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

Posts Tagged ‘Fans’

Pompey – the turning point?

Posted by John Beech on November 20, 2012

I’ve not blogged recently on the Pompey basket case.  Not because there wasn’t much happening, but rather because there has been almost too much happening to stop and take a coherent view.  In fact, the last time I posted was back in March 2011, when I commented “Portsmouth City Football Club Ltd. is dead – long live Portsmouth Football Club (2010) Ltd.!” (1), and it reads today like some historical piece, and at least a tad ironic to boot – the tagline was “Onward and upward at Portsmouth?

The announcement that a conditional sale to the Pompey Supporters Trust has been agreed (2) brings at least some sort of turning point.

That the alternative bid from Balram Chainrai was turned down by the Administrator can only be good news – just how many times can the same person ‘save’ a club?  Trevor Birch’s choice may or may not have been influenced by the blogs of Micah Hall (3), but certainly the lack of response to the questions Micah posed to Tavistock Communications, Portpin’s PR company, spoke volumes.  Micah’s digging deserves an award, and shows how far a fan can go in the bigger picture of financial decision-making.

The fly in the ointment of the sale is, of course, the issue of the value that Chainrai is trying to place on Fratton Park.  Unless he finally decides to bow out gracefully, accepting that he made a very bad business call, the matter will go to court.  With independent valuations at a much lower level, the Trust stands a very good chance of getting the desired result.

There is also the matter of a potential further ten points deduction on coming out of Administration.  Here I am less optimistic.  I fear it will be yet more evidence that the deduction of points is an entirely dysfunctional sanction, but let’s not burn our bridges before we come to them.

All-in-all, there does finally seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and this hopefully will prove a turning point in the club’s miserable fortunes.

In the bigger picture, it may well prove to be a turning point in the road to fan ownership of clubs.  It does need to be seen though as one of many turning points, as I’m sure Brentford. Chester, Exeter Wrexham, and Wimbledon fans, and that’s not a definitive list, would be quick to point out.  It’s significance will depend on how well the hybrid model involving High Net Worth Individuals will work in practice.  If it does work, it will doubtless encourage the Supporters Trusts at bigger clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle.

As a member of the Pompey Supporters Trust, I feel considerably more confident regarding the future than I have for a very long time.  I’ve even put a bottle of bubbly in the fridge, but I’ll not actually open it though until Fratton Park is in the fans’ hands.  The only certainty is the debt of gratitude Pompey fans owe to the PST Board.  Let’s show our gratitude by uniting behind them.

Posted in Community, Fans, Insolvency, Ownership, Points deduction, Sanctions, Stadium, Trusts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

So, is it really ‘goodbye Bluebirds, hello Red Dragons’?

Posted by John Beech on June 7, 2012

Like the old joke about anti-social behaviour in a lift, what is happening at Cardiff City is just plain wrong at so many levels.

The root causes of the problem lie in Sam Hammam’s decision to build a new stadium, the resulting deep financial difficulty that Cardiff got themselves into with Langston and the Damoclean debt hanging over the club as a result, and Peter Ridsdale’s decision to involve the club in what was, from the first, described as a ‘strategic marketing alliance’ with Malaysian investors (1).  As he said at the time, “It will be a long-term alliance.  It will include youth development, it will include the opportunity to explore the whole fan base.  It will certainly include sponsorship.  We are already talking to them about shirt sponsorship and stadium naming rights without any definite conclusions at this stage.  We are also talking about their assistance in trying to put this club on the sort of financial footing that we would have liked to dream of when I first arrived at this football club.

Needless to say, there was no public talk of the shirt sponsorship involving what has just been announced.

Indeed, as recently as 10 May Dato Chan Tien Ghee said, in an open letter to fans, wrote:

The new club crest and home colours which were being discussed were intended to demonstrate the symbolic fusion of Welsh and Asian cultures through the use of the colour red and the predominant featuring of a historical Welsh dragon under the Cardiff City FC name. This would have been a springboard for the successful commercialisation and promotion of the club and its brand, driving international revenues and allowing us to fund transfers and success locally, thereby giving the club the best chance of competing at the higher reaches of competition.

This was not meant as a slight in any way shape or form on the club’s traditions or history which we recognise are the lifeblood of any club. It was intended as a positive change to allow us to adapt and embrace the future. Notwithstanding a number of rumours there were no further plans to turn the stadium red or make other radical changes. ” (2)

His use of “were being discussed” and “would have been” must have suggested to many, including myself, that the rebranding of club with a change in shirt colour and change in logo were now a dead duck, a not unreasonable understanding as he continued In the light of the vociferous opposition by a number of the fans to the proposals being considered as expressed directly to our local management and through various media and other outlets, we will not proceed with the proposed change of colour and logo and the team will continue to play in blue at home for the next season with the current badge.

He kept his word for less than a month.

In his open letter he also alluded to the current instability in the club’s business model thus: “It is clear to all concerned that the club simply cannot continue to function and exist in its current state, effectively losing large amounts of money each month, while acquiring more and more debt.”  No one can reasonably disagree with view.

In the debate that has broken out in the last couple of days since the announcement of the decision to do a U-turn (3), or to use the language you might expect from someone engaged in a ‘strategic marketing alliance’ – “Following a comprehensive review of wider supporter feedback via email, letters, media coverage and polls run via the official Supporters Club and Media Wales and as a consequence of the above commitment, Cardiff City Football Club will also reactivate rebranding proposals with a view to exploiting and maximising its brand and commercial revenues in international markets” – attitudes seem to have become polarised into two camps.  On the one hand, what is happening is a Faustian pact which involves selling the soul of the club.  On the other, the club’s survival depends on a business plan that will result in untold wealth pouring in from new fans in the Far East.  As is so often the case, it is difficult to engage in debate regarding the relative merits of these two views because they are based on different meanings of the word ‘club’ (4).  The present attempt at debate assumes that these are two mutually exclusive and opposed views, and that there are no other possibilities, no room for overlap, and no possibility of compromise.  That certainly seems to be the view of the Malaysian investors.  Which raises a number of issues in itself.

