The Premier League era has seen unprecedented sums of money come into British football, and the rewards for success have increased enormously.
However, the price of failure is equally stark, and over the last 25 seasons, a number of clubs have crashed and burned under the pressure, plummeting down the divisions and almost out of business.
The number of British clubs to have entered administration in the last quarter-century is over 40, and the list includes some of the most famous names in football. Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton, Leicester City, Hull City, Derby County, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Rangers have all spent time under the control of administrators. Crystal Palace and Bradford City have twice been under administration, while Portsmouth have suffered that fate on three separate occasions.
The problem has not been confined to teams striving to compete in the Premier League. The financial strain has been felt by a number of lower-league clubs, and three – Chester City, Darlington and Rushden & Diamonds – have gone out of business completely.
Administration can be a traumatic experience for officials, players and fans. Clubs that go into administration lose league points and usually have to sell their best players, a double blow that often results in a team suffering swift relegations. Some clubs can end up without a ground or struggling to stay competitive even at a lower level.
For example, seven years after finishing third in the Premier League, Leeds United found themselves languishing in the third tier after consecutive points deductions, and Portsmouth dropped even further to League Two. Coventry City are still embroiled in disputes over their ground five years after entering administration, and Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford have also spent their share of time in the third tier.
However, there is life after administration. Take the example of Huddersfield Town. Fifteen years ago, the club was weighed down by £13 million losses and a crippling wage bill that forced them to the brink of folding before the 2003-04 season. They went into administration in March 2003 after battling for survival for over a year, but they came out the other side, winning two promotions in nine seasons and finally reaching the Premier League under young coach David Wagner. The Terriers are making a good job of their first season in the top tier and this weekend are favourites with online football betting company Stakers to beat Swansea and all but guarantee another season in the Premier League.
Rangers’ recovery from administration has been slower and more painful, partly because they are the biggest British club to suffer this fate in the Premier League era. Hit by financial difficulties in the late 2000s, the Glasgow club was forced into administration in January 2012, but because the sums of money it owed to HM Revenue & Customs were so large, the club was not allowed to leave administration, and in June 2012, Rangers, which had been in existence since 1872, went into liquidation.
The assets of the old club were sold to a new company, known as The Rangers Football Club, and the team started the 2012-13 season in the lowest tier of Scottish football. However, they weren’t there for long. Three promotions in four years saw Rangers return to the Scottish Premiership, finishing third in their first season back in the top flight.
Southampton are another notable club to have emerged stronger from administration. After spending big in an attempt to survive in the Premier League, they were relegated in 2005, and four years later, their financial problems finally forced the club into administration. They were relegated to the third tier and hit with a ten-point deduction, and for a time in the summer of 2009, it wasn’t clear whether the club would survive. However, two years later, under Nigel Adkins, the Saints pulled off consecutive promotions to return to the Premier League, where they remain – a stunning example of how quickly a club can recover from administration.
As the stories of Huddersfield, Rangers and Southampton show, administration need not be the end; indeed, there are many clubs that have come out the other side in a stronger state. While the process of administration can be tough to endure, and usually leads to a short-term decline in performances or relegation, it can be the catalyst for turning a club around. If supporters remain loyal, clubs can recover completely and in some cases can go on to reach new heights in terms of football and financial performance.