Barnsley have sent a stinging letter to the English Football League expressing their concern over the “inability of governance to hold its members accountable” in relation to rival Championship clubs charged with breaching financial regulations.
Barnsley are unhappy that, if this season is not resumed, they stand to be relegated despite clubs such as Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday facing independent disciplinary hearings relating to the controversial sale of their stadiums to owners.
The letter, which has been seen by the Guardian and was sent to the EFL chairman, Rick Parry, and fellow Championship clubs last week, states Barnsley’s wish to complete the season and that they would firmly oppose relegation if the season was not restarted. The Yorkshire club, who are bottom of the Championship and seven points from safety with nine games remaining, are minded to consider legal action.
Barnsley’s biggest shareholder, Chien Lee, acquired the club three years ago, together with Paul Conway and Billy Beane. The consortium is also a co-owner at Swiss club FC Thun and Belgian side KV Oostende. “Our perspective has alarmed us to the fact that rule adherence and proper governance of violations is appallingly worse here in England than counterparts in France, Belgium and Switzerland,” read the letter on behalf of the Barnsley board, which emerged on the day Championship clubs returned to training.
“A key element of La Liga’s large revenue growth in the last five years is its strict observance of relegation when rules are broken (including unpaid player wages, transfer fees, filing of timely financial statements, and unbalanced or unfunded budgets). How can anyone use the phrase ‘sporting integrity’ or the word ‘fair’ in any relegation scenario if the games aren’t played?
Barnsley said relegation to League One on the final day of the 2017-18 season cost them at least £6m in revenue and estimate they would make a bigger loss if relegated this season because of the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis. “This is a scenario that will not be passively accepted,” the letter continues. “Two to three clubs pending punishments from EFL charges could change the current status of the Championship table.”
If found guilty of misconduct in regards to the sale of their stadiums, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday could be hit with a point deduction and/or fine. Both clubs vigorously deny any wrongdoing.
The EFL have also appealed against the decision of an independent disciplinary commission to clear Birmingham City of a misconduct charge. The charge, which was in relation to an alleged breach of an agreed business plan, was brought against the club in January but dismissed in March. Birmingham were deducted nine points last season for breaching the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules.
Meanwhile the Stevenage owner, Phil Wallace, has also questioned the integrity of the EFL’s plans to impose relegation if the season is curtailed. League Two clubs unanimously agreed to end the season but a majority made it clear they opposed relegation.
The EFL board has since stipulated promotion and relegation should remain, stating it is “integral to the integrity of the pyramid from the Premier League down to the National League”. Wallace suggested the EFL should promote one team from non-league instead of two this season, and not relegate a club from League Two, then promote three teams and relegate three teams from next season.
In a statement released on Monday, Wallace, the former Conference vice-chairman, said: “I can’t see any integrity in applying an artificial formula, especially when the FA have already ruled there will be no promotion and relegation below the National League. I don’t see any integrity in arbitrarily forcing relegation on any club that has every reasonable chance of avoiding it by playing, but is denied the opportunity to do so.
“At Stevenage we of course have a self-interest to declare, but nevertheless we have always been strongly in favour of a resolution that is ethical and fair and is consistent with sporting values and principles.”