It suggests that the future of the club hangs on the fickleness of future supporters in the Far East who a) would support a club in a red shirt but not one in a blue shirt, and that b) providing the club’s shirt is red and has a dragon on it they will support in sufficient numbers to pay off the rest of the ‘Langston debt’, reinvigorate the club’s fortunes (in both senses of the word), and allow the investors to see a return on their investment.  As to a), I think this is simplistic and over-stated.  As to b), I can understand the Malaysian investors looking to the marketing success of Manchester United, but they might better have a word with Balram Chainrai, or those behind the K&K Shonan Management Corporation (5), erstwhile ‘saviours’ of Plymouth Argyle.

What is happening at Cardiff is little short of seeing owners who view a club as a commodity which can have some brand value spray-painted onto it to make it stand out from the rest.  A simple question to Dato Chan Tien Ghee – if the key to your success lies in owning a red club, why didn’t you buy a red one?  If the answer is simply ‘Well, Peter hadn’t got a red one in his briefcase to show us’, God preserve us.

Others have tried this drastic rebranding, with some commercial success.  An obvious example is that of SV Austria Salzburg, which Red Bull bought and rebranded as FC Red Bull Salzburg in 2005, complete with change in club colours and logo.  The new club has enjoyed considerable success since the takeover, but the old club had also, and that is where the comparison begins to break down.  Red Bull bought an already successful club and turned it into an even more successful one.  But in doing so they alienated fans to such an extent they started a new club, which they called SV Austria Salzburg, and which has already climbed, Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester style, from the seventh tier of the Austrian football pyramid to the third tier.

I’ll leave my final thought to the SV Austria Salzburg fans who are reported as having raised this banner in the past few days.

Posted in Cashflow, Debts, Fans, Investors, Marketing, Merchandising, Ownership, Stadium, Strategy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Magic of Football – still there in the Cups?

Posted by John Beech on January 27, 2012

It’s increasingly difficult to see any magic in the beautiful game other than black magic, especially when you look at it from a financial perspective.  You only need to think of the narrow escapes at Plymouth and Wrexham recently, and both Portsmouth and Darlington are standing on the edge of the precipice.

The Cups may be a different matter however.  Recently Louise Taylor suggested that the FA Cup Third Round had failed to cast any magic on fans (1).  Below I’ve taken her data and, in italics, added some more.  It struck me that whatever magic there might be would be associated with the possibility of a giant-killing, or, as the BBC have started to call it, a ‘cupset’.  Did the possibility of a cupset bring out the fans, especially in the case where the ‘minnow’ was playing at home.

Home Club

Tier

Away Club

Tier

Away – Home Tier

FA Cup attendance

Average league attendance

Difference

MK Dons

3

QPR

1

-2

19,506

8,217

11,289

Swindon Town

4

Wigan

1

-3

13,238

7,887

5,351

Bristol Rovers

4

Aston Villa

1

-3

10,883

6,122

4,761

Gillingham

4

Stoke

1

-3

9,872

5,482

4,390

Macclesfield Town

4

Bolton

1

-3

5,757

2,222

3,535

Fleetwood Town

5

Blackpool

2

-3

5,092

1,781

3,311

Dagenham & Redbridge

4

Millwall

2

-2

3,396

2,161

1,235

Crawley Town

4

Bristol City

2

-2

3,779

3,181

598

Brighton and Hove Albion

2

Wrexham

5

3

18,573

18,595

-22

Chelsea

1

Portsmouth

2

1

41,529

41,632

-103

Manchester City

1

Manchester United

1

0

46,808

47,013

-205

Doncaster Rovers

2

Notts County

3

1

9,535

9,750

-215

Peterborough United

2

Sunderland

1

-1

8,954

9,233

-279

Liverpool

1

Oldham

3

2

44,556

44,857

-301

Tottenham Hotspur

1

Cheltenham

4

3

35,672

36,071

-399

Sheffield Wednesday

3

West Ham

2

-1

17,916

20,041

-2,125

Barnsley

2

Swansea

1

-1

7,380

10,719

-3,339

Norwich City

1

Burnley

2

1

22,898

26,516

-3,618

Nottingham Forest

2

Leicester

2

0

18,477

22,224

-3,747

Watford

2

Bradford

4

2

8,935

12,731

-3,796

Birmingham City

2

Wolverhampton

1

-1

14,594

18,682

-4,088

Fulham

1

Charlton

3

2

20,317

25,315

-4,998

Middlesbrough

2

Shrewsbury

4

2

12,631

18,164

-5,533

Coventry City

2

Southampton

2

0

9,000

14,813

-5,813

Everton

1

Tamworth

5

4

27,564

33,407

-5,843

Reading

2

Stevenage

3

1

11,295

18,554

-7,259

Sheffield United

3

Salisbury

6

3

10,488

18,559

-8,071

Hull City

2

Ipswich

2

0

10,246

18,922

-8,676

West Bromwich Albion

1

Cardiff

2

1

12,454

24,794

-12,340

Derby County

2

Crystal Palace

2

0

10,113

26,133

-16,020

Newcastle United

1

Blackburn

1

0

30,876

48,866,

-17,990

Totals

2.29

2.32

1

522,334

602,644

-80,310

I have added the away teams, the tiers in which each team plays, and the difference between the tiers at each game.  The list has been sorted into an order from the greatest increase to the greatest drop in the number attending.

The results are not entirely surprising.  Where the home team is two or more divisions below the away team, the fans have turned out in extra numbers.  At games like Everton v. Tamworth and Sheffield United v. Salisbury, the home fans staying away outnumber any boost in the ‘minnow’s’ away following.  The two biggest differences are at matches between clubs in the same division.  Overall there is a fairly clear picture of the FA Cup lacking magic except when a home team might just cause a cupset.

Below is a graphic representation with a rather unscientific trendline.

It’s unscientific in that there are many variables at work here, including, for example, the distance away fans have to travel, and, in any case we are dealing with fairly small numbers of games.

