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 ‘Public relations’

Sepp Blatter’s already legendary Jim Callaghan impersonation

Posted by John Beech on May 31, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wit and wisdom of Peter Hill-Wood

Posted by John Beech on April 14, 2011

With the sad loss of Danny Fizman, Peter Hill-Wood was moved, no doubt genuinely, to say:

“Danny Fiszman was a visionary Director, a gentleman and a true Arsenal fan.

“We are all deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend Danny. His voice, wisdom and presence around the football club he so dearly loved will be sorely missed.

“Arsenal Football Club will forever be indebted to Danny for his invaluable foresight and contribution during the move from Highbury to our new stadium.” (1)

Fiszman had just before his death sold his 16.11% shareholding in Arsenal to Stan Kroenke (2), allowing Kroenke to become the majority (62.89%) shareholder in the club.

Of Kroenke, Hill-Wood famously said in April 2007:

“Call me old-fashioned but we don’t need Kroenke’s money and we don’t want his sort. Our objective is to keep Arsenal English, albeit with a lot of foreign players. I don’t know for certain if Kroenke will mount a hostile takeover for our club but we shall resist it with all our might.

“We are all being seduced that the Americans will ride into town with pots of cash for new players. It simply isn’t the case. They only see an opportunity to make money. They know absolutely nothing about our football and we don’t want these types involved.” (3)

and that he would be “horrified if the club were to go across the Atlantic” (4).

Football management is indeed a funny old game.

Posted in Ownership, Public relations | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Open season on interns?

Posted by John Beech on March 10, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE – 12 March 2011

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

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

UPDATE – 29 March 2011

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

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

Run that past me again?!?

Posted by John Beech on December 3, 2010

As someone whose heart wanted England to get the 2018 World Cup, but whose head didn’t (in a nutshell, and amongst a number of reasons, we can’t afford it) I naturally had mixed feelings about our failure to win today.  ‘Failure to win’ is of course a massive understatement.  We presumably only attracted one vote from the other 21 FIFA Exco members.

FIFA, not known for its transparency, provides few metrics in its evaluation reports (available here).  They do however give a range of ratings related to risk.  Perhaps we had submitted a bid that was too risky.  Well, have a look for yourself:

ENGLAND NETHERLANDS / BELGIUM SPAIN / PORTUGAL RUSSIA QATAR
LEGAL EVALUATION
Government documents
Government guarantees Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Contractual documents
Hosting agreement Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Host city arrangements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Stadium agreements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Training city agreements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
Confirmation agreements Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Overall
Overall legal risks Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
OPERATIONAL RISK
Competition
Stadium construction Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
Stadium operations Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk
Team facilities Low risk Low risk Medium risk Low risk High risk
Competition-related events Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Transport
Airports and international connections Low risk Low risk Low risk High risk risk Medium risk
Ground transport Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
Host city transport Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
Accommodation
General accommodation Medium risk Medium risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
TV
International Broadcast Centre Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
NO. OF VOTES
Round 1 2 4 7 9 11
Round 2 2 7 13 10
Round 3 11
Round 4 14

The rating of ‘High risk’ occurs only three times in all the ratings for 2018 and 2022 contenders – twice for Qatar and once for Russia.

It would seem that, far from being risk averse, the FIFA Exco members favoured risky bids!

Of course, I’m falling into that old trap of assuming that they behaved and voted in a rational way.

So, if it wasn’t content that wooed them, perhaps it might have been style.  No metrics here, but my impression was that we had come to the party with just the right blend of banalities and photogenic children that had worked so well in Singapore.  Certainly our effort was no more nor less vomit-inducing than the oppositions’.  Certainly it was no less contrived.

Inevitably we come back to the process of selection as the root cause of England’s failure.  We didn’t jump through the right hoops.  We didn’t pound the ground or press the flesh hard enough.  We trusted Jack Warner.  We were naïve.  The core question is which of those are things we should not be happy with.

