How Andy Holt and Accrington Stanley's Burgergate has further damaged the EFL's reputation
The EFL is an organisation that could do with taking a long, hard look in the mirror. Last week they launched an investigation into Accrington Stanley’s financial conduct, asking owner Andy Holt to explain comments that he had made on Twitter. The comments in question were Holt’s admission that he has been known to buy his players burgers if they win a game.
If they lose they pay for their own. -- Andy Holt
The fact burgers are bought after a win but not following a defeat was the EFL’s gripe. Clubs are required to disclose all bonuses paid to players, be it burgers or Bugattis. Accrington hadn’t.
Holt held firm, reserving the right to buy his players burgers if he wanted.
You have to wonder what these folks [EFL administrators] would do with their lives if it wasn’t for my errors of judgement.
Holt’s reaction to being investigated for spending his own money, not the club's, on treating his overachieving players to a congratulatory burger was one of comical disbelief that was shared by many supporters.
It is more than a bit laughable such an innocuous incident would incur the EFL's wrath. There are far bigger, more sinister cases about which they are doing absolutely nothing. A plague of rogue owners are systematically ripping the souls from EFL clubs including, but not limited to, Blackpool, Leyton Orient, and Charlton.
By assailing Accrington for having the gall to take a few trips to McDonald's after long and successful away trips is like punishing a child for dropping his pencil when the real bullies are in the playground beating up scrawny kids for lunch money and a laugh.
No, they didn’t follow the rules to the letter. Are we going to open that particular can of worms? In recent weeks, Blackpool Supporters Trust has publically called out the EFL for being a toothless organisation with no real jurisdiction, unfit for purpose.
In early March, its fans travelled to Preston, where the EFL’s headquarters are located, to voice their frustration over the governing body's inaction regarding the running of their club. The EFL consider the Oyston family, Blackpool’s owners, to be fit to run a football club despite insurmountable evidence to the contrary.
In recent years the Oystons have overseen relegations, a campaign to sue fans for speaking out against them, and plummeting attendances. They have also been involved in a costly legal battle with shareholder Valeri Belokon. The Oystons were ordered to pay £31 million in compensation to the Latvian for ‘illegitimately stripping’ club assets. Despite this, the EFL have refused to condemn the owners and done nothing to speed their exit.
In the view of many Blackpool supporters, the EFL has actively prevented forward progress in the saga by blocking Belokon from taking over. In September, in an impressive show of irony, the EFL banned Belokon from involvement in football after the Latvian failed the fit and proper person test.
Given their problems with the Football League, Blackpool fans must have viewed the EFL's correspondence with Stanley in anger.
It’s absolutely farcical and an example of why we need some proper governance...This is a typical example of why most football fans, and some club owners, are so frustrated with the EFL. We are crying out for good, strong regulations, an authority that can actually deal with serious situations at clubs. -- Christine Seddons, Chairperson Blackpool Supporters Trust
Seddon leads thousands of Blackpool fans who have been boycotting games for some years, protesting the way their club is being run. They have grown increasingly impatient with the EFL’s inaction.
They can act instantaneously over an owner buying his players burgers but can't get involved when an owner is proved in court to have illegitimately asset stripped a club of many millions. It is beyond absurd and it's about time changes are made. -- Seddon
The EFL have been criticised by fans on numerous occasions this season but their decision to publically investigate Accrington Stanley, in what is inevitably being referred to as ‘Burgergate’, was a mess of their own making. If you examine the role played by Accrington Stanley in football's oily corporate machine, the club should be praised, not investigated over the price of a few Big Macs.
What Accrington have achieved this season on a miserly budget is miraculous. They sit three points clear atop League Two with two games in hand over their nearest rivals. They have the joint-best defence in the League. Striker Billy Kee is the division’s top scorer.
Luton Town, Accrington’s closest rivals in the title race, spent an estimated £300,000 to bring Jake Jervis from Plymouth Argyle in January. They also paid an undisclosed fee for defender Lloyd James in the same window. Accrington don’t have that kind of money.
A further indication of Accrington’s meagre financial clout can be found in a recently released list of fees paid to agents and intermediaries. Of the £958,969 paid by League Two clubs, Accrington contributed just one percent.
Coventry City paid the highest amount to intermediaries between 2017 and 2018, over £100,000 more than Accrington. The clubs met twice this season. Accrington won both.
If the league was based on budgets we’d be relegated at the start of every season. -- Accrington midfielder Sean McConville
Luckily for Accy, it isn't. Despite an operating budget thought to be around £15,000/wk, they are bossing League Two.
Manager John Coleman, the man responsible for Accrington’s return to the Football League in 2006, is enjoying a fruitful second spell at the club. He is a man held in such esteem that if Stanley had the money, a statue in his likeness would already be standing stoically outside the Wham stadium. As might be expected, he didn't have much time for the EFL's nonsense.
If they’ve won, they can eat pizza, chicken, whatever they want as far as I’m concerned. If the lads want to eat McDonald’s and the chairman wants to buy it for them, I’m certainly not going to stop them.
In a statement following the investigation into the unlawful buying of burgers, the EFL reminded Andy Holt and the club of their responsibilities, once again highlighting the governing body’s penchant for irony. Trivial investigations are not needed, reform is.
A petition launched by Blackpool supporters, aimed at lobbying MPs to make reforms to the way football is governed and install an independent regulator with a fans’ representative to ensure ‘the highest possible standards of governance for all clubs’, has just over 12,000 signatures at the time of writing. The government is obliged to comment once an official petition reaches 10,000 signatures. The response didn't satisfy petitioners.
At present, the regulatory framework that operates via league regulation through the PL and the EFL demonstrates there is already regulation of the governance of all football clubs. This negates the desire or need to establish an independent regulator.
Burgergate was a desperate attempt by the EFL to regain a modicum of control, to flex their atrophied muscle. Instead, it has served to shine a light on their inadequacies.