One difficulty is that a scientific look at this phenomenon would require details of ticket allocations for away fans (and implicitly therefore home fans, given that stadium capacity is known) and the percentage of these which were sold.  Does anyone know a single source on the internet which gives these?  This would be an interesting topic for research as the outcomes would provide a basis for a scientific allocation of tickets for away fans.

Posted in Community, Fans | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Banning Orders

Posted by John Beech on September 10, 2011

The banning of a fan, whether by a club or by a court, is a contentious issue.  SjMaskell has an interesting and thought-provoking posting up on just how easy it could be to find yourself banned under Section 14 (B) of the Football (Disorder) Act, without ever being charged, let alone convicted.  I wonder how often that is used in comparison to bannings under Section 14 (A) – those which follow from a conviction.  I wonder too how many fans realise they can be banned without ever having been convicted of an offence.

Banning is not a topic that I have frequently blogged on.  In fact the only previous occasion was when I compared the Crawley Town lifetime ban, imposed on an idiot who they claimed wasn’t one of their fans in spite of the fact that he appeared as one of their own on their official website, with the Stevenage Town fan who received a six-year ban for assaulting one of his team’s players on the pitch.  I thought at the time that, notwithstanding the fact that nothing could be said in way of mitigation of the ‘Crawley Town’ fan’s inept behaviour, a life-time ban seemed inappropriately harsh for inept but offensive behaviour, especially when compared to the act of punching a player on the pitch, and I don’t feel any differently now.

Does anyone have any data sets on banning orders?  This topic seems worthy of further research and analysis.

In the meantime, steady as you go when engaging in banter with fans you don’t know – you never whether they have ‘history’.  Should you find yourself being unfairly treated, the people to contact are the Football Supporters’ Federation, who can offer a range of advice and active support.

Posted in Fans | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

A day of reckoning

Posted by John Beech on May 23, 2011

I managed to follow the great play-off between AFC Wimbledon (to whom, many congratulations) and Luton Town (to whom, commiserations) at least live online.  Football at its most exciting.  I wonder if Andy Burnham chose quite the right words though when he tweeted “Wimbledon back in Football League. Brilliant. A great victory for all football supporters over the money men. Well done to all at AFC.”  I’m sure he wasn’t referring to Luton as ‘the money men‘, although his comment would have been entirely appropriate if Wimbledon had beaten Crawley Town.

Yesterday, with the final day of Premier League games, unfortunately found me in the Tirol in a hotel room, arriving and logging on just after the games had started.  Heady stuff, and probably the most exciting afternoon in the PL all season.  As Alan Hansen was moved to write (1), “The big winner has been the Premier League itself, because this season has shown it to be the most exciting of the lot. ”  I’m not sure that I would enirely agree with his argument.

It struck me, particularly as I was feeling somewhat removed from the action, that it was distinctly odd that all the excitement was over who would or wouldn’t be relegated.  Aston Villa v. Liverpool, Everton v. Chelsea, and Fulham v. Arsenal were attracting very little attention from the twitterati.  Is this the grand scheme of things that the greedy breakaway Chairman of the old First Division envisioned some twenty years ago?  I came to the conclusion that in fact, yes, it was, had they bothered to think their plans through.  To me it is yet another symptom of what is wrong with the governance of English football.  Who is or isn’t relegated is clearly an important part of the general excitment of football, but it surely shoudn’t be the major focus.

The sacking of Ancelotti (2) because “this season’s performances have fallen short of expectations and the club feels the time is right to make this change ahead of next season’s preparations” to me provides yet more evidence of just how dysfunctional the Premier League has become.

Relegation from the Premier League undoubtedly puts serious financial pressure on a club.  When the drop in broadcasting revenues is netted off against the parachute payment, one is looking at a drop of £30m-£25m in revenues.  To this must be added a drop in matchday revenues (reduced attendance and lowered ticket prices) and a drop in merchandising sales, although these will vary from club to club, depending on the loyalty of their fans, in particular how large the core of ’till I die’ fans is.  Clubs may face a contractual drop in sponsorship fees, and may or may not have had the wisdom to include relegation clauses in their players’ contracts.  In other words, any club relegated faces a financial problem, but some may face significantly harder problems than those who had planned for the eventuality.  Clubs will also be in different states of financial health to start with.

Last week I was asked by BBC West Midlands to review the prospects for Wolves and Birmingham City should they be relegated.  On virtually every financial measure Wolves looked far more resilient to facing the drop than Birmingham City.  West Ham will undoubtedly face serious difficulties too, and only Blackppol look reasonably equipped to face the drop.

The Football League season is not quite finished, but further down the pyramid things are clearer with respect to next season.  AFC Wimbledon and Crawley Town are joining the Football league, the epitome of fan ownership and ‘benefactor’-induced financial doping respectively.  At the other end of the Conference National, it’s goodbye to Southport, Altincham (whose luck in benefitting from other clubs’ financial problems finally ran out, Eastbourne Borough, and Histon.  I’m sorry to see Eastbourne Borough go down as they were the most senior English club which is a Community Interest Company (CIC).  As an interesting aside, the Scottish Premier League may well have a CIC as a menber in the coming season – St Mirren (3).  This is a case that is well worth following, as the current owners are seeking to sell the club in a way that was  “making sure it remained sustainable and debt-free” (4).

Lower down the pyramid, the upcoming movements are plotted here.  Good to see resurrection clubs AFC Telford and Farsely on the way up.  It’s interesting to note that Ilkeston are listed as ‘reinstated’, good news for their fans following their resurrection (5), but I wonder what, for example, King’s Lynn fans or Grays Athletic fans will make of the reinstatement decision.

Finally I turn to a football story that is relevant to me in my immediate circumstances, but which does not seem to have well covered by the English-speaking  media, although due credit to Yahoo! Sport (6) for being an exception.  The story quite simply is that a major derby match between Rapid Vienna and Austria Vienna was abandoned after 26 minutes following a major pitch invasion – see here and  here.  Disturbing images that we hope we will not see moving further northwards and westwards.  After thirty minutes of disruption, the police felt unable to guarantee the safety of the players in a resumed match.  We seem to have moved onward from such dark days in England, and it was good to note the Birmingham City fans staying on at White Hart Lane to show what they had in common with Spurs fans (7).

