Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of Scoop.it! Football Finance

Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

On Coventry City, Hereford United and Salisbury City, not forgetting the Owners & Directors Test

Posted by John Beech on August 28, 2014

So, Coventry City will finally return to the Ricoh. Interestingly, the large CCFC logo which adorns the stadium had never at any point been taken down, suggesting that ACL, the Ricoh owners, always believed a compromise with Sisu could be achieved.

According to the Coventry Telegraph, the big breakthrough in negotiations was as the result of ‘Divine Intervention’. What they meant was that Joe Elliott, long-time key figure in much of what has happened, but recently ostracised by Sisu, persuaded the Very Reverend John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry Cathedral, to intercede. He turned to Bill Marsh, a professional mediator, with some track record in these matters, including involvement in the sale of Brighton & Hove Albion by Bill Archer.

What remains outside the public domain are the details of the new agreement – who conceded what? The Coventry Telegraph paints a picture of willingness by both parties to reach a conclusion. CCFC have announced their pleasure at returning; ACL have remained silent.

The spotlight on football’s top basket case switches then away from Coventry, and falls on two other clubs, Hereford United and Salisbury City. Both cases involve contentious new owners, and hence bring the need once more for scrutinisation of the Owners & Directors Test, more widely known as the Fit and Proper Person test.

In the case of Salisbury, a new owner Outail Touzar, a Moroccan businessman, was approved, and he bought the club. Pretty rapidly the club was describing the negotiations as “a trail of lies, deceit and deception”, and the local MP has branded Touzar ‘a charlatan’. Now you might think that this, together with the fact that Touzar was reported to be recruiting players notwithstanding the club’s transfer embargo would bring his fitness and properness into question. Apparently not.

Over at Hereford, the club, already deeply distressed financially, was sold to Tommy Agombar, who immediately exuded a totally misplaced optimism about what his ownership would bring. Agombar had a theft conviction, and duly failed the Owners & Directors Test.

A 1:1 draw for the efficacy of the Owners & Directors Test? Decidedly not! The previous owner of Hereford United had sold the club in the knowledge that Agombar had this conviction, Agombar was free to sell the club to whoever he wished once it was declared that he had failed the Test, and in fact sold it to a company which specialised in buying distressed debts, thus placing the club deeper in the financial mire.

It is fundamentally wrong that ownership of the club should ever have passed to someone who had not passed the Owners and Directors Test, and equally wrong that such a person can then sell on the club.

Not only is the Owners & Directors Test fundamentally flawed by its inability to prevent, for example, Touzar, buying a club, its operation is fundamentally flawed in that does not prevent someone who has not passed it to sell the club on. As well as a system of Club Licensing we need a system for licensing Club Owners. Without already holding such a license, no one should be allowed to buy the majority shareholding in a club, let alone then sell it.

With respect to Salisbury City, it also needs to be asked why Touzar has not at the very least been charged with bringing the game into disrepute. The current chronic failure of the FA to help rather than hinder clubs in financial distress must be addressed.

Posted in Fit and Proper Person tests, Football Association, Governance, Insolvency, Ownership | Leave a Comment »

‘Part and parcel of the modern game’

Posted by John Beech on January 29, 2013

To develop an old media dictum, a ball boy kicking a footballer, now that would be news.  The Eden Hazard incident (1) was always going to have legs as a story because of its ‘shock horror’ value.  Its inherent symbolism, a Goliath kicking a David, would guarantee that.  As has emerged, there were nuances of the particular incident, which have only added to media interest, which will swell up again when Hazard’s case is heard by the FA.

Not only was it a case of a footballer (at this stage, allegedly) kicking a ball boy, it was a case of a highly, highly paid footballer allegedly kicking a partisan volunteer.  To me this was the true shock horror element.  It epitomised the incongruity of the modern game.  On the one hand there are, in the Premier League, players on enormous salaries, whilst, on the other, vital contributors to the flow of the game, unpaid underage volunteers.  Quite how underage was, of course, an element which added to the story.  The ball ‘boy’ turned out not to be 11 as originally reported, but in fact 17.

Where else but in the modern game would you find a physical confrontation between two people with, to use the language of organisational behaviour, such a phenomenal power distance between them?  Power distance in football, at least as measured by salary, is a real oddity – participants exist on a greatly extended scale, ranging from players, through managers (where else would a manager earn less than his subordinates?), then a considerable distance along the spectrum match officials, all the way to unpaid volunteers.  It is a mixture that is explosive, and it is surprising that it has rarely exploded.

Chelsea’s initial reaction was, not surprisingly, to defend Hazard (2).  I say ‘not surprisingly’, because I am mindful that this was the club that managed to smooth over an incident in which a fire arm was discharged, albeit accidentally, in the workplace injuring an intern (3).

Among the many differing reactions was a condemnation of the ball boy for his attempt to waste time.  This is arguably misplaced, as time-wasting is undoubtedly ‘part and parcel of the modern game’.  It has of course been officially sanctioned since the 1967-68 season by the process of tactical substation.  Out of curiosity I looked at the substitutions that had taken place the previous weekend in the Premier League.

Minutes

No.

0-9

1

10-19

0

20-29

0

30-39

1

40-49

1

50-59

4

60-69

17

70-79

12

80-89

14

90+

2

Even a cursory glance shows a wild skew towards the later stages of a match.  Substitutions because of injury would tend to happen far more evenly, and it is obvious that tactical substitutions are ‘part and parcel of the modern game’.  That particular weekend, all twenty clubs made two substitutions, and twelve of them made a third.

