‘Do not cut us adrift’: Tranmere owner Mark Palios insists relegation from League One is lazy and unnecessary and has an alternative idea – INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN SAMUEL
- Tranmere are the 21st club in League One, three points behind AFC Wimbledon
- If the campaign is ended early, they will slip into League Two by 0.04 of a point
- Accountant Palios has another plan, long submitted to EFL chairman Rick Parry
- It includes PPG and rules out relegation in League One, but not promotion
Fittingly, for a man staring at football’s depths, Mark Palios reached for a Titanic analogy to explain the predicament of Tranmere Rovers.
‘It’s like the ship is going down,’ he said, ‘and you can see a lifeboat with a space on it. And you try to get on, but the people on board say, “No, just 20 allowed here.” And you point out the space, but they still won’t let you on. So you drown.’
Tranmere are the 21st club in League One. Bury have already gone. Bolton and Southend are 21 and 16 points adrift. Tranmere are three points behind AFC Wimbledon, with a game in hand.
Tranmere owner Mark Palios has another plan, long submitted to EFL chairman Rick Parry
They are the only team this season to win away at leaders Coventry. They had won three games straight before the season was suspended, all away.
Their previous win, before that, was against Wimbledon, and they face them again before the season ends.
If the season ends. For a rump of League One clubs are opposed to the restart and if it does not happen the EFL hierarchy will decide promotion and relegation on points per game. By this calculation, Tranmere slip into League Two by 0.04 of a point. Wimbledon have announced enthusiasm for this resolution, no doubt along with a lot of clubs who will not be affected. Typical.
‘People tell us it’s a pandemic, as if we didn’t know,’ Palios, the club’s owner, adds. ‘Yes, this is a pandemic. So the EFL should do its job, not sacrifice Tranmere and a couple of others on the altar of expediency. Teams who are voting for PPG know their outcome. That’s not fair.
The 67-year-old has overseen a remarkable revival while fighting his own cancer battle
‘They wouldn’t support this before the season started, when it might affect them. Will they vote for it to be in place next year, too?
‘There are clubs who genuinely don’t want to restart because of the costs. They are voting to improve their own financial position at our expense. That is grossly unfair, a return to the days when decisions got made in smoke-filled rooms. I thought we were done with them.’
Palios is best known for his time as FA chairman but after more than 250 games in midfield for Tranmere, he rose to prominence as an insolvency and business turnaround expert with PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
He had retired when, in 2014, he and wife Nicola came to the rescue of his former club.
‘When we arrived Tranmere was in a death spiral,’ he recalls. ‘The fabric of the place was poor, the attitude was resignation. Then we went out of the league, which cost another £3.5million.
If the campaign is ended early, the Merseyside club will slip into League Two by 0.04 of a point
‘Most struggling clubs are fighting with their fanbase. We had the supporters’ trust. The club was losing £1m a year. I asked them how much they could raise. They reckoned £500,000. I said, “That gives you six months”.
‘Yet, out of the league, we managed to forge a relationship with our fans.’
Tranmere’s revival is a true underdog story. They returned to the Football League despite having a man sent off after 54 seconds of the National League play-off final, and a year later made it into League One with a play-off final winner after 119 minutes.
The five-year recovery plan that Palios still carries around has his cancer diagnosis on the back. It was the only paper he had to hand when the news arrived. That was five years ago and treatment is ongoing.
So he doesn’t run from a fight, and there has been talk of courtroom battles if Tranmere are sent down by guesswork. Yet accountants are pragmatic, particularly those engaged in financial recovery. So Palios also has a plan, long submitted to EFL chairman Rick Parry, for what should happen if the season cannot be completed.
It includes PPG but with an average margin of error calculated across recent campaigns. It rules out relegation, but not promotion. Indeed it widens the net to include all those with reasonable hope of going up.
In League One, on PPG with an average margin of error, Coventry and Rotherham are promoted, while all teams down to Doncaster in ninth enter the play-offs. In League Two, three go up, and the play-offs reach Bradford in ninth.
‘The seriousness of relegation far outweighs the prospect of promotion,’ Palios adds. ‘I’m not just moaning. I’ve provided them with a solution that adjusts PPG to something more reasonable.
Tranmere want the chance to play their way out of trouble but rivals want to end the season
‘I spoke to Rick the day after League Two voted not to play on and he said eight Championship clubs had already contacted him worried that this would be a catalyst for Premier League clubs to outlaw relegation.
‘Fear has been the motivation ever since. But you don’t have to deal with promotion and relegation. Just promotion.
‘Teams who want to stop playing can stop playing. Those with ambition and who qualify can reach the play-offs.
‘If that means we’re dealing with 27 teams in League One or Two next season, we’ll do that.
‘Greg Clarke, the FA chairman, came out with his quote about relegation being crucial to the pyramid, but it’s such a lazy soundbite.
‘Yet having relegation has become a mantra, because of what Clarke said. I just don’t think he thought it through.
‘Look, of course, we want to play. We won three away games before it stopped, we’ve got three games against teams immediately above us to come.
‘The idea of complete sporting integrity has gone because there will be teams who will have lost players by the time of the restart, who may be looking at half a youth team, or be signing up new players — so I accept that.
‘But PPG takes none of those nuances into account anyway. That’s why margin of error must be recognised.’
Palios won’t rule out going to court. ‘To just be told, ‘If there’s no restart you’re relegated’ — is unfair,’ he adds. ‘The statement from the EFL was disrespectful, couched in terms of ‘it’s a pandemic, you can’t please everybody’. Yet every football person recognises it as blatantly unfair unless you finish the season.
‘Our kids go to school with mates wearing Liverpool and Everton shirts. We’ve made them proud — why should all that be cast aside? Just once, a helping hand here would be nice.’
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