Mind you, I suspect that “Thursday night, Channel Five” is not really going to catch on on the terraces.

Posted in Broadcasting rights, Costs, Economic impact, Fans, Football Conference, Governance, Merchandising, Premier League, Promotion, Pyramid movement, Relegation, Revenues, Sponsorship | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

How utterly, utterly absurd!

Posted by John Beech on April 20, 2011

There are reports that a Dubai Sheikh is set to buy a La Liga team, possibly Getafe, and add the words ‘Team Dubai’ to the club’s name (1).  This is as absurd as Manchester City becoming Manchester City Team Abu Dhabi, for example, or Chelsea becoming Chelsea Team Chukotka, only to be renamed Chelsea Team Moscow if another report is to be given any credence (2).

It betrays both a crass view of a club as the owner’s plaything (you can add your own bit here about Fayed, Fulham and Michael Jackson here) and a stunning inability to understand that a football club is essentially about local identity and local fans (insert your own more positive bit about Arsenal and ‘custodians’ here).

Of course, it could never happen in England.  Oh, hang on though, perhaps it’s a bit like having the word ‘Dons’ in your club’s name when you are not in Wimbledon (or, as a nod to my readers North of the border in Dumbarton, for that matter, Aberdeen).

Any offers on the most absurd possible name for an English club as ‘X Team Y’ reflecting the whim of the owner?

Posted in Fans, Organisational culture, Ownership | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »

Did Crawley Town get it right?

Posted by John Beech on February 18, 2011

As the excitement mounts over a certain FA Cup tie, one story in the news seems to have become just a flash in the pan.  However, it strikes me as one that has some puzzling, even disturbing, dimensions that deserve exploring.  And there are a number of unanswered questions.

I’m referring not to the decision of Crawley Town to accept sponsorship from The Sun (1) – I wonder if they would have been so eager if it were Liverpool rather than Manchester United – or to the fact that a significant share holding is owned by as yet unidentified ‘minority offshore shareholders’ (2), but to the infamous Munich video (3).

As Daniel Taylor reported in The Guardian reported (4):

Crawley posted the video on YouTube, as well as the club’s website, without realising that one of the people dancing by the stage frequently makes aircraft gestures to mock the tragedy in 1958 when the plane carrying United’s team crashed on the runway at Munich, killing 23 of the 44 passengers, including eight members of the team, on the way back from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade.

The video was filmed at Crawley’s ground last Tuesday, two days after the 53rd anniversary of the tragedy, and the same man can also be seen simulating a plane crashing into the ground and holding up his fingers to count one, then nine, then five and eight to symbolise 1958.

Clearly the fan’s actions are completely indefensible and go way beyond bad taste and deeply into the offensive.

Taylor also reports:

There were several takes for the video and Crawley have replaced the original one with a version that does not feature the Munich jibes. The club’s information is that the man responsible is a Crystal Palace supporter.

“The people who made the video are absolutely devastated,” Williams [Crawley Town Chief executive] said. “I’ve had Mike Dobie on the phone in tears because none of us had seen it. It was intended as a charity song and we would never condone behaviour like that. We have found another take missing the idiot who was responsible.”

If there were several takes of the video, it strikes me as extraordinary that no-one noticed the fan’s actions and that they weren’t noticed when someone was deciding which take to select for publishing on the website.  Have heads rolled for this incompetence, I wonder?

Interesting too is Crawley Town’s assertion that the person involved was a Crystal Palace supporter.  If it was as simple as that, why then was he present?  Is banning him from Crawley Town a punishment?

He has been banned from Crawley Town for life, a punishment you might well see as a reasonable response.  But it certainly seems inconsistent with the ban handed out to another miscreant in the news recently – the Stevenage Town fan who, on the pitch, punched one of the players of his own team and has received a ban from grounds not for life but for six years (5).  At least one of these two bans seems to me disproportionate.

There is also the issue of what Crawley Town then did – they informed the police.  The ‘fan’ has now been arrested “on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm or distress” (6).  Whether you consider this reasonable or not, it is in marked contrast to the fact that Sky did not report Andy Gray and Richard Keys to the police, nor was there police involvement following this little gem from Bernie Ecclestone (7):

In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done.

The latter in particular is surely far more likely to be considered as ‘causing harassment, alarm or distress‘, yet Ecclestone continues unabated as F1 supremo.  Again, I am not in any way defending the actions on the Crawley Town video or Bernie Ecclestone; I am pointing out that there is an inconsistency in the proportionality of response.

The mutual loyalty between ‘fan’ and ‘club’ is a moral minefield.  In this case, club has to accept some responsibility for the ‘fan’s’ actions because they broadcast them, not in a live broadcast but in a chosen take of the video which they produced.  I pose the question though of whether Crawley Town’s responses, through which it is the ‘fan’ who receives all the blame and all the punishment, are entirely appropriate.

Posted in Fans | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

‘Club’, ‘club’ or ‘club’??? A 3Cs model

Posted by John Beech on February 9, 2011

The evidence submitted by the Premier League to the House of Commons Select Committee prompts me to write again on the inherent ambiguity of the word ‘club’.  The evidence contains the following statement:

English football clubs are very resilient with 95% of the clubs in the Football League in 1923 still in existence today and the vast majority within two divisions of their 1923 position

How can you square this with the equally true statement that over half the clubs in the top 92 have suffered insolvency events since 1990, with frequent cases of Administration and a new company being formed by new owners?  The difference, of course, lies in what exactly is meant by the word ‘club’.

In one significant respect it is not a word that should, in any case, be applied to today’s ‘clubs’.  It dates from the nineteenth century when football clubs were indeed members’ clubs, run by and for their members, associations of two or more people united by a common interest or goal, but professionalisation of the game at the end of that century meant that the formation of a limited company became the only practical way to operate.  ‘Members’ disappeared from the equation.  The use of the word ‘club’ persists, however, nearly always at least in the actual name of the company.  A breach of the Trades Description Act perhaps?

