Sports minister joins debate over football club debt levels

Steve Dinneen
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THE government is to press ahead with calls for tougher financial controls for football clubs, despite widespread criticism from within the industry.

Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe yesterday weighed into the debate, calling for an overhaul of the way teams’ finances are regulated.

The move follows increasing concern about the long-term viability of debt-laden clubs in the wake of the meltdown of teams including Portsmouth, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and Southend. The Premier League reacted to criticism by implementing a new “early warning” system that requires clubs to make regular account statements but critics have warned this may not be enough.

Last week Whitehall debated the formation of a new football regulator that would effectively mean the game was run in the same way as privatised utilities firms. But one analyst told City A.M. the game needed government regulation “like a hole in the head.”

Another top football chairman said: “The government hasn’t made a good job of regulating anything so the idea they could get involved in football amazes me.”

Earlier this week Wigan chairman Dave Whelan proposed a borrowing cap of 25 per cent of turnover. The league table opposite shows by how much Premier League teams would have exceeded (or undershot) Whelan’s cap in the 2008 season. Fulham came bottom, exceeding the debt limit by 1,437 per cent.