My gripes with this aspect of the modern game are twofold.  Firstly it generates an immense irritation for the fans of one of the two teams, and indeed the players, as the Hazard incident demonstrates well.  In short, it lowers the entertainment value of a match, and tends to enhance the feeling of ‘we wuz robbed’.  Which is my second gripe.  Time-wasting is, in my eyes, unethical from a sporting perspective.  Tactical substitution is all about trying to cement a current score by allowing the opposition less opportunity to compete on the pitch.  It simply doesn’t make sense from the perspectives of sport as sport or of sport as entertainment.  It doesn’t even make sense from the perspective of sport as business to irritate and frustrate half the people who generate the revenues.

It s surely time we moved on from meekly accepting what is ‘part and parcel of the modern game’, started to look at the modern game critically, and call for change to ensure that ‘sport as sport’ is the dominant perspective.  Time in fact for a major and effective review of football governance.  Oh, I forgot… (4)

The time for redefining the modern game is surely badly overdue.  Who though is holding their breath?  Well, for once, I’m just a tiny bit optimistic!

Posted in Ethics, Governance, Organisational culture | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Why I shall be especially grumpy this Saturday afternoon

Posted by John Beech on April 3, 2012

Football clubs ‘in poor financial health’” a headline on the BBC News website has just screamed (1).  Apparently “many clubs are continuing to spend too much, principally on players’ wages, as they always have done”.  What?  Surely not?  Well, OK, the said headline was in the Business section of the BBC website rather than their Sports section.

Begbies Traynor, who over the years have been Administrators of Chester City, Kingstonian, Lincoln City, Huddersfield Town, Northwich Victoria, Wrexham, Farnborough Town, Crawley Town, Scarborough, Bournemouth, Halifax Town, Southampton, and now Port Vale, have just completed a survey looking at the finances of Football League clubs.

Beneath the trite headline, there was some detail of interest.

Of 68 teams surveyed in those divisions, 13 have signs of distress such as serious court actions against them, including winding-up petitions, late filing of accounts and “serious” negative balances on their balance sheets.

That 19% compares to just 1% in the wider economy, the firm said.

In particular “the financially distressed clubs include three in the Championship, six in League One and four in League Two.”  Obviously the survey had been completed under conditions of confidentiality, so we can only speculate on which these thirteen clubs might be that are under short-term financial pressure, a temptation which I will resist, at least publically.

There are also the clubs which, to me, have potentially longer-term pressures because they operate on business models which may not be sustainable.  Two which have caught my eye with their recent publication of financial results are one likely to be relegated to the Championship, Wigan, and one about to be promoted out of the Football League, Southampton.

At Wigan (2), turnover was reported as up 16% on the previous year, although this, it was conceded, was “mainly due to the increased Premier League broadcasting rights contract”.   Worryingly though, net losses had risen from £4m to £7.2m.

Wigan fans might take some comfort from the fact that:

Net debt including bank borrowings and loans from David Whelan and his family remained virtually unchanged at £72.2m compared with £72.6m in the previous year Since the year end £48m of debt was converted to equity which significantly reduces the Club’s long term liabilities.

Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson commented:

This position would not have been possible without the continued financial support of Chairman, David Whelan. The post year end conversion of debt to equity has significantly strengthened the Club’s financial position and has, to a very significant extent, written off the debt owed to Mr Whelan.  The club cannot continue to make losses every year and we are continuing to shape all aspects of the Club to ensure the long term future remains positive both on and off the pitch.

Perhaps just a hint there that Mr Whelan’s pockets are not bottomless.  It was he who has called for control on players’ wages (3).  It was Wigan that managed to hit a wages/revenues ratio of an utterly unsustainable 208.3% in 2004/05 (posting passim).

Meanwhile over at Southampton another ‘debt for equity’ conversion was reported last Thursday (4).  The estate of former owner Markus Liebherr had ‘invested’ £33m over two seasons but had now converted these loans into shares.  (My reason for putting single quotes around ‘invested’ is that I do not see loans as investments.  If I had pushed my credit cards to their spending limits, would I talk in terms of MasterCard and Visa investing heavily in me?).

This conversion certainly takes the financial pressure off a club which last season made a net loss of £11m in gaining promotion from League 1.

The Liebherr family seem to be in that rare group of benefactors which includes Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough – those prepared to dig into their pockets deep and for the long term.  At Middlesbrough the club is “now free from debt owed to external providers” (5).

Looking along the South Coast from the perspective of a long-suffering Pompey fan (but who is number 1 a football fan rather than a club fan), a club in deep, deep trouble not least because it is still paying some players Premier League wages as it faces the drop, my eye caught on the wages/revenues ratio at Southampton, a very high 93%.

This counter-evidence in the discourse over the financial strengths and weakness of clubs is hardly typical.  While few clubs, correction, no English clubs, are as financially distressed as Portsmouth, the Begbies Traynor report paints a more typical picture.

As Portsmouth head for Southampton this Saturday, to be ‘entertained’ as the media like to phrase it, I’ll not be building my hopes up for a surprise Pompey victory.  The earlier derby this season may have been a draw, but Portsmouth now have a depleted squad, forced upon them by their financial circumstances (and as one might well argue, not before time).  No, I’ll be quietly fuming on the absurdity that the outcome on the pitch will have been determined ultimately by the lottery of how rich and how committed your club’s benefactor has been.  It may be a football match, but it certainly is being played in a context of competitive balance.  One club has been the subject of heavy financial doping, and is paying the price, and one is the subject of financial doping, but has so far kept the ‘habit’ under control.  One is a savage indictment of the failings of the benefactor model, and the other is fortunate enough to be able to say ‘OK so far’.