If we ignore the meaning ‘members’ clubs’ then there are to me three distinct meanings, and they are all too easily confused.

First there is the social construct.  This is the ‘club’ that fans normally think of as being the club.  It doesn’t actually exist in any formal sense, but is incredibly ‘real’ to its supporters.  It provokes the ‘till I die’ element and the tattoos.  It is built on heritage, culture, mentality and mythology.  To illustrate it, I have used in presentations a photo of the famous John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood.  It is notable indeed for its longevity.  It survives the disappearance and (later) resurrection of a club, and often with slight changes in name – think Aldershot; think Accrington Stanley.  Or conversely, don’t think Wimbledon and MK Dons – it is precisely the construct of ‘Wimbledon’ that to some extent is still contested, a fight over ‘Whose Wimbledon is it anyway?’.  (I’m sure readers don’t need telling the answer by the way!)  This example serves well to show how this social construct is also embedded in location and identity, which gives it its permanence.

In short, it is the club as construct that fans support.  There is no inconsistency other than the use of the word ‘club’ when fans find themselves in conflict with the owners of the ‘club’ (and, remember, there are no longer members of the ‘club’), to use a second meaning – the club as company, a different  meaning.  My loyalty to Pompey – the club as construct – does not in any way automatically transfer to a loyalty to Messrs. Mandaric, Gaydamak, Al Fahim, Al Faraj, Chainrai or indeed Uncle Tom Cobleyski.  I doubt too that John Eastwood has been tempted to have any of their faces as tattoos.

This distinction between club as construct and club as company is an important one.  In particular, it should be considered when desperate directors call on fans to get the collecting boxes out to save the club.  fans will certainly want to save their club as construct, but want to think twice about saving their club as current company, i.e. the current board of directors.

The club as company does not show the longevity, or continuity, that club as construct does.  Frequently the inclusion of a bracketed year in the company’s name is an indication of discontinuity, for example, Middlesbrough Football and Athletic Club (1986) Ltd., Wrexham Football Club (2006) Ltd.  95% of the (football club) companies around in 1923 are most definitely not still in existence!

The third version of club is the club as crew, in other words the players.  The crew has a continuity, but no consistency of membership over time.  The crew is a case of Trigger’s broom, with players coming and going, and sometimes reappearing in an opposition team.  The days of one-club players such as Jimmy Dickinson (Portsmouth) or Jack Charlton (Leeds) are long gone.  As fans we show them our loyalty, but the minute they leave our loyalty tends to evaporate, as we perceive a lack of loyalty to the club as construct on their part.

Three different meanings of the word ‘club’ with quite significant difference in the loyalty we show them, in longevity and in continuity.  Is it just petty academic differences?  I think not.  For fans, it is the construct that matters ultimately.  Directors have been known to have no concern for club as construct; the postings on this blog can certainly suggest some examples.

The important distinction to me is the fans’ view of club as construct as opposed to the directors’ perspective of club as company.  My blood boils when directors use the club as construct to get fans to help them hold on to power in the club as company.  There are certainly situations when fans might well be advised to not donate to collections, as this can just prolong the mismanagement of their beloved club.

Mind you, confusing, at haste, club as construct with club as crew can be a mistake to regret at leisure, as at least one Liverpool fan must now be doing.

Posted in Fans, Governance, Identity, Ownership, Players' careers | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Another fan rescue

Posted by John Beech on December 24, 2010

Following on from my posting yesterday, it is interesting to note that another ‘fan rescue’ has taken place this week, and one which may well have seen a club survive rather than fold, thanks to the generosity of one (or possibly  more than one) fan.

The matter had become public back in March, when Hartlepool United (singular since 1968 when the two boroughs of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool amalgamated, in case you’re wondering) raised a winding up petition against Billingham Town (1), who play in the Northern League Division 1.  The connection between the two clubs is that Hartlepool reserves play at Billingham’s Bedford Terrace ground.

As an outsider it’s quite difficult to get a sense of right and wrong in the dispute, and the two parties themselves do not agree on the facts.  Hartlepool have been seeking a sum of £10,443.97, and Billingham have been, and continue to be, seeking to distance themselves from the debt, saying it had been incurred by the ‘previous regime’.

According to the Billingham website, Hartlelepool had invested in the redevelopment of Bedford Terrace, but “in 2009 things turned sour with Hartlepool and [sic] when they took away the goalposts prior to Town’s first game of the season. Town’s committee hurriedly obtained some temporary posts and the game against Bishop Auckland took place.” (2)

Hartlepool responded to the story breaking with a detailed statement here.  One thing which seems indisputable is that the dispute between the clubs had been simmering for some time.

It has been in and out of court over most of the last year, and in October Billingham turned down the offer from an anonymous fan to pay off the debt (3).  The situation is complicated by the fact that Stockton Council own the freehold to the ground.

Matters came to a head this week.  The money has now been paid, and according to Billingham, “Hartlepool United have apparently found ‘a third party willing to make payment in full of all sums claimed under the winding up petition’. This was nothing to do with us and we do not even known the identity of that third party.” (4).  The Hartlepool version of events (5) refers to “third parties who did not want to see [Billingham Town FC] wound-up“.

My take on all of this is not to take sides – I don’t know enough of the facts – but rather to wonder how a customer, or customers, (i.e. fan, or fans) should step in to save a business (i.e. Billingham).  It just doesn’t happen in other business sectors.  It certainly doesn’t surprise me that a fan or fans should feel that strongly about their club.  What strikes me though is how again the fan proves to be the crucial stakeholder in the survival of the business, something which many a board should take note of.  Too many boards show a depressing indifference towards fans, an attitude which I find strange on business grounds alone.

~       ~       ~       ~       ~       ~       ~

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all the blog’s readers.  Postings may be a tad patchy over the next week, but normal service will be resumed very early in the New Year.

