FInancial fair play rules are not perfect but clubs need protecting from themselves - Stuart Rayner

For anyone doubting the need for financial fair play rules after Nottingham Forest and Everton – again – were charged by the Premier League this week, the evidence was all over Reading’s pitch on Saturday.

Sixteen minutes into Reading's League One match against Port Vale, home supporters invaded and refused to leave until the game was abandoned.

Illegal pitch invasions are something the Football League have rightly been hot on since the week more than 18 months ago which saw Sheffield United's Billy Sharp assaulted by a Nottingham Forest fan and some unsavoury scenes after Huddersfield Town's play-off semi-final against Luton Town.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Reading's fans came on because they are at their wit's end with owner Dai Yongge, who has failed to meet his financial obligations for the last four months, threatening the existence of what this time last year was a Championship club and what is likely to be a League Two one come August if they get through this.

The League are just as frustrated with a man they tried and failed to have banned from football for 12 months late last year. That they had to ask an independent commission and were refused is infuriating.

They have deducted 16 points from Reading – hence the timing of the protest – since late 2021 for first ridiculous over-spending, then a failure to abide by the business plan agreed with the League as a result.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dai seems to have lost interest in running a football club properly, but to be in no hurry to sell it to someone who would.

PITCH INVASION: Reading fans protest against the ownership of Dai YonggePITCH INVASION: Reading fans protest against the ownership of Dai Yongge
PITCH INVASION: Reading fans protest against the ownership of Dai Yongge

The issue so often in these cases is in tribalist football it is someone else's problem. It could easily not be.

Dai and his brother Dai Xiu Li tried to buy Hull City in 2016 but when they failed the Premier League's fit and proper person's test, turned to Championship Reading a year later.

What a lucky escape for the Tigers, now owned by a rich and engaged businessmen in Acun Ilicali.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Now Ilicali is pushing up against the limits of what Hull can spend to get out of the second tier. Up against, but not over, as Everton and Nottingham Forest have accepted they did in the Premier League, where the boundaries are different.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT: Hull City owner Acun IlicaliFINANCIAL SUPPORT: Hull City owner Acun Ilicali
FINANCIAL SUPPORT: Hull City owner Acun Ilicali

Financial fair play under all its different names is far from perfect, and the rules still need tweaking.

At times it feels more about protecting the status quo from new money but its job of protecting clubs from overstretching is crucial.

Everton were found guilty of overspending in a three-year period leading up to the 2021-22 season – they are appealing the punishment – and now it seems they ignored the boundaries the following year too.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Now the Russian money they were depending on, from Alisher Usmanov, has become dirty cash because of the war in Ukraine, their business model has become unworkable. God forbid anything happened to Ilicali.

STORM CLOUDS GATHERING: Everton are back in the dock over financial fair playSTORM CLOUDS GATHERING: Everton are back in the dock over financial fair play
STORM CLOUDS GATHERING: Everton are back in the dock over financial fair play

It is not just a case of Everton resetting because transfer splurges are not one-off spends – big signings come on long contracts with hefty wages.

So Reading signing Ovie Ejaria during their period of rule-breaking largesse under Dai in 2019 was a problem until they finally agreed to cancel his contract in December.

It seems hard to imagine Ilicali losing interest in Hull any time soon but Reading fans probably did not envisage Dai doing so when he was spending more than twice the club's turnover on wages for three consecutive seasons from 2018 to 2021.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The next biggest Championship culprit at that time was Dejphon Chansiri, who seemed last year to have lost his appetite for propping up Sheffield Wednesday.

Sheffield United were under a transfer embargo this time last year after over-stretching in the top flight. Huddersfield Town were in financial intensive care until Kevin Nagle came along.

Leeds United and Bradford City both got dangerously close to extinction when they pushed too hard in the Premier League years at the turn of the millennium, and former Football League clubs Halifax Town and Scarborough went bust.

It is not hard to see Forest going "pop" if a bad season in the next couple of years leads to relegation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

All the while, other clubs are trying to compete without risking their existence.

It is only fair – on them, on fans of the clubs doing the pushing – that we have a framework which allows ambition, but not recklessness governed by people who do not have a vested interest in the outcomes. Please hurry up with our much-promised regulator.

Everton, Forest, Reading and Manchester City – whose reckoning Richard Masters told MPs on Tuesday is coming without telling them when – can count themselves unfortunate in some respects to have been the ones in the firing line when English football finally got serious. But it does not mean they are wrong to do so.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.