If any good at all is to come out of the ‘basket case’ circumstances Portsmouth finds itself in, it will be through a new and more sustainable financial model, which is why I fully support the community share offer from the Pompey Supporters Trust.  Post-commercial era football has totally lost it way.  Clubs have become the playthings of sugar daddies, and have, as in the cases of Portsmouth and Southampton, sugar daddies with no local connection.  Ownership has become a lottery, and fans have been betrayed as a consequence.  Football governance looks as it will receive only light-touch reform, but that is insufficient to set it back on a road where the results of games are determined in a context of competitive balance.  Financial Fair Play, whatever the extent to which it will actually prove successful, is a no brainer.  And fan ownership is the only way to ensure clubs are a part of the community whose name they are happy, and proud, to identify themselves by.

This posting is, for the moment, open to comments, but please bear in mind that this is not a fans’ forum – it is a personal blog, which is happy to encourage serious debate.  Trolls will have their comments deleted, as will those who favour the so-called banter of ‘scummers’ and ‘skates’.

Posted in Benefactors, Community, Debts, Financial doping, Governance, Insolvency, Ownership, Wages | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

That feeling of déjà vu at Pompey, all over again

Posted by John Beech on February 17, 2012

Portsmouth’s return to Administration today (1) for the second time in a smidgen under two years speaks volumes, especially coming in the week that Rangers, a rather more iconic club, suffered the ignominy of Administration too (2).  High profile those these events are, the phenomenon of financial problems is not confined to te top clubs.  This season so far we have also seen Darlington go into Administration, as have Rothwell Town way down the pyramid.  Prescot Cables have returned to amateur status mid-season, and poor Croydon Athletic have disappeared, at least for the moment.  (A full listing of English football clubs’ insolvency events in the modern era is available here; a warning, it does not make pleasant reading)

It would be easy to dismiss the case of Portsmouth as a special case (especially bad, that is).  The ‘club as company‘ has a long and shameful tradition.  It was formed in 1898 to replace the previous club, Royal Artillery, who were disbanded because of that delightful euphemism ‘financial irregularities’ – payments to players which were blatantly undermining their supposed amateur status.  Funny how history can return to haunt you.

By 1912 the owners were already in deep financial trouble, and the company was voluntarily wound up and promptly reformed, thus wiping out its debts (3), a procedure which is no longer legal, but was far from rare in those days.  The mind boggles at how football clubs today would behave if it were still a legal option like this open to them.  To use a ‘Partridgeism’, the club ‘bounced back’, entering the Football League in 1920, winning the FA Cup in 1939, and the old First Division title in 1949 and 1950.

The road was only downhill after that, obviously excepting the recent relatively spell in the Premier League and FA Cup win.  Sporting decline was followed by financial decline.  A series of owner/benefactors who failed in various degrees is a familiar mantra to Pompey fans – since 1973 the list reads John Deacon, Jim Gregory, Terry Venables, Martin Gregory, Milan Mandric, Sacha Gaydamak, Sulaiman Al Fahim, Ali Al Faraj, Balram Chainrai, and Vladimir Antonov.  Whatever criticisms can be made about them individually, the lack of any continuity has hardly been good for the club.  And there will doubtless be further criticism to come as the unravelling enquiries of both this period of Administration, and the previous one, tease more and more uncomfortable detail out of the wood work.

Of the 200+ files I have on English football clubs, Portsmouth’s is the biggest.  It would be convenient to say that this is because I am Pompey fan.  That would not  though be honest.  It’s because they have a spectacularly aberrant history of ownership and mismanagement.  ‘Spectacularly aberrant’ from normal business, that is.  Merely ‘worse than most’ with respect to other football clubs.

The themes which have dogged Portsmouth occur throughout my files, and all over this blog:

  • Owners who did not have deep enough pockets, and yet push clubs further into unsustainable financial positions
  • Owners unlikely to win ‘Ethical Businessman of the Year’ competitions
  • Owners who have clearly not read the dictum of Mr Micawber in David Copperfield (Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, so the reference is particularly appropriate)
  • Repeated failure to pay HMRC on time

Portsmouth’s latest ‘misadventure’ should provide a wake-up call.  But then so so should their one two years ago.  Will the governing bodies just hit ‘snooze’ again?  I like to think not, but, would you believe it, I’m not optimistic.

I can’t argue that the imposition of the Financial Fair Play protocol, or effective club licensing ,or an effective Fit and Proper Person Test would necessarily have avoided Pompey’s current discomfort.  Without them though, another round of insolvency events is inevitable.  It doesn’t have to be that way and nor should it be.

Surely the football world must finally wake up to sorting out, as its highest priority, its financial messes, by attacking the causes rather than the symptoms  rather than stressing over the number of English clubs left in European competition or who the next England manager should be.

Posted in Benefactors, Ethics, Financial doping, Fit and Proper Person tests, Globetrotterisation, Governance, History, Insolvency, Ownership | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

A not quite 24 carat golden age of football ethics?

Posted by John Beech on November 16, 2011

Received wisdom seems to be that, once the baton of running FIFA was passed on from safe and reliable English hands, there was a rapid descent into a quagmire of unethical goings on.  Even Uncle Sepp himself now admits that FIFA “has had a rough time of late” and concedes that there is now “the need for change and the urgent need for sweeping reforms” (1).  He concludes “FIFA remains committed to walking the walk and won’t get stuck in solely talking the talk. By December, this will become clear for all to see. Until then, I invite everybody to bear with us so that we can clean house and come back to the public with facts that allow FIFA to enter a new decade of doing business. And never again revert to doing “business as usual”.”  Whether he himself decides to ‘walk the walk’ is anybody’s guess.

