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Archive for the ‘Governance’ Category

‘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 »

A little, light UEFAnomics

Posted by John Beech on June 24, 2012

(with doff of cap to my chum Stefan Szymanski and his co-author Simon Kuypers, the second edition of whose fascinating book Soccernomics is just hitting the book stands)

With the Euros now in full swing, much media emphasis has been placed on the cultural differences of the various competing nations.  With justification, there has been much concern placed on racism.  The investigative and selective Panorama programme highlighted this, although a similar programme might have been made about England by Polish or Ukrainian broadcasters, to be met with howls of indignation in England.  Clearly there is an issue here, but the scale of the issue is very difficult to gauge, especially from the UK.  It’s not this issue that I am looking at though, but at another ‘cultural’ one.  Having spent some of my early years living and working in Central Europe, and having made work visits to Eastern Europe in the period leading up to the fall of communism and subsequently – last week I was in Bucharest, and I’m currently in St Petersburg – I’ve found myself wondering whether Eastern Europe had ‘caught up’ with Western Europe in footballing terms.  If the emergence of democracy had resulted in improved social conditions, such as in the areas of education, disposable income, access to sports facilities, etc., now being on a par with Western Europe, this should be reflected in the qualifiers for Euro 2012, and in their FIFA rankings as an indicator of form leading up to the Euros.

Country

FIFA ranking
(July 2012)

FIFA points
(July 2012)

Qualified?

Spain

1

1456

Y

Germany

3

1288

Y

Netherlands

4

1234

Y

England

6

1185

Y

Croatia

8

1053

Y

Denmark

9

1019

Y

Portugal

10

996

Y

Italy

12

977

Y

Russia

13

975

Y

France

14

964

Y

Greece

15

953

Y

Sweden

17

910

Y

Republic of Ireland

18

907

Y

Switzerland

21

868

Norway

26

787

Czech Republic

27

771

Y

Bosnia-Herzegovina

29

756

Slovenia

30

742

Hungary

31

735

Turkey

33

732

Serbia

34

725

Wales

38

658

Slovakia

39

649

Scotland

41

611

Montenegro

50

581

Armenia

51

579

Ukraine

52

572

Y(H)

Romania

52

572

Belgium

54

564

Estonia

57

528

Austria

58

524

Poland

62

518

Y(H)

Belarus

69

497

Finland

75

464

Latvia

76

459

Albania

79

451

Israel

81

427

Lithuania

88

380

Bulgaria

90

373

Georgia

95

359

Macedonia

101

338

Northern Ireland

103

336

Azerbaijan

112

300

Luxembourg

121

283

Faroe Islands

122

279

Cyprus

125

266

Iceland

131

248

Moldova

140

212

Kazakhstan

141

209

Malta

147

195

Liechtenstein

148

177

Andorra

199

15

San Marino

206

0

[Y = Yes; Y(H) = Yes, as host]

The first conclusions that one must come to are that FIFA points correlate pretty strongly with qualification for Euro 2012 (which is hardly surprising as the qualifying games are included in the FIFA points), and that Poland and Ukraine were unlikely to have qualified had they not been the co-hosts.  The Czech Republic were the ‘tail-end Charlies’ in qualifying, and Switzerland, and to a lesser extent Norway, must feel disappointed at not qualifying given their recent form.

The first stage of the Euros, in its round robin format, should also show some correspondence with form (the knock-out stage probably less so).  The following table is sorted by points achieved in the first round at the Euros.

Country

FIFA ranking (July 2012)

FIFA points (July 2012)

Qualified?

First round points

Germany

3

1288

Y

9

Spain

1

1456

Y

7

England

6

1185

Y

7

Portugal

10

996

Y

6

Czech Republic

27

771

Y

6

Italy

12

977

Y

5

Croatia

8

1053

Y

4

Russia

13

975

Y

4

France

14

964

Y

4

Greece

15

953

Y

4

Denmark

9

1019

Y

3

Sweden

17

910

Y

3

Ukraine

52

572

Y(H)

3

Poland

62

518

Y(H)

2

Netherlands

4

1234

Y

0

Republic of Ireland

18

907

Y

0

Netherlands fans have the most right to feel disappointed at their team failing to progress, those of the Czech Republic the most elated.

The first difficulty in setting about looking at the relative strengths of different blocks of countries arises with the fact that the ‘E’ in UEFA is not quite the Europe we learned about in school.  As with the Eurovision Song Contest, the boundaries of Europe have been stretched.  While it may be obvious that UEFA includes Ukraine, it is perhaps less obvious that UEFAland actually stretches as far as the border between Kazakhstan and China.

