Monthly Archives: March 2013

Likening relegation from the Premier League to a skydive is pretty apt. Three clubs each season are pushed out of the cosy £70m-a-season ‘Promised Land’ gravy plane and left to hope that parachute payments will save them from a catastrophic collision with the earthly consequences of paying mediocre footballers too much money.

Premier League Football League

This ‘parachute’ consists of four annual payments intended to reduce the potentially disastrous financial impact of relegation. Next season, the total payments due to each relegated club will increase by about £11m. During their first season in the Championship relegated clubs will receive £23m, while their competitors will only get around £2.3m of ‘solidarity’ money. Recently relegated clubs will have a vast budget in comparison to their rivals. It’s not surprising that the Football League is considering radical measures; salary caps or withholding that solidarity payment, to try to maintain a competitive balance within the Championship.

The Premier League argue that the payments aren’t proving to be overly influential on competition. Out of the current top six in the Championship, only Hull City are receiving the windfall. But that’s not presenting the full picture – since 2006/07, nine of the 18 clubs promoted have been receiving them.

But the biggest problem is that parachute payments are inspiring financial suicide among clubs not receiving them. Look at some of this season’s top six. Cardiff City announced a loss of £13.6m in 2011/12 with a debt of around £80m. It’s a similar story at Leicester, £50m in debt and a loss of £15.6m in the same year. Though bankrolled by foreign investors, neither club’s future is particularly rosy without the prospect of promotion to ease the balance sheet. Even Hull, who have parachute payments, lost £20m during their first season out of the top flight and £9m the year after. Though teams have bucked the trend to be promoted without vast debts or overspending, they aren’t the norm – Championship clubs spend £4 for every £3 of revenue.

The Football League have realised that this situation isn’t sustainable – Financial Fair Play has been introduced to try to curb overspending. When the League has the power to sanction clubs for exceeding certain losses, in 2014/15, parachute payments will take on huge importance. With clubs limited to spending within their means, those with parachute payments will have an even greater advantage than they do now. The dangers of unsustainable debt may be diminished, but potentially at the cost of a competitive Championship.

The inherent problem is that the Premier League is a global brand capable of dwarfing the income that the Championship can generate. Such a vast difference of incomes between the top two divisions is bound to create enormous difficulties for clubs moving between them. Though the Football League is searching for solutions to keep the Championship competitive and financially prudent, they’ll never bridge the income gap from below. A salary cap would prove incredibly problematic for relegated sides and withholding £2.3m from clubs receiving ten times that amount wouldn’t be effective.

The only permanent fix would be for the Premier League to abandon parachute payments altogether and adopt a fairer model of distributing their enormous cache of cash. A good starting point would be to take the current parachute payments and distribute them evenly among Championship clubs – the solidarity payments would increase to around £7.5m. Hardly perfect, but a step in the right direction.

The Championship is not a minor competition. It’s the fourth most attended football league in the world and its best asset is its unpredictable and fiercely competitive nature. Though teams have recently been maintaining this competition through overspending to match those with parachute payments, that can’t and won’t continue. Therefore the only way to keep the Championship at its best is for the Premier League to start kicking clubs out the door without a parachute, while giving the rest of English football a little more to survive on.

You could be forgiven for getting a little tired of the Cardiff v Leicester fixture. The two sides will meet tonight for the twelfth time since Leicester returned to the Championship. Because both teams have consistently been pushing for promotion, these fixtures tend to be of utmost importance – always tense and cagey. Cardiff lead the league, but need a win to keep the chasing pack at arm’s length, while Leicester could do with a confidence boost to help consolidate their place in the play-off positions. It’s set to be a crucial encounter.

Here’s a look at some of the more memorable recent matches between the teams.

Andy King

Starting a run of fixtures that would see the clubs meet in the league and both English cups, the Bluebirds and Foxes were drawn together for a fourth round FA Cup tie in 2009. Both sides took the lead before Peter Whittingham scored an extraordinary free kick from near the corner flag to get Cardiff back level, then injury time goals from Chris Burke and Ross McCormack put the Bluebirds in the fifth round of the cup. The riveting, back and forth match gave a hint that some excellent clashes were to come.

