I’m not going to lie, they’re a difficult read. You can read the original decision at this link and the appeal at this link if you want to read them in full for yourself.
There is a lot of legalese, and as I’m not a lawyer, I don’t really think I have the capability to go into too much detail on what has been decided. However, there were a few pertinent points that I picked up that I think merit further discussion.
When I reported on issues surrounding the business plan back in January 2019, I talked about the need to produce “fresh income” to satisfy the EFL.
I’d been given incorrect information at the time; while I did not believe that the EFL were attempting to force BCFC to sell players to meet requirements, the truth is they were.
The initial figure was £9M that needed to be raised but this rose to £10,574,324 after Blues completed the signings of five players (including Kristian Pedersen) under the business plan rules.
As of the end of the winter window, on January 31, 2019 BCFC had only saved £1.87M – a long way short of the original figure.
The whole charge brought by the EFL came about because of a disagreement on the terms of the business plan that was enforced upon BCFC.
The club believed that they should make the “best endeavours” to meet the requirements forced upon them without damaging the financial efficacy of BCFC, while the EFL believed that the club had an absolute obligation to do so.
Because the written decision has names of players involved redacted, it requires a little bit of guesswork to understand how BCFC approached the January window, but my reading of it is thus:
In November 2018, the BCFC board decided that if it had to sell Che Adams, it would only be for a certain figure (also redacted), no less. They put Adams’s name on the online platform clubs use to advertise players for transfer, but only received bids which did not meet the valuation.
The club didn’t just list Adams for sale in the attempt to generate the cash required; at least one other player was listed without receiving a bid. While that name is also redacted, the mention that he was sold in May 2019 leads me to believe that was probably Jota.
The fact Jota didn’t attract a bid in January but was sold in May helped BCFC’s defence that the January window is a “stop-gap” window and a terrible time of year to sell players to raise money.
BCFC were prepared to transfer a third high-earning player whose name has been redacted but he declined to be transferred to another club. I’m unsure as to who that could have been.
The original decision to acquit BCFC of the charge came about because the Club proved to the Independent Disciplinary Commission that they had done everything that they could to try to meet the requirements, but they were hobbled by the nature of the January window.
While the appeal made by the EFL to the League Arbitration Panel was upheld on what I perceive to be a technicality, the fact that no sanction was put in place was again due to BCFC making a valid point – that despite all this foofaraw in the January window, they didn’t fail the P&S requirements for that year.
Ironically, the reason for that was that the club did indeed raise “fresh income” outside of the the normal trading of players. The sale and lease-back of St Andrew’s to and from Birmingham City Stadium Ltd ensured BCFC were compliant after all.
I think a lot of BCFC fans have this feeling that there is a vendetta against the club from the EFL and while I don’t believe that is true, I think it’s possible that a personal disagreement between Shaun Harvey of the EFL and Ren Xuandong at BCFC potentially exacerbated the situation.
One thing that struck me in particular is the difference between the cases at Birmingham City and Sheffield Wednesday.
Paragraph 33 of the decision made by the Independent Disciplinary Commission states:
On 2 August 2018 the EFL sent a letter to all championship club chairmen attaching a media release which stated:
“Under the P&S rules that are aligned with the Premier League, the Club has agreed, with immediate effect, to adhere to a business plan imposed by the EFL, which indicates a number of financial targets, including controlling player related expenditure, which together have the objective of meeting the requirements of the P&S Regulations moving forward. The objective of the imposed terms of the business plan is to move the Club towards compliance for forthcoming reporting periods.”
That press notice sent a clear signal to other clubs that the Club would be required to sell players in the next transfer window.
Contrast that with the treatment Sheffield Wednesday were given the next day, as summarised by the excellent Nancy Frostick and Matt Slater for The Athletic:
“That’s when you get to the much-disputed meeting at the EFL HQ in Preston on August 3 with EFL CEO Shaun Harvey, EFL director of legal affairs Nick Craig and Chansiri, Meire and Wednesday’s finance director John Redgate. At that meeting, it was decided that as long as the club’s auditors were happy to accept a backdated document for an unconditional agreement to buy Hillsborough, the proceeds of the transaction could be included in the 2017-18 accounts. The club claims this was done on the understanding that the deal had effectively been tentatively agreed before July 31 but not fully signed off. However, the league later claimed that an “irrevocable” document really had already been signed before this August 3 meeting. The club disputed this, saying of course everyone knew the deal hadn’t been done yet, and the panel agreed with the club.
Effectively, on the one day the EFL were telling everyone that BCFC were going to have a fire sale in the next window, and on the next they were doing what they could to fudge things so that Sheffield Wednesday passed the P&S requirements.
It doesn’t help that they were wrong in their thinking as the stadium sale couldn’t have been entered into the accounts as a backdated transaction.
Things don’t look any better due to the fact that it took Wednesday another 11 months to actually complete their stadium sale anyway.
Indeed, the EFL were made to look terrible in the Sheffield Wednesday case.
The second charge against Wednesday was dismissed due to a lack of evidence presented by the EFL, pointing out that the EFL hadn’t investigated the charge at all.
The rather lame response from the EFL that it didn’t have investigative powers rather sums things up.
The Athletic piece confirms what I had thought at the time in May 2018 – that the EFL were trying to do their best to sort everyone out rather than hand out charges to clubs who were failing.
If BCFC (and Ren Xuandong in particular) had accepted that help, there is a possibility that the shit that followed might never have happened.
While I’m willing to accept that there is no way personal grudges should come into these kinds of things, I really do believe that the attitudes displayed by the board then influenced the way the club was treated in the following months.
The big thing that I’ve taken away from all of this isn’t that the EFL are ineffective and not fit for the purpose.
We all know that – it’s been evident for some time.
What I’m starting to understand now is that while the EFL are ineffective, this suits most clubs and I think there is a real reluctance to change that. An ineffective EFL means that even if a club does break rules, there is a chance for them to wriggle out of it with the help of a good brief and a good set of accountants.
A change to a well-structured and founded independent regulator would definitely bring fairness to the competition but would also ensure that clubs actually have to toe the line – and I’m not convinced many club owners actually want to do that.
The freedom to operate in a laissez-faire environment is good for those clubs with money to spend, but it’s also dangerous in that there are less safety nets to protect clubs who are in danger of failing.
It’s down to us as fans to decide if we’re happy with the current model, or if we wish to campaign for something a bit more restrictive.