I have divided the countries into the following blocks: the old Western Europe (WE); the old Eastern Europe (EE); the old Soviet Union (SB); the old Yugoslavia (Yu), which always maintained a position on non-alliance and was a country which always allowed its players to work for Western European clubs; and the others (Oth) who do not fit into the main categories – Israel and Turkey.

To add the ‘UEFAnomics’ dimension, I added a column showing the population of each country based on latest actuals or estimates, and, to allow for size, a column showing the number of FIFA points per million people.  The latter is, of course, a very crude indicator, and does not allow for the anomalies at the ends of the spectrum – the ‘minnows’, where the random talent of individuals has a much stronger relevance to success, and the ‘giants’, where the sheer size of the country makes it perhaps difficult to identify all individual players’ talents.  I’ll make the same disclaimer that Peter Snow used to make for the famous Swingometer – “Remember, it’s just for fun”.

Country

FIFA ranking (July 2012)

FIFA points (July 2012)

Qualified?

First round points

Population

Points / 000,000s of Population

Block

Faroe Islands

122

279

49,267

56,630

WE

Liechtenstein

148

177

36,010

49,153

WE

Montenegro

50

581

625,266

9,292

Yu

Iceland

131

248

320,060

7,749

WE

Luxembourg

121

283

509,074

5,559

WE

Malta

147

195

452,515

4,309

WE

Estonia

57

528

1,340,194

3,940

SB

Slovenia

30

742

2,050,189

3,619

Yu

Cyprus

125

266

838,897

3,171

WE

Croatia

8

1053

Y

4

4,290,612

2,454

Yu

Wales

38

658

3,006,400

2,189

WE

Latvia

76

459

2,217,053

2,070

SB

Republic of Ireland

18

907

Y

0

4,588,252

1,977

WE

Bosnia-Herzegovina

29

756

3,839,737

1,969

Yu

Northern Ireland

103

336

1,799,392

1,867

WE

Denmark

9

1019

Y

3

5,543,453

1,838

WE

Andorra

199

15

84,082

1,784

WE

Armenia

51

579

3,262,200

1,775

SB

Macedonia

101

338

2,055,004

1,645

Yu

Albania

79

451

2,831,741

1,593

EE

Norway

26

787

4,985,870

1,578

WE

Lithuania

88

380

3,187,176

1,192

SB

Slovakia

39

649

5,445,324

1,192

EE

Scotland

41

611

5,254,800

1,163

WE

Switzerland

21

868

7,952,600

1,091

WE

Serbia

34

725

7,120,666

1,018

Yu

Sweden

17

910

Y

3

9,415,295

967

WE

Portugal

10

996

Y

6

10,578,776

942

WE

Finland

75

464

5,404,956

858

WE

Greece

15

953

Y

4

11,305,118

843

WE

Georgia

95

359

4,469,200

803

SB

Hungary

31

735

10,014,324

734

EE

Netherlands

4

1234

Y

0

16,847,007

732

WE

Czech Republic

27

771

Y

6

10,562,214

730

EE

Austria

58

524

8,414,638

623

WE

Moldova

140

212

3,559,500

596

SB

Israel

81

427

7,869,900

543

Oth

Belarus

69

497

9,503,807

523

SB

Belgium

54

564

11,007,020

512

WE

Bulgaria

90

373

7,364,570

506

EE

Azerbaijan

112

300

9,165,000

327

SB

Spain

1

1456

Y

7

46,030,109

316

WE

Romania

52

572

19,042,936

300

EE

England

6

1185

Y

7

52,234,000

227

WE

Italy

12

977

Y

5

60,681,514

161

WE

Germany

3

1288

Y

9

81,799,600

157

WE

France

14

964

Y

4

65350000

148

WE

Poland

62

518

Y(H)

2

38,186,860

136

EE

Kazakhstan

141

209

16,600,000

126

SB

Ukraine

52

572

Y(H)

3

45,888,000

125

SB

Turkey

33

732

74,724,269

98

Oth

Russia

13

975

Y

4

143,030,106

68

SB

San Marino

206

0

31,887

0

WE

Can the Faroe Islanders really be the top achievers?  Well, certainly they are no longer the minnows who could be relied on to roll over and be thrashed, as Scotland infamously discovered.

I find it particularly interesting that the top four achievers who qualified were Croatia, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Sweden – all deserve credit for qualifying for the Euros and commiserations for not making it beyond the first round.  Russia, on the other hand, emerge as massive underachievers.

Finally, to return to my original query, I’ve sorted the table by country block (putting Israel and Turkey to one side).

Western Europe:

Country

FIFA ranking (July 2012)

FIFA points (July 2012)

Qualified?

