A sport that has, over the years, been the centre of much controversy, football has been the subject of numerous punishments for not only players, but also clubs that have seemingly flouted the sport’s regulations.
It is the relevant footballing authority that decides on the points deduction and, indeed, how many points a club gets deducted, based on the severity of the rule breaking, as well as which rules and how many have been broken. Below, we explore some of the reasons why football clubs have been deducted points.
In many cases, the most common instance over the years, has been centred around financial mismanagement at a football club, with many demonstrating that they have not been able to balance their books effectively enough to be able to compete effectively.
The most common case is a club having spent more on transfers than what they have – effectively having borrowed money and missed repayments. In most cases here, this would have been considered to be a calculated risk, with clubs gambling on the fact that what they borrow to spend on players would result in success on the pitch that then translates into them generating more revenue in prize money and media payments.
One of the most famous examples of this is when Leeds United were docked 15 points for flouting financial regulations, having gambled heavily, not only on transfers but also a player’s wage to attract them to the club.
This allowed them to sign Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler and Robbie Keane among many others and, while it worked for a short period of time, when they reached the semi-final of the Champions League, this proved to be unsustainable over the years that followed, eventually resulting in relegation and then having to sell their best players for well below market value.
Following them being relegated to the Championship for the first time in their Premier League history, they were then docked points a number of years later, when they hit rock bottom, having dropped down into the third tier of English football, having failed to alleviate their situation.
The first club to have entered administration due to financial reasons though, were Welsh club Wrexham in 2004, with this preventing the club from having points deducted. In this instance, it meant that they would start the following season on zero points. However, in the 2007/08 season, the Football League brought a new ruling in that meant that any team that wanted to file for administration had to do so before the fourth of March, which would then delay a points deduction until the start of the following season.
If a club was relegated, having entered administration, it meant that they would have to start the following season with a 10 point deduction.
One of the most recent cases of a club being hit with a points deduction is Reading, after it was found that the Royals had violated budget restrictions surrounding FFP (Financial Fair Play) and as a result, their six point deduction plunged the club into the relegation zone of the Championship.
This is another very common reason why you can have points deducted in football, though this has mainly occurred on the continent. Arguably, the most famous incident in recent times was that of the Serie A Calciopoli scandal that came to light in the summer of 2006, embarrassingly, fresh off the back of Italy’s World Cup win.
It saw a number of clubs involved in a match-fixing scandal dating back over a couple of seasons, with Juventus heavily implicated. As a result, the Turin side relegated to Serie B, while they were also docked an unprecedented 30 points. Meanwhile, Lazio were also relegated to the second tier of Italian football, subsequently being docked 15 points for the start of the following season.
In addition, multiple executives and referees that were involved were either banned, suspended for a long period from the game and/or fined heavily for their participation in the scandal, with this having had a detrimental effect on the outcome of previous competitions. Indeed, Juventus was also stripped of its previous Serie A title, with Inter Milan being the beneficiaries.
While this is rare, it still does happen in the sport and results in points being deducted from a football club. A club is allowed to miss a game for factors outside of its control, with this then being rearranged, however, in the 2019/20 campaign, Macclesfield were deducted 17 points after being found to have not met the minimum requirements for postponing a game.
The underlying issue was that the club was in financial problems, that subsequently saw it being liquidated after missing fixtures against Crewe Alexandra and Plymouth Argyle.
Fielding Unregistered Players
This is another issue that has resulted in points deductions in football. While this does appear to be, on the face of it, quite a ludicrous issue, quite often, it has revolved around administration errors, of a player having been signed by a club, but not having the relevant paperwork to start a game.
A failure to communicate is usually the biggest reason that this happens.
If a football club fails to have the relevant authorities in place to prevent crowd trouble, or at least police it in a reasonable manner, then the governing bodies may decide to dock a club points.
This is especially the case if it puts the sport in a bad light – the authorities will then punish the clubs involved, with the clubs also often deciding to take action against the guilty parties, such as issuing lifetime bans to those supporters.
While crowd trouble is now mainly prevalent in easter Europe, there have been isolated cases over the years in England, however, generally speaking, English sides do have a good handle on this.
What Is The Decision Making Process For Docking Points?
Essentially, every governing body has its own manifesto when it comes to deciding how many points a club should be deducted, while there are also a number of variables involved.
Each club is, of course, allowed to present its case to a panel and mitigating factors are taken into account. What is true, is that points deductions have become the ‘norm’ for the most serious cases of a football club found to have flouted the law over the years – especially for clubs who have been found guilty of financial misconduct. Hitting a club with a financial penalty for this is not a logical punishment, which means a points deduction has been deemed as the most appropriate way for a club to straighten itself out.
The Calciopoli scandal was one like no other. Not only were the footballing authorities involved, but such was the nature of the incident, that it was considered to be criminal activity and, as a result, the police were involved. Wire-taps on telephones of suspected individuals found evidence of bribery and corruption, with the most serious individuals then having to serve prison sentences for their part in the scandal.
From a general perspective though and especially in England, the FA takes a dim view of clubs flouting the regulations, particularly now, with there being considerable opportunities in English football from a sponsorship perspective (to ensure books are balanced).
More often than not, examples of points being deducted because of financial mismanagement has been down to greed, or a club overreaching, instead of adopting a sensible, organic approach to the business side of the sport.
Will Points Deductions Continue To Occur In Football?
While this is becoming rarer in the sport, it is likely that this will happen in more isolated cases. A club is now educated in the nuances of FFP and knows how much it is allowed to spend, based on how much revenue it generates on an annual basis, in addition to what its balance sheet looks like.
English football has done a good job of preventing this over the last few years, though problems may continue to arise around the issue of future foreign ownership that is not aware of how the rules work.
Points deductions, meanwhile, may well be a good way to prevent irresponsible spending at football clubs – something that is appearing to be more and more infrequent, due to a club’s knowledge of how a football club should be run.
There have been recent suggestions that Everton may be docked points due to the financial activities of owner Farhad Moshiri, though this is still a case that is ongoing.
It is unlikely that we will see a club deducted more than 10 or 15 points for any wrongdoing in the future, with most of them now very savvy in regards to how the laws work. The biggest points deduction in English football was that of Luton Town in 2008/09, who were initially hit with a 10 point deduction, then a further 20 points for failing to move out of administration.
It saw the club relegated to the second tier. Meanwhile for the 2021/22 season, Derby County were deducted 21 points. Initially, the Rams were deducted 12 points, before being hit with a further nine following their relegation to League One.