Yorkshire is the biggest county in England and most Yorkshire folk would say that it’s “gods own country”, whereas non-Tykes would more readily recognise the clichés associated with it; the distinctive dialect, flat caps, whippets, brass bands and of course, the pudding of champions.
It is the place where modern day football began, the county of the world’s oldest association football club, Sheffield F.C, who were officially formed on the 24th October 1857, nearly 156 years ago. It is also the home to the oldest existing football ground in the world, Sandygate, the playing ground of Hallam FC.
It is the home to 13 professional clubs who compete at varying levels, from the Premier League to the Football Conference, as well as having a significant amateur club presence at grass roots level.
Football is a religion in Yorkshire.
But this great county’s football clubs have been beset by tragedies and crippling financial problems over the last 30 years.
Tragedy in Yorkshire
Two devastating disasters took place in the 1980s that claimed the lives of 152 football fans and injured another 1031.
On the 11th May 1985, Bradford City entertained Lincoln City at their Valley Parade stadium in West Yorkshire, the team received the Division Three championship trophy before the game. What should have been a celebration of the season’s achievements duly ended in English football worst fire disaster.
After 40 minutes of the game, a fire started underneath the main stand when an innocent fan casually discarded a cigarette. This triggered a turn of events that claimed the lives of 56 fans with at least another 265 receiving injuries.
The disaster led to major new safety standards in UK football grounds. The inquiry into the disaster, chaired by Sir Oliver Popplewell and known as the Popplewell Inquiry, led to the introduction of new legislation to improve safety at the UK’s football grounds.
On the 15th May 1989, the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was held at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium in South Yorkshire, a neutral venue as chosen by the FA.
What should have been a riveting cup semi-final between two of the leagues top teams ended in the worst stadium-related disaster in British history, and one of the world’s worst football disasters. The match was stopped after just six minutes by referee Ray Lewis on the advice of the police as Liverpool fans desperately tried to escape a crowd crush and began to spill onto the pitch. 96 people died and a further 766 were injured.
The inquiry into the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, better known as the Taylor Report, had a deep impact on safety standards for British stadiums. All perimeter and lateral fencing was removed and many top stadiums were converted to all-seated.
It is widely accepted that both disasters could have been prevented.
Yorkshire footballs financial turmoil
Some may remember the plight of Bradford Park Avenue (or Bradford FC), when in 1974 they were forced into liquidation. A club that had entered league football in 1908, were consigned to the history books.
The counties clubs have almost all been overwhelmed by financial difficulties in recent times through mismanagement, overspending and loss of income.
In 1985, financial difficulties forced Chesterfield Borough Council to bail out their local club. The club’s training ground was also sold.
Middlesborough the club had to borrow £30,000 from the PFA to pay wages in April 1986. The same summer, the club called in a provisional liquidator, the club was wound up and the gates to Boro’s old home, Ayresome Park, were padlocked. Current chairman Steve Gibson led a consortium to save the club the same year.
The infamous Doncaster Rovers stadium fire, at their Belle Vue ground in June 1995, saw ex-chairman Ken Richardson jailed for four years for conspiring to commit arson in order to claim insurance money to pay off the clubs debts.
In 2000, Hull City were locked out of their Boothferry Park ground by bailiffs and faced the possibility of liquidation.
Chesterfield were deducted nine points in 2001 for contravening Football League regulations. Then chairman Darren Brown racked up huge debts that eventually forced the club into administration. He was later sentenced to four years in prison following a Serious Fraud Office investigation that led to charges including false accounting, furnishing false information and theft.
In December 2001, York City’s chairman Douglas Craig put the club and its ground up for sale for £4.5 million, announcing that unless a new owner was found before the 1st April 2002, York would be withdrawn from the Football League.
Arguably the biggest factor affecting clubs in England was the collapse of the Football Leagues £900 million television rights deal with ITV Digital in 2002, plunging many clubs across the country into financial crisis costing them millions of pounds in revenue.
The damage to clubs in Yorkshire became apparent shortly afterwards.
In the 2002/03 season both Barnsley and Huddersfield Town went into administration, the latter with debts reportedly of up to £17 million.
During the summer of 2003, Bradford City with debts of nearly £13 million were forced into administration.
Leeds United went into financial meltdown in 2004 and were forced to sell their Elland Road ground and Thorp Arch training ground. In 2007, Leeds entered administration and were given a ten point deduction.
In 2006, Rotherham United faced the prospect of going out of business after leaking £140,000 every month. A Creditors Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) was agreed which saved the club from liquidation. In mid-March 2008, Rotherham again entered administration and were duly deducted another 10 points. Local businessman and club saviour, Tony Stewart, took over as Chairman in 2008 and took the club out of administration when another CVA was put in place. This resulted in a further 17-point deduction.
In 2010, Sheffield Wednesday faced three winding up orders due to unpaid tax bills.
The more damaging side of the financial struggles that clubs were being put under were highlighted by the dire situations endured by two clubs, Halifax Town and Scarborough FC.
In 2008, Halifax were under the burden of huge tax debts, around £2 million and after almost 100 years as a football club the club were wound up.
Scarborough Football Club were one of the oldest football clubs in England, formed in 1879, before they were wound up in June 2007, with debts of £2.5 million.
The up side
Out of bad, comes good.
The two stadium disasters brought sweeping changes to football safety across Britain. These changes have ensured that today’s football stadia are among the safest places to watch sporting events in the world. Safety is now paramount to the football experience.
The financial pressures experienced by clubs has seen a major overhaul of how the game is run, not only in Britain, but across Europe. The UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations have been brought in to try and safeguard clubs from spending beyond their means, whether this is the best thing for the future of our game is yet to be proven.
One thing is for sure though, no matter how tough times are in Yorkshire, each club’s loyal fans will be there for their team, through thick and thin.
Yorkshire folk may be stubborn, but they will always be resilient, and with resilience comes potential, the potential to achieve what may seem impossible.