Posted in Debts, Fans, Stadium | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Green Army to the rescue

Posted by John Beech on December 22, 2010

It’s a shameful state of affairs when a business can’t even pay its lower-paid workers on time at Christmas.  All the more shaming that its customers should step forward to the rescue.  That may not be an analysis that immediately occurs to a football fan, but that is precisely what has happened at Plymouth Argyle (1).

Argyle fan Ian Newell, through PASOTI (Plymouth Argyle Supporters on the Internet) have started a campaign to raise money for the club’s non-playing staff, who were paid late in November, and for whom there is uncertainty over their December pay cheques.  As Ian puts it, “We want to help the lads and lasses who we see every other week at Home Park, but we also want to show to people like Sir Roy Gardner [chairman], and Keith Todd [executive director], that the normal rank and file fan seems to think more of their staff than they do.  The Plymouth directors should hang their heads in shame for what has happened to this club and the way they have treated their staff.”  Well said Ian.

The club offers the following on their website, describing what happened following the extension to HMRC’s winding-up petition until February: “The club then applied for a validation order to allow us access to our banking facilities, which had been ‘frozen’ pending the winding-up hearing.  On Monday, we were duly given limited access to our account, enabling us to carry out transactions essential for our immediate trading needs.  This meant we were able to pay a majority of the Home Park office staff in full; however, the playing staff and some office staff have received a partial payment.” (2)  Which is fine as an explanation, but certainly doesn’t constitute an excuse.

Three cheers for Ian and PASOTI, and three boos for Sir Roy and gang.

Not that this is a unique occurrence.  Pompey fans stepped in earlier this year to pay club creditors St John’s Ambulance when the club went into Administration (3), as did Crystal Palace fans (4).  And see too A good news story? for football club staff so loyal that they were willing to take a ‘pay holiday’, where I cited five instances.

It’s a shameful state of affairs in any business sector that this should be a worryingly often repeated incidence.  It’s not exactly the case that there isn’t money going into the game – it’s just pouring out in obscene amounts to an elite amongst the employees.   In the Christmas spirit, I would point out that David James and colleagues at Portsmouth did put their hands in their pockets to keep some of the ground staff away from the dole queue (5).  Again in the Christmas spirit, perhaps his greedier colleagues might like to think twice as they sit by and let their agents push their salaries up to even more ridiculous levels. Who knows – perhaps they might even donate to the fund.

DETAILS OF HOW TO MAKE A DONATION CAN BE FOUND HERE.

Posted in Fans, Human Resource Management | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

FSF Writer of the Year Award for 2009/10

Posted by John Beech on December 16, 2010

As this is after all a personal blog, I hope readers will allow me this self-indulgence.  This morning I was presented with the Football Supporters’ Federation Writer of the Year Award by their Chair Malcolm Clarke.

The funny angle reflects not our drunkenness but rather the fact that Malcolm is very tall!

I must say, I’m dead chuffed!  I’m particularly pleased to receive an award from the FSF as I really appreciate the voice they have given fandom.  Their campaigns on behalf of individuals and for all supporters deserve widespread praise.

[Video available here]

Posted in Fans | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Manchester City’s aspirations of global hegemony?

Posted by John Beech on December 14, 2010

Manchester City are the latest addition to a strategic alliance of football clubs across the world which Atlético Madrid have been building.

Atlético’s international agreements go back as far as November 2009, when they started to collaborate with Shanghai Shenhua of China (1).  Collaboration was essentially sporting, with the use of player loans to gain playing experience.

The pace at which Atlético is developing strategic alliances has stepped up a gear of late: recently Atlético has signed up Muangthong United of Thailand (29 Oct; 2), Al Ain of UAE (12 Nov; 3), Raja Casablanca of Morroco (30 Nov; 4), Club América of Mexico (unknown date), and now Manchester City (8 Dec; 5).  Targets for further expansion are reported to include Brazil (Atlético Paranaense , Palmeiras and Internacional), USA (Red Bull New York, San Jose and Chivas USA) and Japan (Yokohama Marinos and FC Tokyo).

Not surprisingly the emphasis within this alliance is no longer so clearly sporting (6).  To quote David Redshaw of A Different League:

The pioneering scheme aims to seek sponsorship and expand each club’s image to all continents while sharing information on players through a wide scouting network. It also comes at a good time for Atlético as they need investors to help finance the construction of their new 73,000-capacity stadium, La Peineta, which will cost around £175m. The club hope to move in for the 2012/13 season and there are also plans to build a state-of-the-art sports city in the Alcorcón area of Madrid.

He also reports that Atlético have asked La Liga if they can play home games at 12:00.  This would allow their games to be shown live at peak times in the Far and Middle East.  Amazingly, Atlético “received a favourable response from their own supporters clubs who have agreed the change of hour is the way forward“!  There’s more: “a pre-season tournament involving all ten is already being lined up before the start of next season“.

It’s the now increasingly familiar sound of the ‘untapped markets’ argument.  What seems to be being forgotten is the tapped market – loyal local fans.  Sport and business are troublesome bed fellows at the best of times, but surely it doesn’t make sense to kick one of them out of bed.  In any case, the need to boost revenues is rather less significant to Manchester City than to Atlético.  Manchester City have probably the most free-spending benefactor ever to grace the director’s box of an English football club.

But wait…  What’s that on the horizon?  Oh dear, it’s UEFA’s Financial Fair Play protocol.  To keep on spending at the rate Manchester City is becoming used to (see an earlier posting Manchester City following in Pompey’s footsteps), they are going to have to do something about boosting their revenues if they want to carry on being a Viv Nicolson (click here if she was before your time!).

Ironically, a measure designed to reign in spending unearned money may well result in a situation that leaves loyal fans fuming at how to raise the money for global air fares and having to reschedule their Saturdays during the main season to accommodate kick-off times, all for the benefit of new fans in the Far East.  Yet another example of what can only be described as the Harlem Globetrotterisation of English football.

How long before the Premier League is reduced to the ten teams with the richest benefactors endlessly touring the world playing exhibition matches in front of currently ‘untapped’ fans, and to hell with the real fans?

