FOOTBALL LEAGUE chairman Greg Clarke believes the ownership structure of both Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United is a model for other clubs to follow.
The Terriers and Blades will do battle today at Wembley in only the second all-Yorkshire final in the 26 years since the advent of the play-offs.
A place in the Championship is the prize at stake and a bumper crowd is expected with United having sold more than 28,000 tickets and Town 22,000.
Clarke, who since coming to office a couple of years ago has made it a priority for League clubs to get their financial houses in order, will be at the final.
He will be seated between Terriers chairman Dean Hoyle and his Blades counterpart Kevin McCabe, two men who the League chief believes serve as a shining example as to the type of owner he would like to see in charge of member clubs.
Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, Clarke said: “When I joined the Football League, my first presentation to the chairmen in March 2010 was basically to get across the message that the finances had to be sorted out.
“I made it clear we just had to cope with the economic downturn. I was one of those who believed from the very start that it was not going to be a short, sharp shock before everything got back to normal.
“Sadly, that has proved to be right and we are not out of it yet. The potential meltdown in Europe could cause us three or four more years (of problems). Just hoping things are going to get better is not enough.
“All 72 chairmen have supported the League’s stance. They have done their best to limit losses and make the clubs sustainable. What we would like to have is where the community can afford to support its own football club.
“In that respect, we have the classic Huddersfield v Sheffield United final in terms of both are owned by local businessmen. They are both about town and in the community, and they are trying to do the right thing. It is a pretty good model.”
Under Clarke’s guidance, Championship clubs have agreed to adopt a new financial fair play model that is based on UEFA’s own set-up while what equates to effectively a salary cap will swing into action next season in Leagues One and Two.
As pressing as the need to tackle the game’s collective debt problem is, however, Clarke’s focus today – along with that of Yorkshire football – is a game that will decide who joins Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic in winning promotion to next season’s Championship.
The League chairman said: “The play-offs are probably my favourite part of the season. I was sitting with David Sullivan and Karl Oyston at the Championship final. Watching their faces and the strain of a £90m game showed how much it meant to the clubs and the communities.”
As today will be the eighth play-off final that Clarke has attended in his role as League chairman, he is well versed in the etiquette of the day – not least how to deal with the two respective chairmen sitting either side of him in the Royal Box as the drama unfolds below on the pitch.
He said: “I tend to play it by ear in terms of whether I speak or not. Some want to chat and relax, while others want to sit there and worry. In the end, they are sitting there with the hopes and fears of an entire community, their shareholders.”
Today’s League One showdown is only the second time since the advent of the play-offs back in 1986-87 that two Yorkshire clubs have met in the final.
The only other occasion came four years ago at Wembley as Doncaster Rovers beat Leeds United 1-0 in front of a 75,132 crowd.
League chairman Clarke admits the presence of two clubs from the same county does bring an additional element to a game that is worth a huge sum in terms of central payments from television and sponsorship. This season, for example, Championship clubs were paid £4.6m in contrast to the £970,000 that League One sides have received.
Next year’s figures have not been finalised but even allowing for the new television deal with Sky being worth 25 per cent less, the prize for prevailing today at Wembley is significant.
Clarke said: “Going up into the Championship makes a big difference to a club.
“Obviously, a lot of the focus is on the money a club can earn from winning promotion to the Premier League but the money available to a club who goes up from League One is also significant and can pay the wage bill for a good amount of time.
“League One is an amazing division. What we have found is a lot of high quality clubs having come into the division that are well supported.
“It is no longer a case of if a big team goes down then they come straight back up again, and that is true across all the divisions.
“West Ham are a great club with a great history and many thought they would win automatic promotion but they needed the play-offs.”
Clarke was living in Australia when Leeds and Doncaster met at Wembley four years ago so didn’t see the final. But he added: “I was at Huddersfield (for the semi-final second leg against Milton Keynes Dons) and, certainly, there was an added frisson by it being Sheffield United who the winners would face.
“The atmosphere was wonderful, as no doubt it will be at Wembley. It is a good, healthy Yorkshire derby for everyone to look forward to.”