By Dan Chapman
The announcement by Wycombe Wanderers that they are to close their youth academy brings about the first football club in the top four divisions to not have any youth development programme in place. From discussions we at Full Contact have had, we are convinced that Wycombe will not be the only club to take this decision. It should be stressed, though, that most clubs who do not wish to participate in an expensive way in the new regime are still most likely to seek Category Four status, as that will allow them to simply pick up 16 year old players released from other clubs; going as far as Wycombe have means that even this will not be possible, and they will lose out on receipt of solidarity payments from the Premier League.
Whilst the newly introduced EPPP regime (officially in force via the new Youth Development Rules from 1st July 2012) was heralded as providing greater financial returns to those smaller clubs in the lower leagues, the prevailing view seems to be that the regime favours those clubs who have the financial clout to put in place the stringent requirements of the Youth Development Rule, and that the end result will be a greater divide between the ‘David’ and ‘Goliath’ football clubs.
There would appear to be various reasons behind Wycombe’s decision, and it was not simply a reaction to EPPP, but one comment made by the club which has particular resonance with us at Full Contact (from our experience of working with clubs on their EPPP plans) is that Wycombe were extremely concerned by the Football League’s retrospective auditing process, which could result in clubs being asked to repay funds given for youth development if they have not met certain criteria in line with their category status. Wycombe understandably took the view that this was simply too risky.
The exact category status of most Football League clubs has yet to be determined, and our recent experience of assisting clubs is revealing real concern at the drawn out nature of the auditing process. By the beginning of next season it is likely that only those clubs seeking Category One status will have been audited (by the ISO) whereas audits for Categort Two to Four will be spread over the next two seasons. Consequently, only Category One clubs (or those aspiring to Category One but who failed to attain it) will know with certainty how much funding they will be receiving for the coming season. All other clubs are left to proceed with complete financial uncertainty, incurring the considerable costs of restructuring, restaffing and in some cases rebuilding their Academy.
Clubs have been seeking clarity as to how funding will operate where there has not been an audit before the start of the season, and the stated initial intention was that clubs would receive the level of funding attributed to one level of Category status lower than the club was applying for. The Football League have raised various concerns about this approach, which has led them to carry out (separate from the ISO) their own auditing process, which is enabling them to make recommendations as to what level of funding should be awarded pending the official audit. The body who allocates the funding, the PGB, have yet to confirm whether they will follow the Football League’s recommendations or stick with their original intention.
So, all is clear? Not really, and no doubt the real risks were a key factor in Wycombe’s decision to bow out….
Those clubs who have yet to conclude their preparations for the EPPP and the Youth Development Rules may wish to contact us for advice. We offer a variety of services to assist, including general advice on options, pre-audits, assisting with the drafting of necessary documentation and a full implementation service.« #Euro2012 Group B Predictions and Stats Rangers newco in prospect as CVA rejected »
The spearhead and Senior Partner of Full Contact, Dan is an experienced solicitor and advocate, with a specialist background in employment law and sports.
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