EFL: The Whys of P&S

As fans celebrated Lee Camp saving Nakhi Wells’ injury time penalty to ensure Birmingham City beat QPR 4-3 on Saturday, news filtered through that the EFL have made their proposed sanction against Blues for their “aggravated breach” of the Profit and Sustainability Rules.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

Understandably, a flood of questions has followed in the following day or two.

Brian Dick of the Birmingham Mail put together some details here about what will happen procedurally which really should be read.

I wanted however to touch on the “why” questions.

There are so many and they’ve been asked so often that I thought that rather than continually answer them one by one, I’ll try and do it all here.

I’ve grouped things into the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

This might seem a bit daft – but it will make sense I promise.


“Blues haven’t done anything wrong, have they?”
“We only signed a left back from a second division team, so what, they registered him didn’t they?”

I’ve seen a lot of denial out there on social media and I understand a lot of it.

For the average football fan it is hard to see what Blues have done wrong; despite our recent travails the club have paid wages on time, have not owed other clubs transfer fees or spent massively huge amounts of money.

Indeed, memories of paying players no more than £5k per week as Carson fought losing control of the club are fairly fresh in the memory. Why should Blues be punished for one season of fairly profligate spending? Why does it matter that Blues bought in Kristian Pedersen? What’s a soft embargo anyway?

I’m not going to go into a recitation of the rules again – we all know Blues spent too much last season.

However the Pedersen thing really annoyed the EFL.

Basically, in the period after May Blues, along with a bunch of other clubs were put under a “soft embargo”.

What this means in real terms is “don’t go stupid spending money until we give you the okay”.

They are lenient transfer restrictions – hence “soft”.

Blues will have been given certain limits of what they can spend without having to tell the EFL – a certain amount of wages, a set loan fee, that sort of thing.

The problem was that the Blues board decided to announce the signing of Kristian Pedersen before these lenient restrictions were lifted.

Why they did this is open to speculation – all I know for sure is that they did; with the attendant result that Pedersen was not registered as a Blues player until August.

I’m not 100% sure as to why Pedersen was allowed to be registered; there are rumours the player got legal about it but I can’t verify that.

Whatever happened, I can say with all certainty that episode did not go down well with the EFL and will have affected how harshly the proposed sanctions are against the EFL.


“Fuck the EFL”
“They’re only doing it cos they hate us, fuck them”
“They want a reason to punish us”.

It’s not hard to find anger against the EFL online either.

And like the denial, I understand where it comes from. If anything, the anger is the easiest thing for me to understand because it’s a natural reaction – especially considering how useless the EFL were as Blues struggled to deal with finances as Carson was tried and eventually convicted.

I would go as far as saying there is some truth in it – Blues are being punished because the EFL are angry at the conduct of last summer.

However, I think we need to delineate something carefully here.

I do not believe that the EFL openly hates Birmingham City or its fans.

However, I do believe that the EFL have a problem with the actions of members of the Birmingham City board such as Ren Xuandong.

When I broke the news of a lot of clubs being affected by P&S breaches in May, I understand there were 12 – 15 teams affected.

However, between May and June 30 (the end of the reporting period), most other teams sorted out their issues.

It’s important to remember here that the rules are set by a body that is not a regulator.

They are a member’s association with 72 shareholders, run for the benefit of those shareholders.

While it’s key for the EFL to be seen to be making things fair, I personally believe the rules are obfuscatory to allow clubs as much chance as possible to fix things to comply.

Thus the thing to do would be to meet the EFL, talk to them and to work with them to get things sorted.

From what I saw and what I heard, the Blues board did not do that.

It’s difficult for me to go into specifics  but I believe that people like Ren could have done more to get the EFL onside.

Openly chasing players, signing one and trying to sign others was not going to get the EFL onside.

Even now, I think Blues are being punished because the EFL do not like the way Ren is handling things.

I have heard unverifiable rumours that the proposed sanction was raised from 9 to 12 points because the EFL were annoyed once more by Ren this winter.

I do not believe for one second that is fair; I’ve opined in the past that if it’s provable that the conduct of one person is the reason for these problems then any punishment should be made against that one person.

However, rules against the conduct of a director or owner have not been brought in fully yet and as such it is impossible for the EFL to do this.


“Well, surely the EFL will have to throw the book at everyone who fails now?”
“Surely Blues can challenge this ruling with proper lawyers.”
“Well, if we go up what can they do then?”

For many fans, there is a feeling of unfairness in this whole drama.

We all know that many clubs were in breach last summer, and it doesn’t seem much has changed this year.

Logic would dictate if that is the case, then the EFL are going to have a real tough time this summer cos a lot of teams are going to be in danger of having points deducted.

However, for reasons I’ve gone into previously, I don’t think that is true.

A lot would depend on how those clubs and their respective boards reacted to the breach this summer.

I think the better questions are about how Birmingham City are fighting these sanctions right now.

It’s my understanding Blues have engaged some high-powered lawyers to help them, and that these lawyers have been in place for a fair period of time.

The problem is that I don’t think it’s going to make that much difference – because if it was, I think we would know by now.

As I said on the We Are Birmingham podcast last week that despite the huge revenues the EFL bring in, it’s essentially a small office in Preston.

My experience of the law is that the more money you have to chuck at it, the better your chances are.

Thus all I can see is that if Blues have really expensive top lawyers and the EFL are STILL proposing a 12 point sanction, then the EFL either have the best lawyers in the solar system or they are incredibly sure they have their ducks in a row.

That is backed up by rumour I heard that Ren was unhappy having met the lawyers after the proposed sanction was released to them by the EFL.

However, things can change. It might be that Blues’ lawyers find something to turn over any punishment with in the next couple of weeks – or at a further appeal – and we get away with it.


“We’re doomed aren’t we?”
“We’re never getting out of this mess”

I’ve not seen so much depression out there but I know some people are worried that this is a never ending cycle of punishment.

This might surprise people who think I’m doom-monger in chief, but I do not believe for one second that Blues are done for because of the EFL.

If anything, I think this season has proved that Blues don’t need to spend money in any great amount.

Garry Monk has proven that much of the team written off under Steve Cotterill are actually decent players when given the right instructions and encouragement.

I have no reason to think Monk will go anywhere either, despite the crap the club faces right now.

Much has been made of how much Monk gets the fans and the club but I also think it’s important to him that we get him – and I think fans do.

At the start of the season Blues were struggling to win despite playing well yet I didn’t see any criticism of Monk because fans understood what he was trying to do.

That sort of patience is rare in football and I’m sure it means a lot to Monk that he feels the fans are on his side.


“Okay, so let’s get over with it and move on”

This is where I am. When I wrote the Pedersen piece last July I was very fearful for where the club was going but I’m much more relaxed now.

I think it’s a lost cause to argue what’s done before; I think it’s more important to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

For the next couple of seasons Blues will be assessed on single season reporting periods, so they are not punished twice for 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Therefore in my opinion it’s down to the board to ensure that Blues are within limits this season, and that all efforts are made to boost income to make it easier to remain within limits going forwards.

If Ren and the board can understand the mistakes made last year and in particular last summer, then we have no reason to worry that Blues will be facing a points deduction again.

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