I’m just back from a work trip and have been reading en route Sir Stanley Rous’s autobiography Football Worlds, published in 1978, a couple of years after he had been replaced as FIFA’s President by João Havelange.  A couple of passages particularly caught my eye as they reveal that back then all was not 100% squeaky clean.  Consider this first quote:

In Nasser’s day I was once present to watch a game there when the Sudan played Egypt in the final of a competition.  My host was General Mostafa, later Vice-President of FIFA, and an enthusiastic crowd of 110,000 worked themselves to a pitch of excitement when the winner had to be drawn by lot after the game had ended with the scores level.  The referee was blindfolded before making the draw, and a great roar of cheers greeted his pulling out the slip with Egypt on it.

When the General returned from the field I congratulated him on the luck of the draw.  He replied that there was no luck involved as, by agreement, both pieces of paper had Egypt written on them.  He may have been joking, but the Sudanese officials showed no sign of disappointment and the result made the day for Nasser and the spectators.

This, for some reason, brought to mind a different recent occasion when, rather than two identical slips of paper, a voting card had only one choice on it.

Sir Stanley was not averse to telling a story against himself.  He writes this from his days refereeing, concerning a game between Millwall and Charlton:

At a crucial point in the game I saw a defender’s hand fist the ball away in a goalmouth melee.  As I blew the whistle for a penalty the players untangled themselves and looked at me in surprise.  It was then that I realised that it was the goalkeeper, not a full-back, who had punched the ball.  So I walked past the penalty spot, past the goalposts, to the edge of the crowd and called at the top of my voice: ‘If the man with the whistle blows it again I will have him removed.’  Then I restarted the game by dropping the ball and the mistake was retrieved without disaster.

A more innocent age perhaps, or perhaps not, than the kind of confessions that can appear in autobiographies today (2) – a reference to Matt Le Tissier, to save you clicking through.

Overall, one would have to conclude that, compared to today’s ills, it was generally a much more ethical football scene, but not some Halcyon era of perfect ethics.

Posted in Ethics, FIFA, Governance, History | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Wages and the distortion of the pyramid

Posted by John Beech on October 30, 2011

The data just published by Sporting Intelligence (sourced from internal PFA files) adds more fuel to my argument that the football pyramid is becoming utterly distorted in the sense that the scale of finance in the different tiers is being ludicrously stretched.  In a recent public lecture as part of the  Coventry Sporting Conversation series (a podcast is available here beginning at 02:05 mins.), I put the case that the lifting of the maximum wage started to stretch the level of financial activity across the tiers, and that when the Premier League broke away and negotiated its own broadcasting rights this process accelerated dramatically.

While the Sporting Intelligence data in its tabular form excited me, it was when I put into Excel and produced some graphs that I got really excited.  The full set of data on average players’ basic wages , together with UK average wages as a benchmark is shown here:


(All graphs can be enlarged by double-clicking on them)

At first glance it is obvious that things started to change with the appearance of the Premier League, but if we plot pre-Premier League and post-Premier League separately, the change can be seen as an acceleration of the existing trend:


The most striking features of the data emerge when you compare the average basic wages over time in each tier with the average UK wages.  The Premier League data confirms the stereotype of the ability to live the Ferrari-driving playboy lifestyle:

In 1984/85 the average Premier League player was earning two-and-a-half times the average UK wage, but by 2009/10 this had grown to 34 times the average OK wage, with no sign of slowing down.

On the other hand, life for a player in today’s League 2 is rather different from this stereotype:

Starting from a position in 1984/85 of below the average UK wage, things did slowly get better until the dawn of the Premier League.  Apart from a strange positive blip in 2003/04 (and no, I can’t explain it either), his lot has been scarcely different from the average UK worker’s wage.  Given that a footballer has a limited career, I wonder how a League 2 player ever manages to get a mortgage and buy a house, especially if he’s a goalkeeper – other data I have shows that goalkeepers are the worst-paid players.

This distortion in wages up and down the pyramid is simply a reflection of the disparity in revenues.  Of course higher levels deserve higher broadcasting rights and should be able to pay higher wages to attract the best talent, but when the size of the difference between tiers has become so vast, the traditional view of a club having some ambition and a local businessman to back them has long gone.  The only way upwards to the top is with an Arab prince or a Russian oligarch.  This is of course hardly news, but the data above makes abundantly clear that unless 92 Arab princes or Russian oligarchs come along, performance on the pitch will continue to be grossly distorted by the richness or otherwise of a club’s benefactor.  That is, unless change in governance takes place, and Financial Fair Play is imposed rigorously up and down the pyramid, financial doping is stopped, and a measure of sporting competitive balance returns to the game.

Posted in Benefactors, Financial doping, Wages | Tagged: , , | 18 Comments »

“Completely vindicated”? Well, not quite completely

Posted by John Beech on September 29, 2011

The press have been quick to quote Peter Ridsale as saying that he had been “completely vindicated” following the dropping of charges fraud brought against him by Cardiff Training Standards Department (see BBC and This is Plymouth for example).

In my book, in this case that fine arbiter of plain English, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the primary definition of ‘vindicate’ is “clear of blame or suspicion“.