Posted in Fans, Globetrotterisation | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Pride and prejudice

Posted by John Beech on November 13, 2010

Prejudice is always a hard one.  Can we really be so certain that someone else’s position is irrational and wrong?  To what extent should we take account of the context in which opinions are expressed?  Is football really the place to drag personal ideologies in to?

Certainly the last week or so has seen more than it’s share of issues.  Vlatko Markovic, the head of the Croatian Football Federation, has caused a storm of protests about anti-gay remarks he made in a newspaper interview (1).  He is now threatened with court action (2), and has subsequently apologised (3).  Not that that is particularly significant – it is the bedrock of prejudice that underlies the original remarks that is disturbing, and court action and an apology will not result in a sudden change of perspective.

Not the we don’t have issues nearer home.  In a different area of prejudice, there has been the anti-poppy protest by some Celtic fans [the offending banner can be seen here].  If instinctively you condemn the banner, and see Celtic and Rangers as a simple Catholic Republican v. Protestant Unionist divide, try looking at these two blog postings: Remembrance Sunday: An Alternative View and the response Let Me Wear My Poppy With Pride! (they come from an excellent website called The Celtic Underground, which is run by a group of angry middle-aged men, so it’s bound to get my vote [oops! betraying my own prejudices, but you may have already spotted them!]).  Together they make a compelling case against stereotyping fans, and for the complexity of issues that are often dismissed as ‘black or white’.

Even nearer home, we have seen what I would view as prejudice manifesting itself in a football match that may yet not be scheduled – AFC Wimbledon v. MK Dons.  Now, many readers will object to the name I have chosen to use for the latter team, preferring the soubriquet ‘Franchise’.  To them, it is the club that should not be allowed to dare to speak its name.

Their current anger, and I have no wish to increase it, is understandable.  Some sections of the media have been presenting this pairing as some kind of derby match.  This, I would suspect, is simply because as this is the first time the clubs will have met, and the pairing is a unique one – there are no direct comparisons to be made in the English game yet, and so people tend to fall back to assuming, wrongly, that the closest comparitors provide an example to be used for contextualisation.  One thing which some Wimbledon fans seem to forget – those who are offended that the two clubs have been bracketed as ‘rivals’ – is that rivalry is rarely two-sided.  Many Coventry City fans, for example, would see Aston Villa as deadly rivals, but I doubt that few of the latter’s fans would reciprocate this feeling.

What the possible meting has undoubtedly stirred up is long-held emotions, hatreds even.  These I would personally label as ‘prejudices’.  I’m very aware of why they are felt so strongly, but there seems to me to be an irrationality in the way they are being applied by some fans, and a dangerous one at that.  It’s the invocations to neither forgive nor forget that bothers me.  ‘Never forget’ I have absolutely no problem with – if you ‘forget’, you have no basis for advocating ‘never again’, which I would certainly advocate.  ‘Never forgive’ is, on the other hand, distinctly more problematic.  Its totemic presentation begs the rather vital question of who is to be forgiven or not.  In this case the obvious contenders are Sam Hamman, Pete Winkelman and the FA.  Current fans of MK are a rather less obvious contender, and yet it is they who bear the brunt of the abuse and hatred, oh, sorry, banter.

There has even been talk about possible violence at such a game.  If there should be, perhaps it will bring home to those who engage in ‘banter’ that there is a fairly thin line between their position and that of the Russians who defended the Odemwingie poster as ‘banter’.  Talking of violence is too often a self-fulfilling prophecy, typically if the context is overtly or covertly one of prejudice.

Peace and reconciliation(and bear in mind that I am based in Coventry [3], and in Coventry University [4], so I recognise that I am open to accusations of prejudice towards those two virtues) between football fans is possible.  A great example can be found North of the border this very week (5).  Let’s hope that, should the encounter in England happen, banter will take a back seat, and that we do not carry on passing on our own prejudices to the next generation of fans, who then feel the need to express the strength of their identity with their club through some rites-of-passage act of mindless violence.  Let’s see a bit more of the ‘yours in football spirit’.  After all, you don’t have to be prejudiced to be a loyal club fan.  Or am I wrong?

[In an act totally unrelated to this posting and the cages I may have inadvertently rattled in South West London, I'm off at silly o'clock during the coming night for our rather delayed 'summer' holiday.  I expect to be offline from late this evening for the best part of a fortnight, so there will be a disruption to both moderating of comments, and postings.]

Posted in Fans, Identity, Media | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Political correctness in South Africa

Posted by John Beech on June 16, 2010

You  wait over a week for a World Cup story to come up on this blog and then three come along almost at once!  This one, the second, has a very direct connection with English football finance.

Nadeem Khan, a member of the South African Liverpool Supporters Club, accompanied by his wife and child, put up a banner at the Germany v. Australia game on Sunday night in Durban among other supporters’ banners (full story here).  About half an hour into the game he was somewhat surprised to see three security officials taking it down – and subsequently it was destroyed by FIFA officials!  His ‘crime’, as in the Click Liverpool report, was identified by FIFA officials that “the flag contravened their rules against obscene or vulgar images being displayed at games, despite no such guidelines existing in FIFA’s ticketing terms and conditions.” The only even remotely relevant prohibitions I can find in the official Fan Guide (p.52) are on racist or xenophobic material and on promotional or commercial material.

Well, judge for yourself (photo link to Click Liverpool site embedded here).

Liverpool fan Ziyaad Hassam outside Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg with the banner

Obscene?  An absurd suggestion.  Vulgar?  Au contraire!  I think it has rather tasteful connotations of nineteenth century trade union banners.

This was plain and simple censorship.  For the extremely heavy-handed handling of Hassam, click through to the full report here.  The same report also mentions two other incidents – “Two Irish fans were threatened with imprisonment for displaying an inoffensive flag during France’s game with Uruguay last Friday whilst Americans were also threatened with jail terms for holding up a banner claiming, ‘Wayne Bridge for USA’ during their clash with England.