In what many fans would describe as Cardiff’s best ‘backs to the wall’ performance at the Cardiff City Stadium, the Bluebirds scraped a 2-1 home win over their play-off rivals in March 2010 to bolster their flagging play-off hopes having lost to them just two weeks prior. Though the home side looked comfortable at half time thanks to Ross McCormack and Peter Whittingham, the man who would prove to be a thorn in the side of Cardiff’s defenders throughout that season, Steve Howard, pulled one back for Leicester. The Cardiff defence, already patched up with full back Paul Quinn as a makeshift central defender, was really tested when James Vaughan was put through on goal. Gabor Gyepes though, was prepared to do whatever it took to stop Vaughan scoring. It took a full on rugby tackle. With Gyepes dismissed and Cardiff effectively down to nine men after Chris Burke pulled up injured, their back four, consisting of three full backs and a winger, held on in the biblical rain to deny Leicester an equaliser.

Gabor Gyepes' TackleBut that epic encounter proved to be just a taste of the incredible pair of matches that were to follow. After Cardiff ended the 2009/10 league season in fourth and Leicester in fifth, they were due to meet for the fourth and fifth times that season in the play-offs.

The first leg at, what was then known as, the Walkers Stadium took place on a gloriously sunny May afternoon. In the end, Leicester felt aggrieved to lose to Peter Whittingham’s brilliant free kick that was smashed in off the inside of Chris Weale’s post. That goal sparked a frantic last ten minutes. The Foxes had two penalty shouts turned down and David Marshall made a couple of wonder saves to make sure Cardiff had a lead to take back to South Wales. The small lead proved vital.

It all looked to be going swimmingly for Cardiff when Michael Chopra beat the offside trap to give the Welshmen a 2-0 aggregate lead in the second leg. But Leicester showed their resolve, to make it the best play-off tie that the Championship has seen yet. Shortly after Chopra’s goal, Matty Fryatt, after a neat one two with that man Steve Howard, pulled one back for Leicester. Just ten minutes later Howard again caused havoc as his header flicked off Mark Hudson into the Cardiff net, which meant that Leicester had drawn level at 2-2. The previously boisterous home crowd were stunned when Andy King put Leicester ahead just after half time.

The tie had been completely reversed. Cardiff struggled and laboured to create good chances, while Jack Hobbs nearly put the match beyond Cardiff as his header was hooked off the line by Peter Whittingham. But Whittingham was unruffled when just minutes later he swept away a penalty to level the match at 3-3 on aggregate. Chances for both sides followed, for Cardiff both Whittingham and Jay Bothroyd hit the bar while Michael Chopra had an effort saved off the line, then Steve Howard drew a brilliant save from David Marshall. A tense period of extra time passed without score, so penalties followed.

Yann Kermorgant

Tension almost unbearable, players from both sides calmly and excellently slotted their penalties until the shoot-out score was 3-3. It was the turn of Leicester’s Frenchman, Yann Kermorgant. He ambled to the penalty spot, placed the ball and took the worst chipped Panenka penalty of all time. It didn’t even reach the goal-line, allowing David Marshall to simply bat the ball down with his left hand. Mention the name Kermorgant to a Leicester fan and even now they’ll visibly cringe. Mark Kennedy then slotted his kick for Cardiff, meaning that Martyn Waghorn had to score to keep Leicester in it. Despite striking what looked a good penalty, Waghorn’s shot was superbly saved by Marshall, sparking pandemonium in the stands and a joyous pitch invasion. But there was a truly classy act by the veteran Kennedy, who ignored his celebrating teammates in an effort to console the distraught youngster Waghorn.

Cardiff went on to lose a similarly back and forth final 2-3 to Blackpool, meaning that they would face the Foxes for the next three seasons. Plenty of close league encounters followed and Cardiff again edged Leicester in a penalty shoot-out on their way to the League Cup final in 2012.

These two teams are by now the most familiar of foes, but there’s no sign that this familiarity is breeding anything other than a strong desire to escape the Championship. They will both be desperate for a win that will lessen the likelihood of facing each other yet again in this division.