Administration: a tragedy or grand theft?

Swindon Town go into administration less than six months after being promoted from League 2. Laughing at them is the stock response to this kind of thing. But do we treat administration as seriously as we should?

There was a degree of trepidation in the run up to Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. We edged towards the Friday showdown with a degree of fear. This was a man who took drugs to cheat on a grand scale, not a one-off pitch at glory, this was the best of all time, winning all the time, and cheating to do it. It was outrageous. Then, with evidence stacked up against him, he continued to deny everything, scratching and clawing at those who doubted his superhuman endeavour. What kind of animal was he? We were about to find out. Perhaps he would chew Oprah’s throat out.

The days passed and stories began to surface that he had confessed. The thing was, there was nothing new in confessing, we know all about that. What was more terrifying was that we might find out why he did it. This brought its own anxieties; was the reason so harrowing that our hearts would melt? Was Armstrong going to go from cancer victim to hero to villain to victim again? How were we going to reconcile all that? There’s always been the cancer thing; will we find that we’ve unjustly vilified a cancer survivor, what humanity is in that?

Sights were set firmly on Friday; edging towards it night by night. There he was, sitting there with Oprah, with a secret to tell. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, Nicole Cooke; a superstar of the women’s race; multiple Tour de France winner, World Champion and Olympic gold medallist announced her retirement at just 29. Well, not so much announced it; blasted us all to kingdom come with it. A statement running to nearly 5,000 words; crafted, structured, with subheadings.

She obliterated any sympathy we might have for Armstrong by focussing on his grand theft. As the Armstrong legend grew, you see, his triumphs siphoned money away from others; from women, from those who couldn’t perform because they wouldn’t or couldn’t cheat. It is not a morale judgement, it is fraud, theft, she said. She is very happy with her career; but she’s not rich. Her titanic performances over the cols of France and streets of Beijing will not secure her for the rest of her life. Not like Lance Armstrong, or Tyler Hamilton or any of the US Postal team complicit in this fraud who are now making millions from books, films and TV interviews with Oprah. Her statement is, frankly, breathtaking.

Last week we also found out that Swindon Town were considering administration as a way of securing their future. They are £15 million in debt with no obvious way of reducing those arrears.

Administration is often greeted in football terms; like a form of relegation. Depending on our allegiance we either laugh or sympathise with its victims. The impact is to sell star players and get a 10 point penalty. Boo hoo. As the now redundant employees of Jessops will tell you, administration is serious stuff. It’s the last step before complete liquidation.

Football clubs, even those in administration, seem able to avoid the real life consequences of bankruptcy. Since 1984 only Maidstone have liquidated in England whilst still a league club, and even they had barely even started in the football league. Chester, Darlington and Aldershot have all suffered hugely from financial collapse, but they were out of the league when they went under. Rangers, of course, in Scotland, are the biggest of all the failures; but it turns out that even that might have been avoided. If you’re out of the league it’s a different matter, but for football clubs in the league administration is a relatively minor blip.

So administration in football is treated like a semi-final cup defeat; so cruel, so sad, but ultimately of no real consequence. 

I wouldn’t normally reduce myself to commenting on Swindon Town’s financial plight. My allegiances are too loaded and I’m not so stupid to realise that I sound bitter. But Cooke had a point. Swindon have cheated, by buying success they couldn’t afford, they’ve stolen from others, including us. Not every administration case is the same; some clubs become beholden to ne’er do wells who strip the club of their assets, leaving them broke and unsuccessful. Like Wrexham. But we shouldn’t have sympathy for those who have knowingly spent money on short term success.

No doubt Swindon will be saved, they will almost certainly stay in League 1 next year, and perhaps they’ll have a Lance Armstrong day; a giant killing or Wembley appearance where they can shed tears of their struggle and redemption. Di Canio, if he stays, will spout forth about spirit and god’s will. Administration will have no consequence; it’ll just be part of their resurrection narrative.

I want Swindon to survive; I do. Derby games between us are fantastic. This isn’t about Swindon Town, it’s about the actions of football clubs all over the country. What they’ve done is hugely overspent, they got promoted off the back of it, which impacted us. The boasted and bullied their way to the title on money that didn’t exist. That’s a year of our own investment down the drain because one club are playing a suicidal game. Why should we fail because they choose to cheat?

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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