AS the credit crunch belatedly claimed its first football victim yesterday, Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton has admitted he has to keep one eye on the Magpies’ finances while trying to steer them back into the Premier League.
Chester City were yesterday expelled from the Conference as the money problems which have dogged them for some time finally caught up. Meanwhile, Portsmouth were becoming the first team in Premier League history to enter administration.
They are by no means the only causes for concern, with this afternoon’s Championship hosts Watford another club in peril.
The casualties at both ends of the English pyramid were a stark reminder that even the Magpies – with the country’s fifth highest average attendances this season – are not immune to an economic downturn which has claimed businesses across the board. This week The Journal revealed owner Mike Ashley is subsidising weekly losses of £500,000 a week at St James’ Park.
While not kept completely in the picture about the precise state of Newcastle’s finances, Hughton remains conscious of them.
“We all have to be wary because there are more and more clubs being mentioned as each week goes past,” he said.
“It is a real sad, grave day when a club goes out of business. Whether that will be what it takes for everyone to take stock I don’t know but it’s troubled times with clubs in financial difficulties. There will be four or five big clubs who’ll be able to bring in the big players with financial clout but outside that everyone will have to live within their means.”
Even after a summer of cost-cutting, United have an unrealistically high wage bill for a Football League club. It did not stop them making six signings in the January transfer window. That was partly a reflection of Ashley’s understanding that his club need promotion to be viable, and perhaps also of Hughton’s realistic targets.
“I’m aware of some of the financial situations we have here, I know we have an incredibly large wage bill,” said Hughton. “What I did ask for in the window was support from upstairs and I was able to get that. They’ve been very good on that.”
Gates have held up remarkably well at St James’ this season (averaging just below 43,000) considering the lower standard of football and the hostility towards Ashley. But supporters have been noticeable by their absence at some grounds and Hughton is concerned.
“Some clubs will find it difficult to get out of the situation they find themselves in,” he acknowledged.
While Newcastle’s cuts have not gone deep enough to put them in Championship shape, they have been sufficiently savage to require major reinvestment if, as expected, they win promotion.
Hughton’s backroom team is a far cry from Sam Allardyce’s army of support staff. Typically, though, it is not an issue he is prepared to worry about prematurely. “My backroom staff is less than what we’ve had in previous times but it’s not such a consideration if we don’t get to where we want to get to our focus has to be to achieve something first,” he said.