First round points

Population

Points / 000,000s of Population

Faroe Islands

122

279

49,267

56,630

Liechtenstein

148

177

36,010

49,153

Iceland

131

248

320,060

7,749

Luxembourg

121

283

509,074

5,559

Malta

147

195

452,515

4,309

Cyprus

125

266

838,897

3,171

Wales

38

658

3,006,400

2,189

Republic of Ireland

18

907

Y

0

4,588,252

1,977

Northern Ireland

103

336

1,799,392

1,867

Denmark

9

1019

Y

3

5,543,453

1,838

Andorra

199

15

84,082

1,784

Norway

26

787

4,985,870

1,578

Scotland

41

611

5,254,800

1,163

Switzerland

21

868

7,952,600

1,091

Sweden

17

910

Y

3

9,415,295

967

Portugal

10

996

Y

6

10,578,776

942

Finland

75

464

5,404,956

858

Greece

15

953

Y

4

11,305,118

843

Netherlands

4

1234

Y

0

16,847,007

732

Austria

58

524

8,414,638

623

Belgium

54

564

11,007,020

512

Spain

1

1456

Y

7

46,030,109

316

England

6

1185

Y

7

52,234,000

227

Italy

12

977

Y

5

60,681,514

161

Germany

3

1288

Y

9

81,799,600

157

France

14

964

Y

4

65,350,000

148

San Marino

206

0

31,887

0

(Average population of country in Western European block: 15,352,615)

Eastern Europe:

Country

FIFA ranking (July 2012)

FIFA points (July 2012)

Qualified?

First round points

Population

Points / 000,000s of Population

Albania

79

451

2,831,741

1,593

Slovakia

39

649

5,445,324

1,192

Hungary

31

735

10,014,324

734

Czech Republic

27

771

Y

6

10,562,214

730

Bulgaria

90

373

7,364,570

506

Romania

52

572

19,042,936

300

Poland

62

518

Y(H)

2

38,186,860

136

Average population of country in Eastern European block: 13,349,710

Former Soviet block:

Country

FIFA ranking (July 2012)

FIFA points (July 2012)

Qualified?

First round points

Population

Points / 000,000s of Population

Estonia

57

528

1,340,194

3,940

Latvia

76

459

2,217,053

2,070

Armenia

51

579

3,262,200

1,775

Lithuania

88

380

3,187,176

1,192

Georgia

95

359

4,469,200

803

Moldova

140

212

3,559,500

596

Belarus

69

497

9,503,807

523

Azerbaijan

112

300

9,165,000

327

Kazakhstan

141

209

16,600,000

126

Ukraine

52

572

Y(H)

3

45,888,000

125

Russia

13

975

Y

4

143,030,106

68

(Average population of country in former Soviet block: 22,020,203; average population of country in former Soviet block excluding Russia: 9,919,203)

Former Yugoslavia:

Country

FIFA ranking (July 2012)

FIFA points (July 2012)

Qualified?

First round points

Population

Points / 000,000s of Population

Montenegro

50

581

625,266

9,292

Slovenia

30

742

2,050,189

3,619

Croatia

8

1053

Y

4

4,290,612

2,454

Bosnia-Herzegovina

29

756

3,839,737

1,969

Macedonia

101

338

2,055,004

1,645

Serbia

34

725

7,120,666

1,018

(Average population of country in former Yugoslav block: 3,330,246)

The results are not entirely surprising.  With the exceptions of Croatia, the Czech Republic and Russia, all the teams who made it to the Euros through competition were from Western Europe.

Is this an indication that Eastern Europe has not caught up with Western Europe over the last twenty years?  Well, possibly, but there are other reasons, notably the issue of the population of each country.  The next table ranks countries by population.

Country

FIFA ranking (July 2012)

FIFA points (July 2012)

Qualified?

First round points

Population

Points / 000,000s of Population

Block

Russia

13

975

Y

4

143,030,106

68

SB

Germany

3

1288

Y

9

81,799,600

157

WE

Turkey

33

732

74,724,269

98

Oth

France

14

964

Y

4

65350000

148

WE

Italy

12

977

Y

5

60,681,514

161

WE

England

6

1185

Y

7

52,234,000

227

WE

Spain

1

1456

Y

7

46,030,109

316

WE

Ukraine

52

572

Y(H)

3

45,888,000

125

SB

Poland

62

518

Y(H)

2

38,186,860

136

EE

Romania

52

572

19,042,936

300

EE

Netherlands

4

1234

Y

0

16,847,007

732

WE

Kazakhstan

141

209

16,600,000

126

SB

Greece

15

953

Y

4

11,305,118

843

WE

Belgium

54

564

11,007,020

512

WE

Portugal

10

996

Y

6

10,578,776

942

WE

Czech Republic

27

771

Y

6

10,562,214

730

EE

Of the 16 largest countries in Euroland, only Poland (at no. 9 in population), Romania (no.10) and the Czech Republic (no.16) appear in the list, together with Russia (no.1), Ukraine (no.8) and Kazakhstan (no.12) from the old Soviet block, the remainder consisting of nine Western European countries plus Turkey.  Could it be that Eastern Europe suffers in football success from consisting of smaller countries?