Undoubtedly he has been “completely vindicated” of ‘blame’ as the charges have been withdrawn, and he continues to be able to be a director of a football club.  He can continue to weave his own brand of magic, honed at Leeds United, Barnsley and Cardiff City.

Whether he has been cleared of ‘suspicion’ is, in my opinion, not quite so clear-cut however.  Further down in the press reports the reason the charges were dropped is revealed.  A council spokesman is quoted thus: “On paper, there was a case to answer, however, the council has recently obtained further evidence from prosecution witnesses and taken the advice of a leading counsel.  After a thorough analysis of this new evidence, and due to the reluctance of those supporters who raised concerns to provide witness statements, the council considered that a conviction after trial was unlikely.  Consequently, the council has decided to discontinue the prosecution.”  In these circumstances it would seem likely that there will those who still harbour a suspicion, possibly including some at Cardiff Trading Standards Department, and so ‘complete vindication’ is an interesting use of the language.

To remove both ‘blame’ and ‘suspicion’ it can be argued that the case would have had to have gone to trial, and ‘not guilty verdicts’ returned for all three charges.  Ridsdale had previously said “I will be vigorously rebutting the charges” (1).  He must surely be ruing the fact that the charges were dropped, and he was denied his opportunity to have his cases heard and to be ‘completely vindicated’.

Posted in Ethics, Fit and Proper Person tests | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Just a quickie…

Posted by John Beech on July 24, 2011

… before I head off for two weeks holiday.

It’s hard to know what to make of the life-time ban that FIFA’s Ethics Committee have handed out to Mohammed Bin Hammam (1).  To my mind, it’s a bit like the PG Tips Chimps Etiquette Committee handing out a life-long ban for bad table manners.  Unlike Jack Warner’s threatened tsunami, I suspect this will have legs, with a likely visit to CAS (2).

I’m heading off, sans laptop, so will not be blogging or moderating comments for two weeks.  I’d hoped to have a couple of postings – one on how fans were viewed in the context of fan ownership in the sixties, and one on a non-league club and its long-running saga of financial issues – but I’m afraid these will have to wait.  Meanwhile, best wishes to all readers, especially those who are also starting a fortnight’s holiday.

Posted in Ethics, FIFA | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Substitutes and ‘cheating’

Posted by John Beech on July 21, 2011

The Football League has announced that its member clubs have voted “voted to reduce the number of substitutes that can be named on the teamsheet for matches in the npower Football League from 7 to 5” (1).  As a rationale for this change, it was stated that “This was felt to be a sensible and prudent step given the financial challenges facing many football clubs and the commitment made earlier this summer to adopt UEFA’s Financial Fair Play framework“, or, to put it another way, it’s ultimately a good way of cutting costs by employing a marginally smaller squad.

I for one would like to see a change in the rules regarding the actual substitutions allowed.  Nothing imposes such a feeling of anti-climax at the end of a tense game is the tactical (and essentially unnecessary) substitution of players as the final whistle approaches.  It has far more to do with the ‘gamesmanship’ of Stephen Potter than the gamesmanship of what used to be the Beautiful Game.

Musing on this, I turned out an early report by the Football League (but actually published in the FA Yearbook 1966-67, and hence not available online I’m afraid) called “Substitutes: An Experiment Justified“.

It begins “When the Football League introduced its Substitute Rule at the beginning of the 1965-66 season, it was received with misgivings from many people inside and outside the game.  Many of those who were against it chose to ignore the fact that substitution of players for injury has been permitted by the Laws of the Game for a good number of years”.  The second sentence came as a surprise to me.  Did substitution actually take place before 1965?  Surely in that era the culture was for a player to battle on, hiding injury in spite of the danger of exacerbating it causing permanent injury.  Think Bert Trautman.

The report continues: “There were many forecasts of the amount of cheating [sic] and misuse which would follow.  In point of fact, there has been no instance of the Substitute by a manager in order to gain a tactical advantage over his team’s opponents.”  Would that the same could be said today.

Data in the report broadly backs up the claim.  It records that 772 substitutions had been made in 2,028 League games.  These occurred during games thus:

Period of game

Substitutions

Up to 10 minutes

26

11 to 19 minutes

31

20 to 29 minutes

55

30 to 45 minutes

141

Total, first half

253

46 to 59 minutes

182

60 to 69 minutes

100

70 to 79 minutes

110

80 to 85 minutes

106

86 to 90 minutes

21

Total, second half

519

The number of substitutions in those days was limited to one, and, as the report says “If substitution is raised to two, this would increase the danger of substitutes being used tactically, which is really what everyone wants to avoid“.  Substitution was, in any case, only permitted then for injury.

Subsequently ‘everyone’ apparently stopped wanting to avoid the use of tactical substitution, and we have seen the number permitted on the bench grow to 5 in 1996 and then the about-to-be abandoned level of 7 in 2008.  Memory fails me on when tactical, i.e. for reasons other than injury, substitution was first allowed (any offers?).

Do I detect in all of this the idea that the Football League cares less about the game and its enjoyment by fans today than it did in 1965, and cares more about the costs of its member clubs?

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh.  Substitution for injury is a principle I would strongly defend, on the grounds of players’ well-being, and I wouldn’t want a return to pre-1965 practices.  It’s just that it seems to me we have gone too far with tactical substitution, something which I still want to avoid, to use the League’s phrase.

Posted in Costs, Ethics, Football League, Health & Safety, Human Resource Management, Organisational culture, Players' careers | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Just how slow can a car crash be?

