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Pyramid Strong
Written by Mullet on Sunday, 9th Aug 2020 13:30

On Friday the members of League One voted by majority to instigate a salary cap. In doing so they not only limit everybody in the division to spending £2.5m per season, but they limit themselves in making the transition to established second tier side or beyond.

In 2017/18 we had the 37th highest budget in the country at £19m and finished 32nd in league standings, directly below us Leeds and Norwich spent £31m and £42m respectively placing them as the 31st and 27th highest spenders.

In the interim all three clubs have changed divisions and only Town have travelled solely in the wrong direction.

Since our highest attendances during Marcus Evans's tenure (coinciding with our one brush with the play-offs) his interest in spending has been to get the most from the least amount of outlay.

The departure of Mick McCarthy saw the departure of this model as #ANewEra brought the customary new manager splurge. But whereas the 2017/18 season’s outlay saw us bring in Emyr Huws, Joe Garner and Martyn Waghorn for less than half a million pounds the decision to bring players up from where we now reside went disastrously wrong under Paul Hurst.

The demands for more from the stands in pursuit of football’s land of milk and honey has seen the club suffer the equivalent of scaphism.

Cut adrift in a league we have often seen as beneath us last season, there is every chance we will be left to the vermin and parasites picking through the ever-growing pile of excrement that holds Ipswich down right now. You can clean the roof but not the stench of failure off of us.

This self-pity may seem like yet more arrogance to the rest of the division who got to watch HMS Piss the League run aground long before pestilence stalked the land.

A little over a year ago we took our position behind the goal at the Pirelli for our first sight of third tier football in a lifetime or so. Evans took the blame pre-match and Lambert the plaudits for a hard-fought victory afterwards.

Our advantages seemed more than just numerical thanks to a red card. But it is illustrative that our first season down here began against a familiar team almost patronised, for their rise to facing us in the Championship from non-league obscurity.

Teams like Burton and newly-promoted Rotherham were usually regarded at best, likely to be yo-yo teams in the second tier. Bringing us to their modern compact little bowls and trying to glean enough points to stay in the Championship long enough to bounce back higher.

The fact that we are now hoping to emulate that in the cavernous grandeur of Portman Road is a tragedy. To do it with our new third tier friends clamping the shackles on us all, a bitter irony.

Since the purse strings were yanked on and became a short leash for what Town did in the market, we went from waving notes to white flags at our rivals. Years of being the plucky overachievers have conditioned us to think like we did for so long in the Championship.

This latest move makes hypocrites of us all. We can no longer laugh at the bottle-jobs ramming their extravagance down our throats should we call for our club to bend and break these rules.

While it could always be worse might be the best defence against Evans’s faults, it has not protected us from the world outside. Welcoming Charlton and Wigan to the fold with Sunderland and Pompey already here, it is a motley and dysfunctional collection of 'big clubs' that will see this cap as too tighter fit.

As the EFL sporadically lectures clubs and removes their hands from their pockets only to point fingers whilst looking the other way, one has to ask how they can see this as beneficial to a game with far bigger problems and far bigger inequalities?

It is the toothless nature of their FFP and 'fit and proper' ownership tests which have resulted in so many clubs pinballing around the leagues. Ipswich’s car-crash descent is as much to do with Marcus Evans as it is with being on a collision course with so many free-spending rivals and coming off worse far too often.

Fans have often admired the vocal and visible nature of the chairmen at Peterborough and Accrington Stanley, but they are two diametrically opposed voices. Marcus may wonder if he is the only one who has read the script when it comes to FFP and more, but ultimately it is clear that so often the punishments put in place are not meant to damage offenders, as that in turn damages the prestige of the EFL.

I have no doubt that Wigan’s points deduction and subsequent relegation was not something anyone wanted outside of Barnsley. Especially as it exposed some allegations of corruption and ineptitude that ask questions of those same custodians of the game.

So with reports of newly-averaged wages of £113,000 per annum for players already on contracts exceeding that amount, and fines of £3 for every £1 overspent inside a 5 per cent margin for error, the details and repercussions of this vote could be complicated and bogged down in legal manoeuvring for years to come even once reductions become final and clear.

Our own problems come in the form of being the embodiment of every layer of Evans’s time here. We have a bloated squad with players from Paul Jewell to Paul Lambert, a clutch of academy graduates who have only become a focus of the owner after a volte-face on how useful investing in them might be.