Of the 16 largest countries in Euroland, only Poland (at no. 9 in population), Romania (no.10) and the Czech Republic (no.16) appear in the list, together with Russia (no.1), Ukraine (no.8) and Kazakhstan (no.12) from the old Soviet block, the remainder consisting of nine Western European countries plus Turkey.  Could it be that Eastern Europe suffers in football success from consisting of smaller countries?  Consider which countries have actually reached the finals:

Country

Winners

Runners-up

Finalists

Germany

3

3

6

Soviet Union

1

3

4

Spain

2

1

3

Czech Republic

1

1

2

France

2

2

Italy

1

1

2

Denmark

1

1

Greece

1

1

Netherlands

1

1

Yugoslavia

2

2

Belgium

1

1

Portugal

1

1

[Yugoslavia were losing finalists in 1960 and 1968.  A reconstituted Yugoslavia today would have a combined population today of 19,981,474, ranking it as the tenth largest UEFA country by population.]

These musings, of course, prove nothing, but they do suggest that being big helps, and, if you are an Eastern European country, you are generally a bit disadvantaged in this respect.  This has implications for Euro 2016 when the number of countries qualifying will increase from 16 to 24.  Eastern European countries will be no better placed to win, but statistically we should expect to see them make up a greater percentage of the qualifying countries, which will be good for them in terms of exposure and international experience.

As for this evening, well, using UEFA points as a predictor of form, England seem to have the edge.  Maybe I shouldn’t tempt providence though, and, in any case, form is a worse predictor in the knockout stages than in the first round because it is being applied to a single game rather than three games

[Apologies for way the tables appear - WordPress.com is not very helpful at formating tables prepared in Word]

Posted in UEFA | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

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 »

The new broken-time payments

Posted by John Beech on March 24, 2012

The decision by UEFA to increase significantly the compensation fee paid to clubs for releasing their players to play in Euro 2012 (1) – for Euro 2008, the total compensation was €43.5 million; for Euro 2012 a total of €55 million had been proposed, but the figure is now to be €100 million (£83.4 million) following pressure from the European Club Association (ECA) (2) – is not entirely unexpected, and not entirely unreasonable. I have my concerns about it though…

Professional football was born on the back of the issue of broken-time payments – compensating amateur players for time they had had to take off from their day-jobs. It’s hardly inconsistent, over a century on, that clubs would seek broken-time payments for players released for international duty.

Nor is it inconsistent that, in a post-commercialised football age, the selection of a player for international duty has little to do with honour and duty, but rather more to do with maximising revenues for the national team.

Certainly international duty, notably with respect to the African Cup of Nations, can have a worrying impact on particular clubs.

There is also the issue of injury while on international duty, although this seems to be resolving itself by the number of declared injuries which somehow heal themselves miraculously quickly once the ‘threat’ of international duty has passed.

By and large then, my view is one from a natural perspective of a mixture of realism and cynicism.

My concern is more at the level of unintended consequences. I’m in the middle of a major research project looking at the concentration in certain European football leagues. Notwithstanding the current difficulties of one of the two clubs, Scottish football, for example, offers no exemplar of healthy competitive balance in its top tier. Since the Scottish Premier League was founded for the 1998/99 season, there has so far been just one single appearance, as runner-up, by a team other than the Auld Firm in the top two at the end of the season (it was Hearts in 2005/06 in case you are scratching your head). The last time another club won the Championship was back in 1983/84 (Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen), and you have to go back to 1903/04 to find the last season that neither club was winner or runner-up (since you ask, the winner was Third Lanark and the runner-up Hearts; you will be less surprised that Rangers were third and Celtic fourth). While the Auld Firm’s stranglehold on their domestic Championship is the strongest in Europe, the majority of European national leagues suffer from ‘Big 2’, ‘Big 3’ or ‘Big 4’ syndrome (see also posting passim), a fact that is contrary to the principle of maintaining competitive balance within a league.

The reasons that leagues became dominated by a handful of clubs are varied, and the dominance usually dates back to a pre-commercialised era. Our research is beginning to show that the maintenance of dominance in a national league is strongly correlated with the distribution of the broadcasting revenues of the Champions League and the Europa league (and of course their predecessors). In short, rewarding clubs financially for simply being the top clubs reinforces their position, by ensuring that the rich clubs get ever richer, and can hence, afford, the better payers.