Posted by John Beech on July 3, 2011

On Tuesday we were told that the long-running Plymouth Argyle saga was on the verge of taking a significant turn according to Administrator Brendan Guilfoyle: “at a meeting with the preferred bidder held today, Tuesday, June 21, 2011, the terms of a formal sale and purchase agreement were agreed by both parties” (1).  These terms of course include the separation of ownership of the stadium and the club, invariably bad news for a club.

On Wednesday Peter Ridsdale, as ever the Spinmeister, announced “Our objective is to have [the deal] go through by the end of this week” (2), which, in my book at least, promptly increased the odds on this actually happening.

Sure enough, as I write, no deal has yet been announced.  Nor will any imminent deal have any significant impact on the longer term stability of the club.  There is still the issue of the club’s Golden Share to be resolved, and the potential fly in the ointment is Kevin Heaney, owner of Truro City Football Club and not entirely successful property developer (3).  Ridsdale happily purrs “Mr Heaney would only be the landlord of the [Home Park ground] and would have nothing to do with Plymouth Argyle Football Club. As long as the club is independently owned and financed, there is no reason why the Football League should complain.”  Predictably the Football  League’s chairman has promised that “the governing body will “rigorously enforce” its regulations before giving the takeover the green light” (4).  This is the Football League that rigorously enforced its regulations with respect to the anticipated removal of West Ham to Leyton Orient’s doorstep (5), so perhaps the Spinmeister has reason to be optimistic.  I doubt it however.

There is too the small matter of Ridsdale’s impending court case, which continues to cast a shadow over any new dawn in Argyle’s fortunes (details of the charges here).

As a Pompey fan, I am only too familiar with false dawns.  At present, the consensus among Portsmouth fans seems to be to give the new owners, Vladimir Antonov and Convers Sports Initiatives, a ‘fair chance’.  The Football League apparently have by sanctioning the takeover (6).  The Financial Services Authority were, against their general flow of approval, less inclined to allow another Vladimir Antonov business, the Lithuanian Bankas Snoras, to operate in the UK (7), the problem being a failure to provide all the required information to the regulator.  Another Antonov deal, the purchase of Spyker Cars from Saab attracted attention when there were allegations, strongly denied, that Antonov had links with the Russian mafia (8).

To me, it seems that, not only do we suffer from ineffective ‘Fit and Proper Person’ Tests in English football, we suffer from the lack of any Fit and Proper Governance Test.  While we are quick to (rightly) condemn what has been going on in FIFA of late, perhaps some mote-casting would be in order at the same time.

UPDATE – 5 July 2011

Apparently the deal is “all on track“, although presumably that’s the track with leaves on it.

Posted in Fit and Proper Person tests, Football League, Governance, Ownership, Stadium | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Sepp Blatter’s already legendary Jim Callaghan impersonation

Posted by John Beech on May 31, 2011

Blatter’s demeanour at last night’s press conference was clearly one of defiance – it seems he really is blind to the mess the world governing body is in.  Mind you, if you watch again withe sound turned down (1), his body language is less self-confident – the ceaseless paper shuffling, and constantly tweaking the pair of microphones in front to him as if a pair of nipples had suddenly been thrust at him in some seedy nightclub.

The chances then of some serious reform of FIFA on his about-to-be-extended-unopposed watch are as remote as ever.  He is only vulnerable to pressure from outside stakeholders such as broadcasters and sponsors.  Broadcasters are unlikely to bother too much – the World Cup will be watched as eagerly by fans whether he or Caligula’s horse is in charge of FIFA.  Sponsors may yet prove more difficult to accommodate however, and there are already mumblings (2).  Sponsoring is not merely a questioning of gaining exposure for your brand – it only works effectively if there are shared brand values.  Interestingly, Coca Cola list their shared company values as ‘Leadership, Passion, Integrity, Accountability, Collaboration, Innovation, and Quality‘ (3).  It’s hard to see that the present circumstances are helping Coca Cola present their values of leadership, integrity and accountability much.  Adidas too will not be particularly happy bunnies this morning – they state on their webpage for Vision and Governance: “But leadership is not only about results, it is also about how success is achieved. We are accountable for the way we do business… We are committed to good governance“.  Not a great deal of brand synergy going on there at the moment either.

The one thing that can be said of Blatter is that he is a survivor.  Allegations that he acted corruptly date back at least to 2002.  As Nick Harris reported in The Independent nine years ago: “Sepp Blatter was yesterday accused by 11 senior Fifa colleagues of trying to buy votes to secure his re-election as president of football’s world governing body. The dramatic move could end the 66-year-old’s long career in the game.  In an unprecedented move in Fifa’s 98-year history, Blatter became the subject of a formal legal complaint filed in the Swiss courts by five Fifa vice-presidents and six other Fifa executive committee members.” (4)  Maybe we can’t expect too much in the way of sponsorship withdrawal as these allegation haven’t stopped them.

Blatter does have an Achilles heel nonetheless.  FIFA remains under investigation by Swiss federal authorities (5), as revealed by Matt Scott of The Guardian.  The Swiss may be more fussy than Adidas and Coca Cola when it comes to seeing their national ‘brand’ under threat.  Exemption from anti-corruption legislation for FIFA may well be lifted, especially as it applies to ‘not for profit’ organisations, an increasingly badly-fitting description for a body with reserves of almost three-quarters of a billion pounds (6).

One way or another, we shouldn’t expect a swift cleaning of the Augean stables, especially as Blatter is no Hercules.

