How Portsmouth's Mark Catlin lead the way in battle to overturn League One salary cap

An independent arbitration panel’s decision to today scrap salary caps for League’s One and Two will come as a huge relief to the powerbrokers at Fratton Park.

By Mark McMahon
Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 9:00 am
Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin.

Chief executive Mark Catlin & Co have opposed the ruling ever since they were brought to the table last May.

And although they respected the outcome of the vote which formalised it’s introduction back in August, with League One clubs allowed to spend £2.5m a season, they remained huge critics of the regulation.

The Blues deserve credit for the way they dealt with the policy.

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And below is a timeline of key moments in their battle against a wage ceiling.

May 24, 2020: Pompey respond to EFL proposals to introduce salary cap

Back in May, Pompey immediately raised flaws in the proposals.

Reports at the time said the EFL wanted ceilings of £2.5m (League One) and £1.25m (League Two) in time for the 2020-21 season.

The figures represented a huge drop from the levels many clubs were currently operating at in the third tier - including the Blues.

Speaking to The News, Catlin explained he was broadly in support of limiting wages, but felt putting clubs under the same cap exposed faults in the plans.

He said: ‘We’re not against the principal of salary caps. We’ve been preaching it for the last eight years as a club.

‘There should be salary caps, but the salary cap has to correspond to the size of the club and what it can afford.

‘You can’t have an artificial salary cap which allows smaller club owners to put money in while the larger clubs can’t spend money they can afford.

‘It just seems crazy to me. It has to be aligned to the size of the club in regards to commercial size and ticket sales.’

July 13, 2020: Catlin: Pompey will fight disgraceful salary cap

Mark Catlin branded Football League proposals for a player salary cap as an ‘absolute disgrace’ in the middle of July.

And Pompey’s chief executive pledged to spearhead the fight against its implementation for the 2020-21 campaign.

The Blues’ drive for self-sufficiency saw them post a profit of £2.05m and turnover of £11.57m in accounts lodged last March.

However, despite such financial success, they would be forced to slash their wage bill and operate with the same salary cap as clubs recording substantial losses.

And it was a scenario which incensed Catlin.

He said: ‘Should salary caps come in, those clubs with a 40,000 average attendance and generating huge commercial revenues will be only allowed to spend the same as clubs with a 2,000 attendance and no commercial income. How can that be right?

‘It is an absolute disgrace. I have been fighting this behind the scenes and will be fighting it even more strongly over the coming weeks and months.

‘It’s a crazy proposal which is supposed to be about sustainability, yet Pompey are going to be unable to spend what we can afford.

‘However, this still encourages almost three quarters of the league to use their owners to put money in to get to our wage structure. Basically, it caps the top clubs that can afford it.

‘I have been arguing for a cap linked to turnover, a cap linked to operational profit, a cap linked to anything which allows the larger clubs to operate properly. It makes no sense to me.

‘This isn’t about sustainability, this is about homogenising and levelling the playing field in League One – and, in my opinion, is disgraceful.’

Catlin added: ‘In my opinion, this is a knee-jerk reaction to the current Covid-19 situation.

‘The whole thing is a shambles and something we will be fighting against in the strongest possible way moving forward – and we are not alone.’

July 14, 2020: Revealed: Pompey recruitment already impacted by Football League salary cap proposal

In July, the proposed £2.5m salary cap was already impacting Pompey's summer recruitment.

That was the warning from Mark Catlin as he continued his fight against the plans.

He said: ‘They are trying to push it through for the 2020-21 season.

‘Whatever decisions we make with signings, apparently it’s going to be backdated for June 20. So we’re already now operating under a salary cap which hasn’t been voted upon.

‘We are now potentially under a salary cap regime, but haven’t been able to sign players before the deadline because we didn’t know what league we were going to be in.

‘There are players you would sign without a salary cap which you can’t sign with a salary cap because it sends you over.’

July 27, 2020: Football braced for ‘mini-auction’ to beat salary cap proposals

As a new month approached, Mark Catlin was adamant there would be no ‘crazy contracts’ at Pompey during the potential stampede for signings before the August 6 salary cap vote.

Pompey expected a ‘mini-auction’ ahead of that date as clubs speed up recruitment.

However, Catlin insisted the Blues wouldn’t be putting themselves in financial jeopardy.

He said: ‘There remains the possibility of a salary cap but, predominantly, we have a judiciary duty to look after the interests of Portsmouth Football Club.

‘We have been saying for a long time that you cannot issue pre-covid 19 salary levels to players when we don’t even know when fans are going to be allowed to be back in – and at what level.

‘So what we can’t be doing at the moment is offering crazy contracts to beat the salary cap when there is no income coming in. We are losing a significant amount of money each month.’

August 3, 2020: The extent of Pompey's financial losses laid bare

At the start of August, it was revealed Pompey were haemorrhaging £700,000 per month as the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the club was laid bare.

