Robin Sainty: Norwich watch on at 'Roadrunner' mayhem

Financier Amanda Staveley and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (right) arrive at St James' Park, Newcastle.

Financier Amanda Staveley and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi arrive at St James' Park, after the takeover of Newcastle United. The end of the Mike Ashley era brought celebrations and controversy in equal measure as Newcastle’s new owners targeted trophies while human rights groups accused them of ‘sportswashing’ human rights abuses - Credit: PA

What a couple of weeks it’s been in the alternative reality that is the world of football club finances. 

While Norwich City’s self-funding model continues to come under fire from the more intellectually challenged areas of the media, we’ve seen the game’s worship of Mammon plumb new depths with the sale of Newcastle United to a regime with a more than questionable record on a number of issues that we value.

Of course, the big clubs are complaining about the Newcastle takeover, but just like the Premier League’s opposition to the European Super League, that’s based on self-interest and the protection of their own honey pot rather than any genuine concern for fans or the game, or indeed any moral considerations. 

Meanwhile, having survived a winding-up petition from HMRC in January, Derby County are in administration, having accrued a reported £28m debt to the taxman as well as a £15m secured loan from an offshore company, while Reading face a deduction of up to nine points for their repeated breaches of the Financial Fair Play rules. 

File photo dated 16-03-2021 of Pride Park, Derby. Derby's administrators have appealed against the 1

Derby County - a club under severe financial pressure - Credit: PA

In Europe, Barcelona, one of the biggest clubs on the planet, have announced a loss of €481m, taking their total debt to a barely conceivable €1.3bn, while back in the UK, Spurs have external debt of £831m, Manchester United owe £526m and Liverpool £268m as the financial arms race continues apace. 

The whole edifice of football is increasingly dependent upon the use of someone else’s money, however dirty, and while the big clubs will survive as long as they can continue to service their ever-growing debt, many of the smaller ones are edging ever closer towards financial Armageddon. 

Football is looking increasingly like the old Roadrunner cartoons, where Wile E Coyote, having chased the eponymous hero off a cliff, runs on thin air, only plummeting to the ground when he finally looks down and sees the nothingness below him. 

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We are fast reaching a point of no return and the current Fan Led Review, and the Fair Game movement that runs alongside it, may be the last chance for a root and branch reform of a game which is increasingly being controlled by people who ignore, or simply don’t understand, what football clubs really stand for. 

To quote Tracey Crouch, the former Sports Minister who is heading up that review: “Football clubs are not ordinary businesses. They play a critical social, civic and cultural role in their local communities. They need to be protected - sometimes from their owners who are, after all, simply the current custodians of a community asset.” 

It’s often said that players, managers and even owners come and go but the fans will always be there - but if there is no longer a club, where does that leave them? 

Does anyone really believe that when the financial bubble finally bursts that the Glazers, Fenway Sports or Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will give a damn about 200 plus years of footballing tradition in this country? 

The Newcastle takeover proves beyond doubt that the game can no longer be left to self-regulate in a world where success on the pitch no longer has to be built when it can simply be bought off the peg, and no potential owner is considered too heinous to be turned away as long as they have deep enough pockets. 

A regulator independent of the FA and EPL would be a start, but is it already too late to turn the tide of a game that has become a billionaires' playground, particularly when, as we’re seeing at Newcastle, many fans seem happy enough to turn a blind eye to their owners’ misdemeanours if it means winning a few trophies?