Posted in Corruption, Ethics, FIFA, Governance, Public relations, Sponsorship | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Spinmeister in a spin too far?

Posted by John Beech on May 15, 2011

Peter Ridsdale faces charges of two offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and another under the Fraud Act 2006, brought against him by Cardiff Council’s Trading Standards department (1).  These are:

  • Being knowingly or recklessly engaged in a commercial practice which contravenes the requirements of professional diligence under Regulation 33a of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Materially distorted or was likely to materially distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer with regard to a product, namely season tickets, contrary to Regulation 8 and 13 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
  • Being a trade engaged in a commercial practice which by omission was misleading under Regulation 6 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 in that its factual context omitted material information, namely that they were subject to an embargo imposed by the Football Association on the registration of new players at the said Football Club and as a result caused or was likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise, contrary to Regulation 10 and 13 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
  • Committed fraud in that you dishonestly made a false representation, namely the sale of season tickets intending to make a gain, namely using revenue to purchase new players, contrary to Sections 1 and 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.

Ridsdale told the Plymouth Herald, “I will totally and vigorously refute all the charges and will go back in July to vehemently rebuff them.

The case is of course sub judice, and it would be improper of me to make any comment on it.  While ‘Comments’ remain open, please be aware that I will be mindful of this when deciding whether to publish them or not.

Ridsdale is not of course alone in the world of football management in facing legal proceedings.  Harry Redknapp, Milan Mandric and Peter Storrie are all currently facing court proceedings relating to matters which occured when they were at Portsmouth.  So far as I am aware, all but Storrie are carrying on in football as their innocence is to be presumed.

The four cases are individual, and the seriousness of the charge(s) varies with its relevance to their current work.  What does strike me however as being in marked contrast to practice in many other sectors is that there does not appear to have been serious consideration given to the possibility, and some might argue the appropriateness, of ‘going on gardening leave’ until their names are cleared.  Not that I’m surprised – football in general is not a sector which has placed a great deal of stress on ethics.

Posted in Ethics | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The points deduction lottery

Posted by John Beech on May 13, 2011

As we move towards the end of the season and the state of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ begins to harden, I am, as usual (here are my earlier findings on this topic), looking more closely at how the deduction of points impacts on the particular clubs who are promoted or, more typically, relegated.

The impact (or lack of it) can be five-fold:

  • No impact even to a club at the top of the table.  A classic example is that of Arsenal who were still Champions of the old Division 1 in 1990 in spite of having three points deducted.
  • Points deduction results in a club failing to be promoted, as happened to Leeds United in 2008, when a 15 points deduction moved from a guaranteed promotion spot into the play-offs (where they failed to gain promotion).
  • The position of the club is so ‘mid-table’ that the deduction of points is irrelevant other than to their final position.
  • A club is forced into relegation because of the points deduction.
  • The deduction of points is irrelevant because the club was going to be relegated anyway, as was the case when Portsmouth were ‘punished’ with a ten points deduction last year.

You can see where I’m going with the reference to ‘lottery’.

It’s too early yet for a systematic survey, but some examples are all too apparent already.  Plymouth Argyle have been relegated because of their ten points deduction (1), and St Albans have been relegated anyway (2), although by a narrow margin.  Their fans must look enviously north of the border to Dundee, where, in spite of a massive 25 points deduction (3), the club has managed to escape relegation.  Their fans may not necessarily see this as ‘a lucky escape’ however, as, without the deduction, Dundee would have finished a single point behind champions (and automatically promoted) Dunfermline.

The most interesting case is one in which no points have been deducted – that of QPR.  A disgracefully slow investigation finally concluded with a massive fine but no points deducted for 7 alledged breaches of FA financial regulations (4), five of which were found ‘not proven’.  As QPR finished the season as Champions, and 8 points clear of the play-off places, any points deduction would have proved highly contentious to whichever set of fans affected.  The saga may yet continue, as Swansea, who would have been automatically promoted had QPR been deducted nine or more points, are, at the time of writing, undecided as to whether to mount a legal challenge (5), preferring to wait until the full judgement is published.

The use of points deduction as a sanction is unarguably dysfunctional.  The real question is whether it is the ‘least bad’ alternative.  Certainly alternatives need to be explored, and thought given to whether it is possible to distinguish between offences that affect performance on the pitch and more technical financial or administrative offences which have no impact on sporting performance.

Posted in Ethics, Governance, Points deduction, Sanctions | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

When a club is at its most vulnerable

Posted by John Beech on March 27, 2011

A week can be a long time in football, but, having been out of the country for a week, working in the Tirol, I find it quite surprising in some ways how little has happened, or, to be more precise, resolved itself.  Two ‘sagas’ which have been on my radar screens for several weeks have made no real progress towards a denouement – the cases of Plymouth Argyle and Wrexham.  For both clubs, fans face the continuing uncertainty of who will be the new owners.

The former is now in the hands of an Administrator, and the sale of the club seems, at least at the time I write, to hinge on the issue of how much previous owners are prepared to write off with respect to Home Park (1).  In the case of the latter, well, one reason I haven’t blogged on the trials of the club is the sheer rate at which stories have been breaking.  Ian King, over at TwoHundredPerCent, has been doing an excellent job in keeping the story up-to-date with added interpretation and comment, but even he seems to have grown just a tad weary of following the wilder intricacies of the competition to buy the club.  Arguably the only ray of sunshine for Wrexham fans has been the fact that they have been spared Stephen Vaughan as owner.

