘And if they don’t, they deserve all the fans outside blocking and stopping a game. They deserve what they get.

‘It is alright John Henry [Liverpool’s owner] doing a little video to all fans from America but it doesn’t wash.’ 

While Holt is talking to Sportsmail, a member of staff is conducting a stadium tour for a young lad and his family. Stanley give away 1,200 replica shirts to every eight-year old each year.

‘Gerrim’ on the pitch,’ shouts Holt who was born and brought up in a council house in Burnley four miles away.

A few minutes later the youngster is charging about the penalty area making memories that will last a lifetime on a pitch Holt has just invested £500,000 in.

It is a world away from the Premier League. 

However, in her interim report, former sports minister and Conservative MP, Tracey Crouch, who is leading the review, was reluctant to dictate terms.

Crouch asked the EFL and Premier League to find agreement between themselves and Sportsmail understands those conversations have been difficult.

‘If we can get the Premier League to understand that together we have to solve this problem, so that clubs can go up and down the pyramid without collapsing their business… then the Premier League could be seen in a positive light,’ said Holt, who made his millions manufacturing plastics and steel.

However, the current system, says Holt, is set up to give the Premier League what it needs and he is not confident they will want to give that up.

The use of parachute payments – up to £90M over three years for clubs relegated from the top flight – ensures there is a pool of relegated teams ready to go back up from the Championship and be competitive.

Brothers Avram (pictured) and Joel Glazer own Manchester United, but are regularly the subject or protests from fans

While John W Henry, the owner of Liverpool, has been criticised for his role in the European Super League

Brothers Avram (pictured) and Joel Glazer own Manchester United, but are regularly the subject or protests from fans, while John W Henry, the owner of Liverpool, has been criticised for his role in the European Super League

Manchester United fans have protested at how their club is run over many years

Manchester United fans have protested at how their club is run over many years

Liverpool fans were horrified when their club backed European Super League plans

Liverpool fans were horrified when their club backed European Super League plans

This, says Holt, keeps the Premier League competitive and attractive to broadcasters, but at huge – and unacceptable – cost to the EFL.

In the Championship, while relegated clubs benefit from a payment of up to £45M in their first season after the drop, the rest receive solidarity payments of only £4.5M annually. In addition, the Premier League then enforces a financial fair play system, which locks the imbalance into place.

If a club breaches FFP in the Championship (£39M of losses over three years), they lose their solidarity payment.

The result is that non-parachute clubs, which aspire to promotion, are tempted to bet the farm on going up, risking debts and financial collapse to compete with their minted rivals and paying a heavy price if they fail. Derby being the latest example.

Accrington sit mid-table in League One and knocked Leicester City U21 out of the EFL Trophy

Accrington sit mid-table in League One and knocked Leicester City U21 out of the EFL Trophy

Not only does that lead to crazy spending in the Championship (where £107 is shelled out on wages for every £100 that comes through the door) among ‘non parachute clubs’, but it also inflates transfer fees and wages lower down the pyramid. Every club is in danger of overheating.

Hence, analysts continually highlight that English football is inherently unsustainable.

Stanley's manager John Coleman has been at the club 20 years, with a small break in the middle

Stanley’s manager John Coleman has been at the club 20 years, with a small break in the middle

‘The Premier League sets financial fair play rules for the Championship, so if you accept the solidarity you have to accept those rules,’ adds Holt, who sees himself as custodian at Accrington, a town which first entered a team into the Football League as a founding member in 1888.

‘The Premier League is dividing and conquering. It is causing disunity, you have got clubs suing each other, the EFL is fining clubs, clubs are in administration. This is a feature of the existing solidarity agreement that Premier League sets the rules for.’

The EFL wants the Premier League to agree to share 25 per cent of pooled income from media rights (Premier League and EFL income combined) and to address the issue of parachute payments.

Currently, the Premier League shares around £500M per year (15% of income), but half of it goes in parachute payments to relegated clubs.

The Premier League’s shareholders – the 20 clubs in the top flight – have to vote in favour of any changes with at least 14 in support. Not surprisingly, they are reluctant to endorse anything that undermines their future prospects, which is why a football regulator is key.

‘The bottom 14 are all worried about relegation so there is no chance they will vote to end parachutes,’ says Holt. 

Fans at Accrington appreciate our far their team has come under Coleman and Holt

Fans at Accrington appreciate our far their team has come under Coleman and Holt

Crouch has said she is in favour of an independent regulator and those clubs that want one hope the government will support it and confer the power for it to impose a new system of financial distribution, but ultimately there will have to be agreement on the sums and rules.

‘A regulator is only good in so far as it comes with a review of financial distribution and regulations in football,’ says Holt. ‘There is no point in having the independent regulator if you don’t deal with the financial disparity.

‘If I had a magic wand, I would have a proper financial structure right the way through. I would not have different financial fair play rules [for the Premier League, Championship and Leagues One and Two], it would be the same rule for every club… related to gross profit and free cash.’

Like the owners and chief executives of all well-run clubs, Holt has a tight grip of the finances at Accrington, right down to how many pints are sold on a match day (2,972 against Wigan).

Accrington's ground is undergoing constant improvement, including new hospitality suites

Accrington’s ground is undergoing constant improvement, including new hospitality suites

With the exception of the Covid-affected seasons, when Accy crunched down their costs and effectively played without a striker, the club has run at a profit under Holt’s stewardship.

But to survive in League One long-term they need to increase their income. Stanley are growing their fan base – average gates are pushing towards 3,000 – and hospitality suites are under construction, which will be open to the local community throughout the week, accommodating 500 people in smart new bars.

By increasing revenues Holt can divert more funds to the playing budget, but he is conscious Accy are constantly stretching their potential in a league that includes giants like Sunderland, Portsmouth and Sheffield Wednesday.

To make the money go further the club relies on stability (manager John Coleman has been there 20 years with a small break in the middle), a tight-knit team and know-how, but if others are allowed to throw money at their own teams willy-nilly, the competition becomes impossible and unfair.

‘Under the current system, if you run your club well you fail,’ is Holt’s bleak conclusion. ‘It’s time it changed.’

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