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INTERVIEW: It's a critical time for Leagues One and Two

John Nixon on challenges faced and those to come

1 July 2023

Club News

INTERVIEW: It's a critical time for Leagues One and Two

John Nixon on challenges faced and those to come

1 July 2023

Club co-owner John Nixon spoke to us this week about the critical phase the EFL is going through as he stepped down from the board following United’s promotion to League One.

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“I used some of the time at the AGM earlier this month to speak to Charles Grant [Crewe] who is now the League Two representative,” he said. “I felt that was useful so that he knew the stance that I’d taken on the key issues.

“I actually went into the League Two meeting, because it’s kind of a critical time for the board. There’s been the TV deal, and there’s the redistribution discussion which we’ve been on with for some considerable time.

“I knew where we were with both of those, and the other major issue for League Two was, and still is, that there is an external push for three up, three down.

“Now that we’re in League One somebody actually said to me that I’d probably be voting for three up, three down because it means one less coming down from the division we’re now in.

“I told them that I can’t do that to League Two, not with the stance I’ve been taking. League Two loses out both ways, when you think about. There’s one less promotion spot, but one additional relegation spot.

“Getting three up, three down through is going to be hard because it’s going to hurt League Two more than any other league. Mind you, if the Premier League got a sniff that they could get away with two up, two down they would do it. That’s why I think we’re going to have to comply.

“We know it’s going to happen because the Premier League want the pyramid to be the same all the way down in terms of how many go up and down. I think we have to get something out of that, and that comes in the form of compensation and redistribution.

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“We also have to make sure that clubs coming up from the National League can actually meet the criteria of a League Two club in terms of ground conditions, as well as the financial stuff. So there are a lot of challenges to be faced with that particular structural change.

“My stance on it has always been that we will do this if we get compensation, and it’s part of the redistribution shakeup. It’s now up to Charles and the League Two clubs as to which way they go from there.”

Having mentioned the redistribution model a number of times, we wondered that change could actually mean for clubs at the tier three and four levels.

“Because of the parachute payments that are made to clubs coming out of the Premier League, in my opinion getting the redistribution model right is really important,” he told us.

“Because of magnitude of those payments it means that two of the three teams promoted in the last four or five seasons back into the Premier League have been parachute payment clubs. It just gives them such a huge advantage.

“That means that the other clubs in the Championship are effectively looking for one potential promotion place, at best. It really is so difficult for the rest to compete with parachute payment clubs.

“That’s why everyone else is so much against it, but the Premier League won’t give it up. Of the 20 teams in the Premier League you have roughly 14 who won’t vote to change of it because they’re the ones who set out at the start of the season with the aim simply to stay in there.

“They’re constantly thinking that it could be them who goes down, so why would they vote to remove their payment. They’ll never vote anything through that puts them at risk.

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“Despite that, redistribution has to come. We have to make clubs sustainable and competitive. We need to look closely at the current split, and we need to find a better way of looking after those at the foot of the pyramid.

“Money is coming in from television all over the world, but it all stays at the top and it gets into players and agents, and there’s a lot of self-protection with that.

“Going back to my earlier point, it’s Burnley and Sheff United who have come up this time, with Luton as the wildcard. It’s Luton who will have the real job on to survive.”

“Look, there’s no pride for anyone in having watched the Bury and Macclesfield situations, but they almost became inevitable. We have to try to give every club more of a fighting chance.

“What those situations did bring about and lead to was the EFL changing the rules significantly on funding and ownership. I think that’s made it better for clubs, which is no consolation to the fans of both of those clubs, but I think the most sustainable clubs are now in League Two and League One.

“The Championship is where the problems are now because they’re all fighting to make that step up to the next level.

“The Fan-Led Review is going to help us, it’s put foundations down. I’m proud to have been part of that. I met Tracey Crouch and hopefully it will lead to more positive things.”

The two separate periods on the EFL board have seen some major challenges and changes, with two situations in particular worthy of a special mention.

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“One of the biggest challenges was when we did the leadership change with Shaun Harvey,” he told us. “There was so much going on at that time.

“I remember the TV deal went right to the wire – it was the deal that put the Championship behind the red button, and it all came to a messy and difficult end for a number of reasons.

“I can recall the TV deal being done in a pub in Marylebone at about 4pm in the afternoon on the final day of talks.

“We all knew something had to be agreed because for clubs at the bottom of the pyramid like us, we needed the money, it’s a simple as that.

“Once it was agreed it brought on streaming and the development of iFollow, and I do believe that became a massive and positive breakthrough. That’s the direction we will continue to travel in the future.

“Looking to next season we’ll see two camera coverage in League Two and four camera coverage in League One. That’s a massive difference, more professional coverage and, obviously, it will be much better in almost every way.”

“But the absolute biggest challenge was Covid,” he insisted. “That really tested all of us. We decided as Leagues One and Two to shut down when it first started to spread, and rightly so in my opinion.

“The Championship and Premier League wanted to go on, but as a group of 48 we all decided we had to stop.

“That meant that at that time we were all able to claim the Government handouts, which were up to 80% of wages, which we’d never had before.

“It meant we had access to interest free loans that we’d also never had before, and those payments from the Government were against player wages in the period May to July, which again we’d ever had before.

“It was such a difficult time, so for League One and League Two we can say that come the end of it all it gave us a chance to consolidate and get ready to go again once restrictions were lifted.

“We’d seen the Bury and Macclesfield situations unfold, we’d changed the rules, and everybody felt better placed to push forward, and we were able to operate without any crowds the following season. Covid brought a lot of work to be done behind the scenes, but we managed to get through it relatively well.”


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