As these enhanced UEFA fees to clubs for Euro 2012 will, albeit on a smaller scale, have the same, presumably unintended, outcome, it concerns me that the lack of competitive balance in European national leagues is once again being reinforced, something which is NOT good for the game.

Posted in Revenues, UEFA | Tagged: , | 4 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 »

Pompey and the potential for points deduction

Posted by John Beech on November 29, 2011

Having carefully got through as far as Prescot Cables in the first half of my round up of clubs in trouble below the Premier League, I had rather assumed that I could at least get Part 2 published before returning to the subject of Portsmouth.  Clearly that was not meant to be.  So here are some first thoughts on what will be an ongoing saga of, well, Pompeyesque proportions.

For most fans there will be the question of points deduction, a matter for the Football League.  As it stands, at least for the moment, the company which owns Pompey, Portsmouth Football Club (2010) Limited, is not in Administration, as it is at pains to point out in its official statement (1); it is the parent company, Convers Sports Initiative plc, which is (2).  It is the issue of how closely the two companies are linked that the Football League will have to rule on.

The obvious precedent to spring to mind is that of deadly rivals Southampton, where the decision was that the company owning the club and the parent company were so intimately involved that the club should suffer points deduction on account of the parent company going into Administration.  It’s worth quoting from the Football League’s statement (3) at the time:

The [Grant Thornton] report [on which the decision was based] concluded, among other things, that:

1.The Holding Company has no income of its own; all revenue and expenditure is derived from the operation of Southampton Football Club Limited (SFC) and the associated stadium company.

2.The Holding company is solvent in its own right. It only becomes insolvent when account is taken of the position of SFC and the other group companies.

3.The three entities (the Holding Company, SFC and the stadium company) comprise the football club and they are inextricably linked as one economic entity.

If we compare the situation at Southampton then with the situation at Portsmouth now, there are major differences.  At Portsmouth currently:

  1. CSI does have income of its own and definitely does not derive all its income and expenditure from Portsmouth Football Club (2010)
  2. CSI is insolvent in its own right; its insolvency does not arise because of any insolvency on the part of Portsmouth Football Club (2010)  [I grant you that it’s hardly a cash cow, but it’s not Portsmouth that has brought CSI down]
  3. CSI and Portsmouth Football Club (2010) are not inextricably linked as one economic entity; CSI’s website shows their structure (4) to consist of a number of unrelated subsidiaries: Boom!, DGB Convers, GP Week, Leaders, Power Play Golf, Sportpost and WRC, as well as Portsmouth FC

On this basis, there is a strong case that CSI’s Administration should not result in a points deduction for Portsmouth.

If Portsmouth Football Club (2010) should itself seek protection by going into Administration, that would be entirely different matter, and points deduction would without doubt be incurred.  The Football League has no precise published tariff, but I would expect something in the region of 17 to 20 points.  How likely is that to happen?  The Administrators of CSI will almost certainly be looking to sell off its components, and Portsmouth is in effect already ‘on the market’.  With the added complication of Portpin and Balram Chainrai’s involvement in the insolvency of CSI though, it’s not a club that will be fighting off suitors.  In the meantime, the club “has funding in place for the short term, but will now be seeking alternative investment for its longer-term requirements”.

Not a very encouraging situation, but what’s new for Pompey fans?

[For new readers, I make clear that I am Portsmouth fan and a member of the Pompey Supporters Trust.  The thoughts above are, nonetheless,  my thoughts from the perspective of an academic researcher.]

Posted in Football League, Governance, Insolvency, Points deduction | Tagged: , , , | 16 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 »

A hint of significant change at FIFA?

Posted by John Beech on October 8, 2011

Well, don’t hold your breath, but there is just a possibility.

The conferences I usually attend are for academics, and any confrontation is usually so subtle that it needs to be decoded.  Which is one reason I particularly enjoy the two-yearly Play the Game conferences, with their exciting mix of investigative journalists, academics and sports practitioners.  The latter group normally does not include anyone from FIFA, but the conference which has just finished in Köln proved to be a notable exception.  The Play the Game organisation, for those unfamiliar with it, describes itself as “an international conference and communication initiative aiming to strengthen the ethical foundation of sport and promote democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in sport” (1).

Sepp Blatter had been invited, but with stunning predictability he turned the invitation down “due to a great amount of similar demands” (2).  If he meant demands that he face his critics over the way FIFA is mismanaged, that’s probably understandable.

