A.F.C Bournemouth, you know, that team no one had ever heard of but now everyone seems to love because they beat Chelsea once? Compared to the rest of the Premier League Bournemouth are a small club. In fact, their home ground, the Vitality Stadium, only holds 11,464 people, a whole 9,000 less than the second lowest, Swansea City; and A good 24,000 lower than the average Premier League stadium size. Now usually, like Blackpool before them, you want to root for Bournemouth for being the underdog, a title they have embraced. However the Bournemouth boss, Eddie Howe’s response to finding out the club had been penalised £10 Million by the FA for breaking financial fair play rules was, to me, a clear indication that Howe is attempting to use the fact that Bournemouth are apparently a small club as a way of wiggling out of punishment.
In his response, Howe’s only defence against these rules is that the financial fair play was stopping small clubs like Bournemouth of achieving “big things”, or in other words, was not allowing Bournemouth’s not so small Russian Oligarch owner from splashing his wallet on whatever player took his fancy. As a fan of a club who were promoted with them, breaking no rules of the such when we also had the money to break them and still be financially stable, I feel a little repulsed by these remarks. It looks like a desperate move to try and distract people from the fact the club had blatantly cheated and had got promotion to the most lucrative league in world football because of it. Since the time period where this fair play was broken, Bournemouth have since paid another £17 million on players in the last week, meaning it would not be surprising at all if they got relegated and as a consequence broke these rules again this year.
Let’s look at what the financial fair play rules which Eddie Howe claims are “unfair on small teams” was designed to do. To understand why this rule was implemented, all what is needed is to look back over the last fifteen years. Leeds United, Portsmouth, and most recently Bolton Wanderers all overspent due to “ambition” in the Premier League, and have all paid the price of falling through the leagues and almost being liquidated. Countless other teams (such as my own team Norwich City) have due to overspending ended up in millions of debt, and nearly suffering the same fate in the last fifteen years. Financial fair play has been brought in through the top four tiers of English Football (as well as around Europe) primarily to stop this from happening. In the Championship last year for example, financial fair play stated that any team which makes more than an average of a £13 million net loss (in reality £5 million loss with another £8 million allowance for possible chairman investing) each year over a three year period will face penalties, which would get stronger depending on how much over that loss a team is. If a team, like Bournemouth, get promoted to the Premier League in the third year of the time-frame, they then get an allowance of a £35 million loss in the year they are in the Premier League. Meaning Bournemouth would have had to made a loss of at least £61 Million to have broken financial fair play rules.
It has been revealed that Bournemouth, along with Nottingham Forest, Cardiff City, Fulham, Bolton Wanderers and Millwall, have indeed broken these fair play rules. Nottingham, Fulham and Cardiff have paid the price for overspending; by being stuck in the same league and are not allowed to sign any players for the next two seasons; Millwall were relegated and therefore have been deemed to have gained no advantage of overspending; while Bolton have been banned from signing any players until they get their finances under control. Bournemouth on the other hand, got a clear advantage from their overspending; as it helped them to both gain promotion to the Premier League and helping them recruit for the following season. Because Bournemouth’s losses were not as great as the other clubs penalised, it got a more lenient punishment, despite gaining the most out of it.
Covering the period 2013, 2014 and 2015; Bournemouth ultimately overspent to sign the likes of Matt Richie (£500K), Ryan Frasier (£400K), Tokelo Rantie (£2.5 Million), Andrew Surman (£500K), Callum Wilson (£3 Million), Joshua King (£1 Million), Tyrone Mings (£8 Million), Max Gradel (£7 Million), Lee Tomlin (£3 Million), Glenn Murray (£5 Million), and countless free transfers on wages large enough to equate to breaking financial fair play. Now yes, £24 Million of that was spent after they had achieved promotion. However, with the amount of money you get for being in the Premier League (A good deal more than £24 Million)I fail to believe that if Bournemouth failed to achieve promotion they would not have also breached financial fair play. What it is clear therefore to me; is that Bournemouth knew they had broke financial fair play rules even before they had achieved promotion to the Premier League, and therefore effectively cheated their way to promotion, particularly with the purchase of top goalscorer Callum Wilson. In fact, if they had failed to achieve promotion Bournemouth would have probably found themselves in the same position now as Nottingham Forest et al.
Now Howe is right to say his team would not have been able to achieve “great things” without breaking financial fair play rules, but that does not justify cheating. If Ipswich Town, for example (who finished 6th in the Championship last year) broke the financial fair play rules they could have very well been promoted as well, apart from because Ipswich isn’t historically a small club compared to Bournemouth the media would have been outraged! Instead, the media lap up the romance of “underdog Bournemouth” who seem to be disregarding the validity of the financial fair play which teams like their fellow promoted teams; Norwich and Watford, followed.
I personally believe Bournemouth should have suffered a far harsher penalty knowing that breaching financial fair play gifted them a massive advantage both last and this season. Bournemouth are not the only team to have escaped relative punishment from a still fairly new system of regulation which clearly has teething problems; Manchester City and Barcelona have both signed players in transfer windows in which they both had apparently had “transfer embargoes” ongoing in. However the example of Bournemouth demonstrates the dangers of always favouring an underdog, especially if that underdog is willing to cheat its way to the top.