I’m afraid I find this approach to fans all too typical of the FIFA way – the naked commercialisation of their activities has led them to lose touch with the fans.  The episode has prompted me to add a Censorship tag to the blog, and retrospectively add it to two previous postings.

Posted in 2010, Censorship, Fans, FIFA | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Warring at Walsall

Posted by John Beech on May 16, 2010

Rising up the pyramid when there are larger iconic clubs geographically close to you is always going to be difficult, because the size of potential fan base is constrained.  In the case of Walsall (League 1), within ten miles they have West Bromwich Albion (Premier League next season), Wolves (Premier League), Aston Villa (Premier League), and Birmingham City (Premier League).  That is not to suggest that Walsall is not capable of having a committed set of ultra-loyal fans; rather, it is to suggest that when ambition for the club is mentioned, it needs to be tempered with some realism.

The club was an early mover into a modern stadium, the Bescot opening in 1990.  It has a capacity of over 11,000, and conference facilities, allowing non-matchday revenue streams.  Its form in modern times has seen it fairly stably around its current level in the pyramid.  The size of the stadium has not really been a constraint, and of late it has not been well filled.

After a period of considerable turbulence, the club was taken over in 1988 by a consortium led by Maurice Miller, who appointed two directors, Ray Clift and Jeff Bonser.  Within ten years, Bonser was Chairman, a position he still holds, and owner of the stadium.  (For more on this turbulent period and the early years of this regime, a particularly useful source was a series called The Long Road to Bescot published on the Walsall-Mad website, but now seemingly taken down.*)

Given the continuity of ownership and the relative stability of the club within the period over the last decade, one might expect to see at least the emergence of a financially healthy club.  The accounts for the period available to me (1999/00 to 2008/09) make interesting reading.

  • Apart for the three years from 2002/03 to 2004/05, a profit has been achieved.  Losses were so great in that period however, a loss of just over £1m in 2002/03 in particular, that the average has been a loss of £137,000 a year.
  • Turnover grew to a peak of almost £8m in 2001/02, with a ten-year average of just under £6m – which is almost exactly the figure for 2008/09.
  • The wages/turnover ratio peaked at almost 73% in 2002/03, but in the past few years has been held at below 50%, a level which is unusually low for an English football club.  It is this figure that no doubt drives the complaints from fans of a lack of ambition.
  • Long-term liabilities leapt in 2003/04 by £1m to £1.4m.  By 2008/09 they had grown to £2.2m.
  • Directors’ remuneration has grown, for 2008/09 being £134,000.
  • There is nothing obvious in the version of the accounts I have seen to substantiate claims that the club is paying Jeff Bonser over £1,000 a day as rental for the stadium.  That said, there is no alternative figure explicitly stated either.

The overall picture is much what one might expect at a club owned by a ‘benefactor’ who is trying to run the club as a business.

The one football source of revenue over which a board does have a major control is matchday receipts.  Average gates at Bescot Park grew at the start of the decade, reaching a peak of just under 8,000 in 2003/04, a season in which the club was relegated from the Championship.  In the season just finished they had fallen 11.9% on the previous season to just over 4,000, putting only Hartlepool with a lower average in League 1, which overall averaged over 9,000 (although it should be remembered that the average is pulled up by the presence of Leeds United, Norwich City, Southampton and Charlton Athletic).

Whether you see a football club as a business, and fans are your ‘customers’, or you see it as a sports organisation which is a focal point of the local community, and your fans are, well, fans, it would not make sense to alienate them and drive away the one source of revenue which have some control over.  Here too there has been a stability in Bonser’s approach.  Consider this quote from him: “I have no intention to justify to anyone how I invest personal money. I have always viewed any personal investment I have made into commercial enterprises as the only way of securing the long-term future of league football for Walsall.”  This is from a statement he made in March 1998, reported in the Sports Argus as he threatened to sell the club.

The same report included the following:

Ken Morrall, chairman of the Supporters Club, who once spent a year on the Walsall FC board as the fans’ representative, hopes any new owner will talk to them.

He said: “Problems started when we asked the football club in 1995 if we could have a little breathing space from paying our £1,000 a month donations while we sorted out our finances.

“We just needed a couple of months, but the next thing we had been served with a writ claiming we had contravened the licence by letting in people who were not members.”

The supporters club claim that over the years they have handed over about £750,000 to help the football club stay in business.

Twelve years on, are relations between board and fans any better?  In a word, no.

Protest is not tolerated at Walsall under Bonser and Chief Executive Roy Whalley.  Banners recently raised against Bonser and manager Chris Hutchings provoked bans (1).  Predictably enough there were further protests at the next home game (2), resulting in more bans.  According to Whalley, the protestors would drive attendances down (3), an interesting example of cognitive dissonance.

At the final home game there was a protest in the form of a sit-in (4).  One fan unfurled a banner, and was ejected by stewards who showed a remarkable failure to notice the irony that the banner read ‘Freedom of Speech’.

Tempers may cool over the summer, but the underlying issues will simply fester.  At the very least, Bonser and Whalley might like to think a little about the advantages of good public relations – they seem to have been off the morning that was covered.  Unless there is some movement in the opposing sides, the club is in danger of ripping itself apart.  For a club with a modern stadium with good facilities for non-football revenue streams, a good measure of stability in terms of where they play in the pyramid, a loyal core fan base and a very clear sense of local identity, this would be just plain ridiculous.  ‘Dialogue not warfare’ would be my choice of banner.  I’m not optimistic though.

[In the light of problems with comments encountered by my friends at Twohundredpercent, I have decided to allow comments, but moderation is likely to take longer than usual for comments from readers unknown to me.]

* Andrew Van-Hagen has kindly contacted me to say that this excellent ‘The Long Road to Bescot’ five-part series, written by ‘Sadlad’, is now available as part of a Memory Lane section on his Walsall Web-Fans Forum: (A), (B), (C), (D) and (E).  Strongly recommended.

Posted in Assets, Benefactors, Censorship, Community, Fans, Identity, Ownership, Public relations, Stadium | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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