Exclusive: Clubs in England's top two football leagues claim furlough cash at 'staggering' rate of £40m a year

Clubs in English football’s top two leagues claimed a total of at least £13m in the first four months of the government’s job retention scheme at a rate that equates to £40m over a full year. Chair of the powerful DCMS select committee Julian Knight MP has described the figure as “a staggering sum for football clubs to claim from the public purse.” ITV News has obtained the figures through a freedom of information request to HMRC. Not surprisingly the vast majority of claimants were playing in the Championship; not all clubs have continued to use the scheme but the most up to date figures from December show that many have, including 4 currently in the Premier League.

Not all clubs have continued to use the scheme but the most up to date figures from December show that many have, including four currently in the Premier League. The amounts are only published by HMRC in wide bands but in December alone both Newcastle United and newly promoted Leeds United claimed between £100,000 and £250,000 each.

Leeds committed £95m in the summer transfer window and Newcastle spent £35m. The other two clubs were Burnley, who applied for between £25,000 and £50,000, and Sheffield United, who claimed between £10,000 and £25,000. Neither Leeds United nor Newcastle United chose to comment on the figures but could have pointed to the fact that throughout the past 12 months thanks to a combination of the furlough scheme and wage cuts or deferrals, neither has yet had to make club staff redundant.

Both Leeds United and Sheffield Utd have used the furlough scheme. Credit: PA

Arsenal FC by comparison, whose players accepted a reduction in salary, hasn’t taken advantage of the government’s scheme but has made 55 staff positions redundant.   In March last year, at the start of first country’s first lockdown, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock called on Premier League players to take a pay cut and “play their part”.

Many did or at least accepted wage deferrals, as did players in the Championship. Some also donated considerable sums to various NHS charities and in addition most clubs in all divisions ran community help schemes. But still 20 plus clubs in England’s richest two leagues used public money to pay, mostly, non-playing staff. Knight says his committee made their views very clear a year ago; that football should have been soaking up these costs itself. “What’s not certain is how much individual clubs claimed nor how much more was paid out. But these figures from HMRC clearly show that £13 million was claimed in furlough by Premier League and Championship clubs in just four months. “At that time, we on the Committee, called out clubs for using Government money to pay their non-playing staff while at the same time paying top wages to star players. We called for the Premier League to put a stop to it and for the Chancellor to impose a windfall-tax if clubs refused. “The Premier League clearly has questions to answer and should be held accountable.”

Julian Knight MP.

Last year, as the Covid crisis threatened to bankrupt many clubs in the lower leagues, Knight called on the Premier League to help bail them out. He said it would be “an absurdity” for the government to do that given the size of the league’s multi-billion pounds TV deals. After much public sabre rattling, protracted negotiations and continued tension with the government the Premier League did agree a £250m rescue package for football league clubs. While the Premier League did not wish to comment today, its Chief Executive admitted a fortnight ago that England’s top league might end up looking at a £2bn pounds loss as a result of the pandemic.

While the Premier League did not want to comment on the figures, less than a fortnight ago its boss Richard Masters predicted that when the worst of the pandemic is behind us, it will have cost the league approaching £2bn.

Last month, the government imposed new restrictions on an agreed £100m interest-free loan that was earmarked for Championship clubs. The EFL told ITV News today, the Championship in particular has needed the furlough scheme to mitigate considerable losses. “There has been no Government support by way of access to loan funding and Championship clubs have repeatedly fallen through the cracks when compared to other professional sports in this country.” “Football has been repeatedly told to look after itself and this burden has largely fallen on the shoulders of owners in the Championship. Use of the furlough scheme has provided some limited relief for EFL clubs during that period who will have lost a total of £250m in gate revenues alone by May and built up significant tax debts which continue to rise.”