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Football League chairman Clarke delivers debt warning


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Football is "heading for the precipice" because of excessive debt levels, a leading figure in the game has warned.

Football League chief Greg Clarke was giving evidence to a government inquiry into the governance of the game.

"Debt is the biggest problem," he said. "If I had to list the 10 things about football that keep me awake at night, it would be debt one to 10.

"The level of debt is unsustainable. We are heading for the precipice and will get there quicker than people think."

The Football League is working towards producing a five-year plan that will provide a road map for its 72 clubs.

Clarke said it would provide a blunt message about the financial future.

"We will hope to catalyse change," he told a Departure for Culture, Media and Sport select committee. "We will share it with our chairmen and say this where you are going unless you change now."

Clarke warned of football's reluctance to accept new ideas.

"Football can be a bit backward looking - there's a penchant not to change," he said.

Typically, a meeting of club chairmen might agree things were not right, Clarke said, but would not produce a plan to make things better.

MPs on the select committee asked questions about the controversial football creditors rule, which demands that football debts are the first priority for clubs which fall into financial difficulty.

Her Majesties Revenue and Customs have long complained about the rule, as it places paying debts to football clubs ahead of repaying the public purse.

"I came in to this job thinking the football creditors rule was an outrage," Clarke said.

"[but] the alternative could well see Football League clubs going out of business. What we're doing is trying to find a more palatable alternative."

Clarke said Uefa's financial fair play measures could be a template for the Championship but said he did not believe in direct salary caps.

Answering questions about the suitability of some club owners and directors to be involved in football, he drew on his substantial commercial experience.

"The one thing you do in business is to carry out due diligence on your partners," he said, although he conceded it was not practical to "dig into the background of everyone".

"Largely, our process is of self certification," he added.

Clarke warned of undesirable characters around the fringes of the game, referring at one point to a warning sent out to clubs to avoid a group of people he referred to as "a bunch of crooks" who had used three aliases in an attempt to get a foothold into a club.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, told the inquiry that two thirds of the 92 league clubs had faced financial difficulties.

Sheffield Wednesday and Plymouth are just two Football League clubs to have faced winding-up orders recently, while Crystal Palace entered administration in January 2010 before being bought by a consortium made up of several wealthy fans.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee is holding a series of hearings over the coming weeks before making its report to Parliament.

The Sports Minister Hugh Robertson has described football as "the worst run sport in the country".


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