Rambling through Accrington, Coventry and Ipswich to Lincoln. How do Sunderland’s rivals shape up financially?

League One comprises 24 clubs. Three of them, Bury, Bolton and Blackpool, are entering, exiting or plodging in the clarts of receivership. Leaving them and Sunderland aside gives us twenty clubs.

I thought I’d take a look at their finances. Nothing detailed, just a skim through any entries at Companies House and a quick perusal of a search engine, enough to kill some time I have and satisfy idle curiosity. My idea was to divide the twenty into two and cover 10 clubs each time. After that matters should have moved ahead with the Lancashire Bs and Sunderland’s takeover and I should be able to revisit these four.

I’m not saying what I will provide will be totally correct (I am no accountant) and you need to remember published accounts will be for the season before last (.i.e. 2017-18) but we should be able to get a picture of each club. Visiting fans are, as always, welcome to chip in with observations, corrections, facts and opinions. And, especially, their thoughts about prospects for the season.

And if they really wanted to make an impression they could also visit a post I did a week ago: Salut! Sunderland presents: The best goal I ever scored/never scored and share their triumph with us – something none of our regular readers have managed to do.

Accrington Stanley

A sellout crownd at the Wham

Stanley have one of, if not the, lowest budgets in League One.

The latest accounts didn’t include a profit/loss account but at a recent Q&A session it was announced the club made a profit of £1.5 million “last year” (2018-19?) and the playing budget is £1.6m for the new season  – this is set so the club breaks even and doesn’t include extra revenue from player sales and any cup runs.

Following promotion in 2018 the club has been valued at 2.25 million. Assets exceed liabilities and the Chairman/owner believes the club is financially viable with crowds of 2,500, which is just as well as they only average 2700.

Over this close season money has been spent on the pitch, which will no doubt please those who were there in December.(A loan (Mortgage) was secured against land in Feb 2019, I don’t know if that’s what it was used for)

I don’t think Accrington Stanley, who last season flirted with relegation before finishing mid-table, will be pushing for a second promotion in three years. They are well-run and growing but do they have the money it would take?

AFC Wimbledon

Almost lost £1 million in 2018, after transfers they made a net loss of 500, 000. Over the longer term the club expects to return to profitability and the financial position is satisfactory. AFC have sold their ground to Chelsea and are progressing with a new stadium and a return to Plough Lane for 2020-21, to which end they want to crowdfund a new stadium and are seeking £7,000,000. Their highest crowd is 4,840, including away fans, so  that’s about £1500 per Wimbledon  fan. The club’s website is very optimistic but  I’m not sure they’ll get to Plough Lane as quickly as they hope. In the meantime, they really don’t have enough to mount a promotion challenge but they might do better than last season and stay up on more than goal difference. And don’t we all want them to do well?

Bristol Rovers

There’s an excellent article by Kieron Maguire, author of the soon to be published  “The price of football” at https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/it-implications-football-finance-expert-2926759, which expands on the published accounts. There’s also a striking off notice, issued and cancelled this month, which threatened the existence of  Bristol Rovers FC for 24 hours.

Put briefly, The Gas have net liabilities in excess of £13 million and are losing more than 3 million per year, about £65,00o per week. As Maguire puts it: “For every £100 coming in £97 goes out in wages “. That’s wages for everyone at the club but the players’ wages must be a large proportion of that, so the prospect of breaching FFP regulations is there.  The club relies on the support of the Al Quaed family, who will underwrite the club for at least this season.  What will happen after that? I reckon they will continue to fund the club, but it can’t go on forever.

Wrinkly Pete ‘s view at Burton Albion

Burton Albion

During their time in the Championship Burton increased both their gate receipts and commercial income. They spent on the first team squad in a futile attempt to stay up but still managed to generate an operating profit of £0.5 million in 2018 (selling a player for £2 million might have had something to do with it). Attendances are not high, however, and dropped below 5,000 during 2017-18. After relegation they dropped even further, averaging 3228 in 2018-19.  Although the Pirelli stadium is relatively modern and does bring in revenue as e.g a conference centre it’s not up there with some of the larger stadia. There are/were plans to further develop it with a pub and hotel but these have not come to fruition. Burton are  operating within their financial means but they may not be able to continue to challenge for promotion for much longer.

Coventry City

Their league 2 season saw Coventry make an operating loss of £1.5m but attendances at the Ricoh and season ticket sales went up after they gained promotion so last season must have improved their circumstances. However, net liabilities are over £46 million, including £16 million owed to ARVO master fund Ltd, a SISU company based in the Cayman Islands. Shareholders have confirmed that they will not demand repayment of loans “for the foreseeable future” and will continue to provide funding, but they have added that there is no contractual certainty over either issue. Given there is a court case still pending this must introduce an element of uncertainty – what would the shareholders do if they lost the case?