While there is a significant difference between the two clubs in terms of who is selling the club – an Administrator on the one hand and (how on earth do I summarise the situation at Wrexham?) let’s just say a sale by the latest of a series of ‘benefactors’ – what is particularly striking is an obvious similarity.  When it comes to the sale of a club, it is the club as ‘company’ that is for sale, and any concerns for the club as ‘construct’ take a seriously back seat.  [If you are not clear about the distinction I am making, see an earlier posting.]  There is, of course, an inevitability about this, but surely there should systems in place to ensure that the continuity of the club as ‘construct’ is not compromised through a bad change in club as ‘company’.

At present there are two checks in place – the ‘Fit and Proper Person Test’ and the handing over of the ‘Golden Share’.  There are so many examples of the repeated sale of a football club – think Portsmouth, with four owners last season, a period in Administration, and still an uncertain ownership for the future – that it is obvious that these two checks are woefully inadequate.  Amazingly the FA set up a committee (no, I know that’s not amazing, but bear with me) back in 2003 to sort out an effective Fit and Proper Person Test (1), and I take it as self-evident that we do not yet have one.  Similarly, the ‘Golden Share’ is normally handed on to new owners with little thought to the wellbeing of the club as ‘construct’.

Football governance, and its current inadequacies are very much on the agenda, and I live in hope of serious change.  (My submission to the House of Commons Select Committee is downloadable here; all submissions are available here.)

Increasingly I am minded that the introduction of a rigorous system of club registration is the reform we need to improve football governance.  One of the major difficulties I see for any reform is the issue of transition to a new system.  For example, advocates of introducing the Bundesliga system with ’50 + 1′ fan ownership seldom explain just how the current share holdings of the club will be transferred to fan ownership – which 50%?  A club registration system can be designed so that the well run club need make little or no changes to become registered.  Badly run clubs would have to reform, and, when a club changes hands, the new ownership would be placed under close scrutiny.

It’s just a pity that any reform will come too late to remove the current worries of Plymouth Argyle, Wrexham, Portsmouth, etc., etc. fans.  All they can do is pray is that their club as ‘company’ is delivered into ethical and benevolent hands, and that their club as ‘construct’ survives without, in the worst case scenario, an ‘Accrington Stanley, Aldershot, Maidstone United or the many more recent non-league examples’ discontinuity and the need for resurrection.  Nobody wants another club to face the need for resurrection, but, at present, the checks in place make it likely that some club will have to go through that drastic process in the future.

If club registration is to be effective, it is vital that the body which oversees it has teeth.  An unreformed FA would not be my choice.  In the current climate though, the dream of a reformed FA is perhaps not totally unrealistic.

UPDATE – 29 March 2011

Interesting piece by Matt Scott of The Guardian here.  All four strands he suggests will be incorporated into a Football Governance and Major Events Act are long overdue, but why just football?

Posted in Fit and Proper Person tests, Football Association, Governance | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »

Open season on interns?

Posted by John Beech on March 10, 2011

Yes, it’s the Gunfight at the Cobham Coral saga.

For those of you not up-to-date with the jargon of Higher Education, an intern is someone who, in Old Speak, was on an industrial placement from a sandwich course.  Typically this would be the third year of a four year undergraduate degree programme.  The thinking is that such a placement, or internship, gives a broader education and enhances the student’s employment prospects once he or she has graduated.

Reports that no charges are likely to be brought, and that the police investigation was so thorough that, it is reported, they didn’t even include speaking to either Ashley Cole or the shot intern, Tom Cowan, (1) simply beggar belief.

Chelsea are really sorting this one out though – Cole might be fined up to two weeks’ pay (2) and Ancelotti’s reaction is reported as “I am angry, obviously, but to read that [the training ground at] Cobham is out of control is totally wrong. I’ve been a manager for 20 years and one of the most important things is discipline. Players have to observe the rules.  Ashley made a mistake. When he said sorry he was really disappointed [with himself]. But what do we have to do now? Kill him?” (3)  Ancelotti ‘angry’?  Cole ‘disappointed with himself’?  For God’s sake get real guys – someone was shot in the workplace!

Imagine for one moment that the situation had been reversed – that Cowan had brought the air rifle to work and accidentally shot Cole.  Would everyone have been quite so laid back about it?  I would suggest they wouldn’t.

The incident, or more specifically its aftermath, bring shame on the club.  The silence so far (at least so far as I’ve been able to trace) of the Premier League and the Football Association speak volumes about the power of the club and the indifference of the governing bodies to such an incident.  What would it take to get them to condemn Chelsea – the death of an intern?

I find it staggering that the club hasn’t even bothered to make public more detail of what precisely happened, or what their internal investigation has shown.  After all, this incident took place two and a half weeks ago.  In the Ancelotti world of chronic understatement, I’m ‘disappointed with Chelsea’.

UPDATE – 12 March 2011

The police have said that they will not be taking any action (A).  There are two impediments – the incident took place on private property (in which case, the law is an ass; this is, in my opinion, utterly absurd – the incident happened in a place of employment, and employees should be legally protected), and Tom Cowan has declined to file a criminal complaint.  Make of the latter what you will.

The same report suggests that the club can fine Cole up to £250,000 (two weeks salary).  Have they?  The silence from the club remains deafening.

UPDATE – 29 March 2011

Latest ‘jolly jape’ involves a dart and a youth player (see here).  What sort of injury is it going to take before clubs take this kind of behaviour seriously?

Posted in Ethics, Football Association, Governance, Health & Safety, Human Resource Management, Organisational culture, Premier League, Public relations | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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