On Thursday, however, in a joint session with presentations by the indominatable Andrew Jennings, long-time scourge of FIFA, and his opposite number in Germany, Jens Weinreich, who should be in the audience but Walter di Georgio, FIFA’s newly appointed Director of Communications (now there’s a job I wouldn’t want!), sitting just two rows behind me.

Confrontation was inevitable, especially when Jennings, produced a list of what he said was 167 bribes recorded by the Zug Prosecutor’s office, which he (Jennings) is fighting to get published (3).  Di Gregorio took understandable exception to Jennings’s assertion that FIFA had the classic characteristics of a Mafia family.  Worse was to come when Jennings and di Georgio clashed over the reason for Jennings being banned by FIFA from its press conferences; this concluded with Jennings shouting “Liar!” from the podium.

It will be interesting to see whether di Georgio comes good on his offer to speak to the next Play the Game conference in 2013.  Apart from anything else, he will no doubt have to survive a post-conference debriefing with Blatter, which I’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall at!  Assuming Jennings is finally successful in publishing the Zug court documents – there is a slow Swiss legal process to go through yet – we will have to see whether Blatter survives.

Among other football-related topics discussed at the conference was a two-hour session entitled Financial fair play, or football’s foolish plan, chaired by Supporters Direct Europe’s Antonia Hagemann.  Speakers were, in order, Sefton Perry (UEFA’s Benchmarking Manger for Club Licensing), Professor Stefan Szymanski, myself, and Christian Müller (until recently the Chief Financial Officer of the German Football Association [DFL]).  The four presentations and the following discussion can be viewed here, following an incongruous 30 seconds beer advertisement.  My own contribution is at about 40 minutes in.

The final session of the conference turned to a key issue for all sports today, that of ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodies?‘ or ‘who guards the guardians?’.  The outcome was a call to the IOC to gather all stakeholders to draft a code for good governance in sport (4).  While I welcome such a move in general, I have a problem with it being under the auspices of the IOC.  How likely is this to find a positive response from ‘barely Olympic sports’ such as football and tennis, and non-Olympic sports such as F1, the rugby codes, North American sports and golf?  At the heart of this is the fact that the major professional sports do not fit well with the sports already engaged with the IOC.  And of course there is, for English football, the whole ‘Home Nations’ issue, an already touchy subject.

Posted in FIFA, Governance, UEFA | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The devil’s work

Posted by John Beech on September 29, 2011

For someone who has no great love of the media, Sir Alex certainly knows how to get himself in the headlines.  His latest claim is that football has sold its soul to the TV ‘devil’ (1).  Attractive though his choice of metaphor is, with the vision it generates of a BSkyB ‘evil empire’, it just doesn’t really work when his other complaints he makes are vectored in.

He complains that the broadcasters have too much power, especially with regard to their influence on fixture lists.  But isn’t that inevitable when you sell your soul to the devil?  It’s exactly that power that the ‘devil’ broadcasters have bought.  And I don’t recall that the standard ‘devil buys soul’ contract allows for renegotiation of the terms.

He complains too that the broadcasters haven’t paid enough for the rights.  That may or may not be the case, and Sir Alex is not being unreasonable in making the suggestion as it is the Premier League who ‘sold their soul’ rather than Manchester United, Sir Alex’s club.

The Premier League though do not of course distribute broadcasting rights to clubs equally, and Manchester United does rather nicely thank you compared with the weaker clubs in the league (who, to maintain competitive balance, should if anything get more than Manchester United, rather than less).

On the whole, I’m not unsympathetic to some of the points he makes, but, in his case, methinks he doth protest too much

Posted in Broadcasting rights, Governance, Premier League | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

The ins and outs of the transfer window

Posted by John Beech on September 3, 2011

So, the transfer window finally slammed shut, to use the mandatory cliché, amid the predictable hype.  In one respect this was hardly surprising – of the 289 August deals reported by the BBC (1), no fewer than 93, or 32%, had taken place on the final day.  In total 141 (49%) had taken place in the final week.  One was almost left wondering whether a whole month was needed.

A noticeable feature of the BBC data is that of the 289 deals, 69 involved players described as unattached, 110 were loans, and 10 were free transfers, leaving only 100 (35%) that were full-blown fee-paying transfers.  Given the main reason for having a transfer window – to prevent clubs buying in extra talent in a burst to achieve promotion or a Champions League place – the question must surely arise as to whether it is necessary to apply any transfer window at all to non-fee-paying transfers, now the clear majority.  After all, no club is going to loan another club a player willingly if it feels that will upset competitive balance and/or give the receiving club a somehow unfair advantage.

