City fans in desperate need of each and every last straw to cling to were today handed one, big date to keep an eye on – Thursday, March 26.
Traditionally, of course, the fourth Thursday in March was the final day for transfers; after that your die was cast squad-wise until the end of the season.
These days, however, and the March transfer deadline has long been rendered obsolete in the Premier League; along with the rest of the FIFA-governed footballing bodies, they shut up shop transfer-wise on January 31.
The Football League – Championship included – still cling to tradition. It is the last day that clubs therein can add an 'emergency loan' to their ranks.
This year, however, the fourth Thursday in March is about to assume an importance that most continue to over-look. It is the date after which any club entering administration runs the risk of starting the new season ten points adrift of the rest as the Football League's penalty clause for financial maladministration kicks-in.
For teams like Luton Town and, more famously, Leeds United it can condemn a club to relegation almost from the start.
Or else, in Leeds' case, ensure that a swift return from whence they came remains just too far out of reach.
Declare your hand before the 26th and you take your 'hit' this season and hope that you have got enough points on the board already to ensure that you can still scrabble to safety by the first week in May. And thereby start the new campaign with a clean slate to your name.
Given Norwich's perilous predicament and the vow of chief executive Neil Doncaster that the club will not be going into administration itself on the back of those 17,000 season ticket sales, so the fourth Thursday in March could prove a huge date in everyone's diary.
Ideally, of course, Norwich will have enough spirit about them to save their own skins on the pitch. On the evidence of this weekend's trip to Bloomfield Road, that might be something of a long shot as the Norfolk club find themselves ever more entrenched in the bottom three – and, on Saturday's evidence, without the guts or the gumption to dig themselves out of an almighty hole.
At which point, salvation might still be on hand – should one of their ilk opt to take that ten-point hit in a bid to ease their own financial nightmares.
And while board and manager alike will publically insist that City's salvation has to come off their own efforts on the pitch, in private there is a very real feeling that this season could still yet take a wholly unexpected turn on the back of someone else's financial misfortunes.
“The new rule that the Football League have is that prior to the fourth Thursday in March – the 26th – you take your points deduction in your current season,” explained Doncaster, speaking as that extraordinary level of season ticket take-up was revealed.
“After that date then the Football League Board retains the discretion as to whether to apply the deduction of ten points to this season – or next season. So if the board take the view that you are already down, they might choose to apply the deduction to next season.”
It is a rule change that followed Leeds United's decision to declare their hand administration-wise on the eve of the final game of the season. Stuck in the bottom three, to have survived on the final day of that 2006-2007 season Leeds would have needed to not only win but to overturn a deficit of 16 goals in terms of their goal difference.
Ever the cunning calculator, owner Ken Bates put the club in the hands of the administrators in the final hours of the season – a decision confirmed by the Football League's spokesperson Jon Nagle.
“Following confirmation that Leeds United have obtained an administration order, the Football League can confirm that the club has been deducted 10 points from its 2006/07 tally,” said Nagle, with the Elland Road club finishing bottom on 36 points.
But – in theory – without any additional penalty come the start of the 2007-2008 season. In practice, of course, there were more twists and turns to come in Yorkshire, but it is those kind of calculations that will be running through the minds of several Championship club owners in the next three weeks as their numbers refuse to add up.
Go back to the current Championship table and a Watford would find themselves back on 32 points and below the Canaries in the league; a Sheffield Wednesday would be on 38 points – just one place above City.
Wednesday, it appears, have new owners on the horizon. They themselves might, of course, fancy the administration route – if it slashed the Owls' debt burden in an instant.
Southampton would all but guarantee their place in the third tier of English football if they cut their many losses now – but they would, at least, start with a clean sheet in 2009-2010. New investors look painfully thin on the ground at St Mary's as the Rupert Lowe show stumbles bitterly on.
Ditto Charlton for whom seventh-placed finishes in the top flight look such a distant dream. Their hopes of an Arab prince riding to their rescue ended earlier this season when he started to have a good look at the books.
They, like Saints, will be looking at the Leicester City model for bouncing back at the first attempt; starting your new life Down Under ten points behind Yeovil, Hartlepool and Carlisle would be the worst of all worlds.
Which is why some are clearly wondering who will be tempted to declare their hand on March 26. And possibly – just possibly – give a seemingly-doomed City side one last straw to cling to.
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