The big issue, however, is the loss of the Ricoh and its revenue streams. This season’s groundshare in Birmingham is expected to affect season ticket sales, overall attendances etc, so the club’s income will be hit. There’s no prospect of a new stadium anytime soon so this one could run. How much it will affect the club’s ability to mount a promotion challenge remains to be seen.

If you want to know more try this statement. CCFC fans are welcome to comment on that statement, subject to the laws of decency, libel, etc.

Doncaster Rovers

Doncaster’s published accounts are not very informative. They lost over 2.5 million in 2017-18 (Kieran Maguire again). According to Maguire  Doncaster Rovers have total losses of £31 million effectively financed by £26 million of shares & £5 million of interest free loans by the owners. The club have a long lease on the Keepmoat Stadium which generates a revenue stream but attendance hovers around the 7,000 mark, with peaks when larger clubs and rivals visit. That doesn’t sound like enough income to enable them to mount a sustained promotion challenge, though they did make the playoffs last season. A case of overperformance which will not be repeated? Let’s wait and see.

Fleetwood Town

Fleetwood have invested in staff and facilities since achieving EFL status and finances reflect this. In 2018 they made an operating loss of £2million. The balance sheet “shows an excess of liabilities over assets… …and net current liabilities of £14, 028,167” and the club relies on continuing support from Andy Pilley, who has pumped millions in to get the club where it is. The stadium is new but small, and attendances average the low three thousands. Given all that, Fleetwood have to be seen as punching above their weight. The question is, for how long can they continue to do so?


Gillingham’s owner and chairman is Paul Scalley, who bought the club out of administration in 1995 and has kept it going ever since. Turnover is in the £7 million range and they managed a  small operating profit, in region of 100,00. The club owe Three directors Ltd. £1.8 million, with some further debts owed to directors. There is no requirement to repay these in the immediate future.

Gillingham epitomise what it is to be a lower league club. They have been at the Priestfield stadium since 1893. They joined the Football League a century ago and have rarely spent time out of the two lower divisions. Attendances hover around 6,000 and the stadium has been redeveloped enough to generate revenue from conferencing etc. (Paul Scalley wants to move to a new, as yet unbuilt, stadium) Gillingham finished mid league last season. Pretty much the same can be expected for 2019-20.

Ipswich Town

Ipswich were losing money before they were relegated and this is likely to continue. It might not matter as the club is bankrolled by their owner, Marcus Evans, and his companies, who don’t seem overly concerned that  debts and liabilities are in the tens of millions. On the other hand it might as the latest accounts note that “It is a key objective of the Board to reduce ongoing losses in order to meet the Football League’s Profit and Sustainability rules.”  

Ipswich are one of the favourites for promotion but find themselves in a similar position to Sunderland a year ago, i.e. lots of players to replace and a rebuilding job to do. Manager Paul Lambert has an advantage in that he’s been in post since October last year but they do not have parachute payments (they will have solidarity payments, which were £4.4 5million in 2017-18), commercial revenue isn’t particularly high at £4.35 million and attendances averaged less than 18,000 before relegation. Their income will drop next year and I wonder to what extent the need to meet FFP requirements will affect the club.

As to Marcus Evans, there’s an interesting Wikipedia page. He bought a controlling interest in Ipswich in 2007, since when its debt, on which it pays interest, has doubled. He doesn’t appear on the list of directors in the published accounts and is apparently a somewhat reclusive tax exile. Sunderland fans might find that brings back memories.

Lincoln City

Lincoln made a profit of 1.5 million following return to the EFL in 2017. Crowd/season ticket sales increased and turnover improved in 2018 and they were promoted again in 2019. That’s not bad, is it? There have been changes in the directors recently; Clive Nates is now chairman. Companies House notes he has “significant control” of Sportsvest Capital, which bought into the club in 2016, and his appointment came with the promise of a further injection of funds.

Sincil Bank is valued at around £1.2 million but there is a charge, ie a mortgage of some kind, on it. It can hold around 10,000 and has hosted events in the past but does not form part of the stadium concert circuit so revenue generation is limited and match attendance will be a major part of the club’s income. This won’t be able to improve as much as promotion might merit, given that the ground consistently operated at over 80% of capacity during their promotion season and frequently hosted crowds of over 9,000. The club is considering a move to a newer stadium but there is nothing substantial on the horizon.

Their fan base should give Lincoln enough to be able to stay up; whether it will be enough for another promotion challenge remains to be seen.

That’s the first ten clubs. Fixtures are out shortly, and we are expecting takeover news of our own later in the week. It might be a while before I return to part two of this series. Watch this space.

McCormick’s dodgy numbers. The arithmetic’s correct, it’s just the rest could be a bit wonky
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3 thoughts on “Rambling through Accrington, Coventry and Ipswich to Lincoln. How do Sunderland’s rivals shape up financially?”

  1. Superb article. Thank you for the time and effort you must have put in to it. Very informative.

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