It’s difficult to analyse the spending by individual clubs – the BBC data records the figure for a mere 17 deals:

Samir Nasri Arsenal – Man City £25m
Juan Mata Valencia – Chelsea £23.5m
Bryan Ruiz Twente – Fulham £10.6m
Mikel Arteta Everton – Arsenal £10m
Peter Crouch Tottenham – Stoke £10m
Andre Santos Fenerbahce – Arsenal £6.2m
Scott Parker West Ham – Tottenham £5m
Oriol Romeu Barcelona – Chelsea £4.35m
Jermaine Beckford Everton – Leicester £3m
Emmanuel Eboue Arsenal – Galatasaray £3m
Ishmael Miller West Brom – Nottingham Forest £1.2m
Leroy Lita Middlesbrough – Swansea £1.75m
Shaun Maloney Celtic – Wigan £1m
James McClean Derry City – Sunderland £350,000
Darnel Situ Lens – Swansea £250,000
Shaun MacDonald Swansea – Bournemouth £80,000
Chris Lines Bristol Rovers – Sheffield Wednesday £50,000

There seems to be a consensus that spending has peaked again following a couple of years decline.  Which is bad news in my book.  I would have hoped that Financial Fair Play and capped squad sizes would have reined in the crazy levels of spending.  It may be that they have outside the Big 5, but that in itself is dysfunctional – these are the five clubs most likely to qualify for Europe and therefore find themselves under scrutiny from UEFA.

It’s also clear from the limited data available that there is no sign of the vertical disparity in terms of spending power  up and down the football pyramid declining.  Again, I can only greet this with disappointment.  When will they ever learn?

Posted in Costs, Globetrotterisation, Premier League, Transfers, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Chester revisited

Posted by John Beech on June 28, 2011

Not a return visit to the carryings on of Stephen Vaughan, or the resurrection at the Deva, but a revisiting of the Report of the Committee on Football, aka The Chester Report, published in 1968.  With the current Select Committee report on Football Governance in preparation, it seemed timely to have look at what has and hasn’t changed since Norman Chester and his committee found when they looked at the game almost forty-five years ago – his committee was appointed in June 1966 and first met on 19 July 1966.

In this first posting I’m going to look at how the context has changed, and then, in a couple of postings spread over a couple of weeks, I’m going to focus on the similarities and the differences of then and now, and finish with some thoughts on whether we have learned any lessons.

His terms of reference are interesting: “To enquire into the state of Association Football at all levels, including the organisation, management, finance and administration, and the means by which the game may be developed for the public good; and to make recommendations”  (the emboldening is my addition).  What I find interesting is that the Committee took what we would today describe as broadly stake-holder approach.  They included looking at the game from the players’ perspective, and from that of referees and linesmen, but, although a view from the fans’ perspective is often explicit, the committee didn’t explicitly report on the state of the game from a fans perspective.  The notion of fan ownership of professional clubs was yet to emerge.

Most striking too is the financial state of the professional game at that time.  Gates had been declining since a peak shortly after the war, and professional clubs were beginning to have to come to terms with the scrapping of the maximum wage and destruction of the retain clause following the Eastham case.  The writing was on the wall that the game was going to see a flurry of wage escalation and that commercialisation would be the inevitable response, although shirt sponsorship, for example, would still be banned for almost another 15 years.

Given the generally weak state of the game, the following data is perhaps surprising.  It is in the report but its source is the 1966 PEP report on English Professional Football.

Match receipts and
Other Operating Income

Salaries, team and
admin expenses

Profit/Loss
on all matches

Profit/Loss adjusted
by Average Earnings

Division 1

£3,770,333

£3,310,667

£459,667

£47,700,000

Division 2

£1,674,333

£1,937,000

-£262,667

-£9,090,000

Division 3

£1,149,667

£1,658,000

-£508,333

-£17,600,000

Division 4

£691,667

£1,160,000

-£468,333

-£16,200,000

LEAGUE TOTAL

£7,286,000

£8,065,667

-£779,667

-£27,000,000

(The original data was for the three seasons from 1963/64 to 1965/66, which I have averaged, and the final column I have added using the MeasuringWorth.com calculator to give an idea of the profit/loss in today’s terms allowing for inflation.

‘Wealth at the top’ is still the case today, although the Premier League clubs would be happy to turn the kind of profits being turned 45 years ago, inflation adjusted or not.  There is a financial disparity between the tiers, although it was nothing like as large as today – broadcasting rights had yet to be a major factor in football.

Interestingly the disparity between levels had been growing significantly over the previous ten years, as this table from the Chester report shows:

Match receipts
1956-1966

Team and Ground Expenses
1956-1966

Division 1

+72%

+157%

Division 2

+15%

+131%

Divisions 3 and 4

+11%

+114%

The lower tiers were already failing to keep income up to a level to cover expenses even more miserably than the old Division clubs.

