Buidling Dreams Together


Doncaster City FC: Financial Regulation in Non-League?

While most of us were keeping an eye on the Premier League’s title race on Saturday, 11th tier Doncaster City FC were turning heads with some eye-catching signings to help with their own title-chasing aspirations.

Former Scotland internationals Ross McCormack and Charlie Mulgrew were joined by Norwich legend Wes Hoolahan ahead of the side’s clash with table-topping Dearne & District.

The Blue’s eventually won the game 3-1, cutting Dearne & District’s lead at the top of the Central Midlands Alliance League to seven points, with two games-in-hand.

Signing these high profile former-internationals raises a question over whether there should be more financial regulation in non-league football.

Clubs in the Premier League currently have to follow the league’s Financial Fair Play restrictions which are designed to ensure that club’s spending doesn’t exceed their income.

Clubs in the EFL have to follow slightly different rules depending on which division they are in, but ultimately they are still restricted financially based on their income.

These rules are designed to ensure long-term stability and sustainability for clubs.

However, there are currently no major financial restrictions on non-league clubs, meaning they are allowed to spend beyond their means and can be bank-rolled by wealthy owners.

It is worth noting, however, that the rules currently in place for Premier League and EFL clubs don’t guarantee financial sustainability, with clubs like Bury going out of business while playing in the EFL, and current League One side Reading struggling with their finances this season.

Large financial backing in non-league is nothing new. For example, in December of 2016, the controversial Glenn Tamplin purchased Billericay Town and invested heavily in the playing squad; bringing in three former Premier League players – Jermaine Pennant, Jamie O’Hara and Paul Konchesky.

The next few years were a turbulent time for Ricay fans, with the on-field success, high profile signings and promotion to the Conference South being overshadowed by Tamplin hiring, firing and rehiring himself as manager.

Tamplin then announced he was leaving the club in September of 2019 and the Blues were relegated from Step-2 of the non-league pyramid at the end of the 2021-22 season.

However, Billericay fared well compared to other non-league clubs; Weymouth, Salisbury and Halifax are all examples of clubs whose finances saw them enter administration while in the non-league system.

More recently, National League side Rochdale have announced they’re in need of fresh investment, or they could be liquidated and National League South giants, Torquay, have entered administration.

Despite the obvious risks associated with a lack of financial regulation in non-league football, there are some advantages.

The main advantage is that traditionally smaller clubs, with a wealthy financial backer, aren’t entirely dependent on income from ticket and merchandise sales to generate income. This enables these clubs to compete with larger clubs when it comes to player wages and transfer fees, ensuring clubs don’t necessarily have a ceiling when it comes to climbing the non-league ladder.

The lack of financial restriction also allows clubs that have fallen on hard times to find an owner who is willing to come in and provide the money needed to get the club back to where they feel they belong. As seen recently with Wrexham’s Hollywood owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

Ultimately, although the case for more financial regulation in non-league is complex and nuanced, the benefits of being able to spend freely and have almost limitless success ensures that non-league football will always be a place where the underdog can succeed. 

After all, surely it is the hope that their local club could one day compete with the big-boys that keeps thousands of fans going to non-league games every Saturday.

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