But the Blues remained adamant the solution being forwarded by the EFL regarding a wage cap wasn’t the right answer for the game.

Mark Catlin said: ‘The feeling of all chief execs I’m talking to tends to be sympathy towards the larger clubs in the division and acceptance the salary cap isn’t perfect, but there’s feeling something needs to be done because many clubs are on the verge of financial disaster at this moment in time.

‘What they see, and I disagree with, is that with the way Portsmouth is being ran and still being able to go out and afford those prices, this is an excellent way to bring Portsmouth down to a level they can afford.

‘When I say to a lot of chief execs and owners this isn’t about sustainability this is about levelling the playing field, there’s a general shrugging of the shoulders and they say “yeah, that is the case”.

‘The argument is so compelling and there is no rationale against it. If owners can keep pumping in money up to the £2.5m cap but Portsmouth can afford to put in double but are being restricted in doing so, you can’t argue it’s about sustainability.’

August 7, 2020: Civil war predicted for English football as clubs prepare to vote

Mark Catlin claimed the EFL wage cap vote could send the game spinning into a legal war.

The Pompey CEO said the PFA would take their fight against the proposals to the court if they were voted through.

He said: ‘I think there could be legal ramifications should the vote go through.

‘My understanding is if the vote goes through the PFA aren’t going to be happy.

‘The PFA like us are all for self-sustainability and no one’s arguing for clubs to be able to spend more than what they can afford.

‘But under these proposals there are clubs who can spend more than what they can afford.

‘Yet, the larger clubs who can afford to spend more are being blocked from doing so.

‘I would argue that is not only a restriction of trade in terms of players limiting their earning, but it’s also anti-competitive.’

August 7, 202: Blues disappointed with vote decision

CEO Mark Catlin expressed his disappointment as the wage cap was voted through by the narrowest of margins.

And the chief executive revealed a late change of heart by one of the League One members was the deciding factor in seeing a ceiling implemented.

A total of 16 clubs voted in favour of the cap and squad limits, with seven voting against and one abstaining.

Catlin said: ‘We’re very disappointed, one more vote and we would have been able to stop it.

‘But we have to respect the views and opinions of the majority of the clubs in League One.

‘So we now have to move on to the next stage.

‘I was speaking to clubs pretty much daily and it was taking up huge amount of time, so I knew it would be close.

‘I knew one was in the middle and likely to abstain, but I spoke to one club this morning who said they were going to flip their vote.

‘After speaking to the EFL at length this morning they changed their mind. That’s their decision.’

August 17, 2020: Pompey weigh up legal action following landmark decision

Mark Catlin admitted he can’t rule out Pompey taking legal action against the introduction of a salary cap.

He admitted the club were considering their options.

Catlin said: ‘I understand that the PFA are not too far away from our views on this in terms of reaching a compromise, rather than embarking on costly legal action, and are shortly due to go to arbitration with the EFL.

‘We hope that an agreement can be reached between the PFA and EFL, but if it can’t, then we will have to take a view on whether the new rules force us to break the law.

‘If we are convinced this is the case, then naturally we have an obligation to both the business and our employees to not allow ourselves to be put into that position.’

October 13, 2020: Contract talks at an impasse because of salary cap

It was revealed some of the club’s 10 out-of-contract players had been informed of the club’s desire to extend their stays.

But with the PFA currently in arbitration with the Football League over the introduction of a salary cap, contract progress had reached an impasse.

Mark Catlin said: ‘We are speaking informally and sounding out our players.

‘There are certain ones we have within our squad that we’re looking to extend current terms – but cannot do that at the moment given the salary cap restrictions.

‘Until we know how the arbitration will go with the EFL and PFA – and whether the salary cap is still going to be around in its current form come the end of the season – it’s difficult to get players to commit.’

January 29, 2021: Pompey lead battle to overhaul salary cap

Last month The News reported how Pompey were heading the fight to rewrite the salary cap they so vehemently opposed.

The PFA were attempting to ditch budget restrictions introduced last summer.

But should the independent panel reject the PFA’s complaint, Pompey were prepared to step forward and table a ‘raft of proposals’ to change the regulations.

Mark Catlin said: ‘Should arbitration not find in favour of the PFA, we have a raft of proposals that we believe will improve the salary cap.

‘The one which is always going to be more contentious is allowing some flexibility for the larger clubs with larger attendances and the larger income streams to be able to afford more than those without.

‘This was meant to be about sustainability, not homogenising the league.’

February 9, 201: Catlin: Removal of salary cap great news for Pompey’s future

This week’s scrapping of the salary cap represents ‘great news’ for Pompey’s future.

Pompey’s Mark Catlin told The News: ‘In the short-term immediately, it means the salary cap has gone and we can get back to some level of normality in how we retain and sign players.

‘I thought the EFL’s argument was fundamentally flawed and the shame of it is that, with some tweaks and adjustments, it could have potentially been negotiated.’