More to come in later postings, but interspersed with more typical postings on the current scene.

Posted in Costs, Governance, History | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Of Dave and Goliath

Posted by John Beech on June 15, 2011

Watching Boylergate unfold still from the slight detachment of the Tirol is a singularly unedifying experience.

I should first make clear that I count Dave as one of my friends, and that I am also friends with a number of Supporters Direct employees whose jobs are now at risk.  I am not however a pre-move Wimbledon fan or an AFC Wimbledon fan.  I strongly disliked what happened, but I tend to see Sam Hammam and the local Council as the villans of the piece rather than Pete Winkleman.  I wish that the MK Dons would drop the ‘Dons’ part of their name, in the hope that all concerned would finally move on and adopt a more realpolitik approach.  That said, I find it fairly low down on the list of things that seriously bother me – it’s down there with Spennymoor Town, Livingston and Clyde (and maybe Kettering Town next), rather than up there with FIFA and corruption, for example.

The crisis, for that is what it is from a Supporters Direct perspective, seems to have issues at several different levels, the first and most immediate of which is the issue of what Dave Boyle tweeted (no click-through as Dave has deleted the particular comments which have had such drastic implications).

What he tweeted, he wrote in his personal capacity (it clearly states on his Twitter account “Comments reflect my views alone etc.“), but, of course, we can’t in practice ever disassociate ourselves from our employer that neatly (although I would argue the case for academic freedom if that employer happened to be a university!).  Dave seems to have recognised this, and resigned as CEO of Supporters Direct.  Why, it’s reasonable to ask, was that not an end to the matter?

Well, as Glen Moore reported it (1) in The Independent:

When his tweets came to the notice of the FSIF they wrote to Dame Pauline Green, chair of SD, asking for her comments. She replied that Boyle had apologised and promised there would be no repeat. The trustees of the FSIF, who include the Football Association and the Government as well as the Premier League, took the view that someone in his position, even if tweeting in a personal capacity, could not make such statements in a public forum and merely be given a rap on the knuckles.

This line was taken in the context of a crackdown on abusive behaviour in the game, including the FA’s Respect campaign and the recent suspension imposed on Wayne Rooney for swearing into a TV camera after scoring against West Ham. The FSIF board subsequently released a statement saying they “no longer had confidence in Supporters Direct’s leadership and judgement”. Funding previously offered to the tune of £1.5m over three years, was withdrawn.

An interesting question, which I have not seen an answer to, is why this anonymous person brought the tweets  to the attention of the FSIF rather than complain directly to Supporters Direct.

The FSIF (the Football Stadia Improvement Fund) (2) is itself part of the Football Foundation which is funded as described.  The Fund’s role is to provide “grant aid to clubs in the Football League, the Conference and the National League System, down to step 7 and below, that want to improve their facilities for players, officials and spectators.”   The mission of the Football Foundation itself is “to improve facilities, create opportunities and build communities throughout England” (3).  It strikes me that the Trustees of the FSIF were not acting on behalf of the FSIF but rather in the interests of their parent bodies, and I’m unclear as to how the pulling of funding for Supporters Direct, and thus seriously threatening its existence, is in any way creating opportunities and building communities.

What comes across is the convoluted way that football is governed in the UK – by a farrago of committees where ‘conflict of interests’ is a phrase rarely heard.

Which takes us to the ultimate issue – how is Supporters Direct funded?  The case that we actually need such a body is more than adequately expressed in the wealth of evidence submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on Football Governance (3).  With the clear exception of the Premier League, all in the football garden is not seen as rosy, and a very strong case indeed for the Supporters Trust movement is made.

The FSIF have made clear that “funding would still be available to individual trusts and they should apply directly on a case-by-case basis“, but this conveniently ignores the fact that a primary purpose of Supporters Direct is to help in establishing Supporters Trusts, and that, but for the work of Supporters Direct, many of the Trusts who can still apply for funding would not exist.

If there is a lesson in the whole sorry saga, it is that Supporters Direct needs to be funded not directly through a multi-stakeholder stadia improvement fund (???), or indeed the Premier League.  The Premier League funding Supporters Direct is at least partly like having the Countryside Alliance finance the League Against Cruel Sports in that their objectives are antithetical, and linking them in this way just sets up the likelihood of the car crash we find with Boylergate.

For this reason I am not entirely sympathetic to the Early Day Motion calling ultimately for the resumption of funding of Supporters Direct by the Premier League (4).  In the context of a House of Commons investigation into football governance, it would surely make more sense to move to a more stable funding basis for Supporters Direct, where the ‘hand on the tap’ is the FA, or better still the DCMS.

Posted in Governance, Trusts, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

 
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