But even in the debatable depth and quality of the 40-odd pros with a first team appearance to their name (thanks in part to our first foray into the cup competition which includes Premier League development sides) there are clear gaps which leave us lopsided with no capacity to balance ourselves.

That is due to the army of loanees and short-term stopgaps that were vital in keeping Ipswich going, their absence is as significant as those who have chosen not to renew their season tickets for the siege upon us.

It is perverse that nearly 9,000 renewals is now an admirable testament to the size of the club and desire to back it. But not that long ago, in a league far, far away, fears of 10,000 crowds weighed heavily on Marcus’s mind. Being forced to compete alongside the U23s of Spurs in a cup is bad enough, but this current move seems another step towards making it a permanent fixture for clubs like us.

Like crabs in a bucket, the teams more scared of the drop out of the pyramid into the wilderness of non-league have effectively ensured that clubs like ours with ambitions to be more will be held down as the threat of embedding Premier League B teams and youth concerns into our league become more likely in time.

There is nothing sophisticated in this European affectation, it is merely ring-fencing the big boys’ investment. After all, financially the football structure is needle-shaped and Town have been fingering the sharper end more and more under Evans without getting better. Those who voted to curtail playing on the grounds of finance may cease to exist if COVID proves to keep out fans for any great length, creating space for someone.

There may be unintended benefits if we can rethink this reformation. Ironically, it might not allow the big boys to strip out our biggest jewels. What incentive is there to sell until promotion is achieved? You can’t reinvest beyond the cap anyway in theory, can you?

That is why any resistance to a Premier League 2 or B teams is so important should they come, yet it is out of our hands for now. Would young players who don’t count towards the limit prefer first-team football in real matches over games on the development pitches belonging the Monopoly men? Talent often needs exposure to experience to make a success after all.

Those among us who believed we would go straight back up may have to get on their knees a little longer this summer, because whether or not the competition is as big as us, most will be able to meet the requirements to spend the same as us so we need to look beyond money

Lambert and his staff have so far failed to inspire any sense of being able to dominate enough games for enough time to ensure promotion. He has four years in which to do so in theory, but realistically the longer it takes him the further it takes us away from being able to transition back into our old place amongst things.

Even if the second tier does agree to an £18m cap, and somehow defies the influence of the Premier League which casts a parachute sized shadow over it, it is a massive increase for any team promoted.

If the future of players at this level is heavily incentivised bonuses, it is a model which no doubt speaks to a man like Evans. But if these can only be included in the cap how does one account for them? How does a team get held to account once they slip the ties of the third tier? We have seen how the rouble goes a lot further than the pound in the case of some clubs evading sanctions, perhaps that will be replicated at this level too?

There will be far more teams who not only see promotion as necessary this season before the effects of this cap take hold. But more concerning for us all will be those who now fancy their chances a little more as the steps to get ahead of the supposed giants are smaller. Sleep is the cousin of death and perhaps the way to fix this is awakening a new Paul state of mind. Our future rests on it.

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patrickswell added 21:40 - Aug 9
A great piece of writing.

Mullet added 17:55 - Aug 10
Cheers Patrick

ElephantintheRoom added 09:47 - Aug 11
Democracy is a terrible thng when you don't agree with the result methinks? The situation Town find themselves in is surely the greatest possible advert for a salary cap? £100 million in debt and sinking fast... this mysterious sinkhole of money can only have been tossed away on players and wages (and managerial golden hellos and goodbyes). The other almost incontestable advert for a salary cap is the clubs who got promoted this year. Football has always been a meritocracy of sorts which is why so many clubs rise to what deluded supporters (and owners) see as their rightful status - and then sink back again. Personally I cannot see anything wrong with a salary cap and a great deal right with the idea - that can be fine-tuned as and when clubs come to grips with it (and possibly the potential armageddon of a covid + flu hysteria-laden new season). It ought to be to Town's huge advantage - but somehow I doubt it will be.

KiwiBlue2 added 04:09 - Aug 17
Some very interesting points articulately raised and considered.

I think that the 2.5m salary cap for League 1 is too far below the 18m proposed for the Championship. Somewhere between 10m and12m would be much fairer given the need for teams being promoted to at least have some competitive players to begin with. Anyway just a thought.

Mullet added 11:24 - Aug 17
I think the amounts almost become irrelevant until there is continuity across the all of the leagues. The bottom 2 divisions having them simply cuts them adrift as it stands, and the Prem will never introduce one either!
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