As we wake up the next morning, sadly free of the anticipated hangover, criticism continues to focus on the role of our media.  It was Panorama and The Sunday Times wot dunnit.  Whether it was or wasn’t will be endlessly debated, but that misses the point.  Having a free press with a healthy body of investigative journalists who are happy to point out that the emperor has no clothes is something we should celebrate rather than lament surely, even if we don’t like the outcomes.  There is a need to distinguish between the process of selection and the outcomes of that process.

As for the outcomes, there could have been (from all the countries in the world) far worse choices than Russia.  Have a look at this clip of their plans for stadiums.  Mind you, it would hard to find a less appropriate choice than Qatar to be the host of football’s crowning glory.  I’m sure many a fellow academic is already planning their research on the socio-cultural impact of 2022 on Qatar.  I suspect that either fans will stay way (I would recommend Amnesty Internationals’ latest report on Qatar before you book your flights) or Qatar will unleash a lot of unwelcome behaviour in its hotels, which will test their public relations arm to the limits.

As for the media, there are in fact examples of both excellent and diabolical commentary.  Topping my list of excellent commentary at the moment is Declan Hill’s Stumped, Unanswered Questions and an Organization with a Credibility Death-Wish, closely followed by David Conn’s contribution, Jens Sejer Andersen’s contribution, Paul Kelso’s contribution and Ian King’s reflections over at TwoHundredPerCent. Dishonorable mentions must go to the Daily Mail, and to an amazing attack on the ‘eight villains of the piece‘ by the Guardian, although the last of these appears to have been removed from their website.

If there is any criticism to be made of our media, it is that they raised our expectations too high.  The strength of our bid technically may well have encouraged them to do so, but they didn’t seem to have noticed that the decision is made not by a committee of wise and rational men, but rather by a group of malleable football D-listers.  The evidence was there, thanks to journalists like Andrew Jennings, but was perhaps not given the prominence in mainstream media over the years that it deserved.

Posted in 2018, Journalism, Marketing, Media, Public relations | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Pompey’s soap turns into pantomime

Posted by John Beech on October 23, 2010

The most recent events at Fratton Park would have been more at home in the King’s Theatre, where Jack in the Beanstalk opens in a few weeks time.

To give a flavour of the goings on, let me quote from the Portsmouth News Fratton latest update newsletter for today.  The four consecutive entries, in chronological order, are:

Cotterill hails Hermann deal as recovery continues [Friday 10:45]

Pompey could close and be liquidated [Friday 11:35]

Andronikou hopeful of Gaydamak deal [Saturday 03:02]

Ex-Hull City chairman wants to buy Pompey [Saturday 07:11]

A tad melodramatic by any standards – even Liverpool’s and Manchester United’s of the last week – I think you’ll agree.

So, mid-morning on Friday, everything looks by Pompey standards stable.  The long-running saga of re-signing Icelandic defender Hreidarsson has finally happened.  Not only that, he seems to be fully recovered from a bad Achilles injury which he suffered back in March.  But he presumably knew nothing of the club statement which was about to appear on the club website (1).  Notwithstanding the local newspaper’s scoop, the statement was not posted until 18:15.

To be fair, the statement does contain the sentence “it appears likely that the club will now be closed down and liquidated by the Administrators as they are unable to support the continued trading of the club“, albeit in the ninth paragraph.  The statement’s headline is “Sacha Gaydamak Puts Future Of Portsmouth In Jeopardy“, hinting at the possible purpose of the statement – to increase pressure on Gaydamak to sign the necessary papers.  The obstacle, at least according to the statement, is that “at the 11th hour the goalposts have been moved by Mr Gaydamak and this has now made the deal impossible to complete.”  Specifically “Mr Gaydamak has demanded a very significant upfront cash payment in order to allow the deal to proceed by releasing his security.

In pantomime tradition the, the response to the question ‘Is Pompey heading for liquidation?’ the answer appears to be ‘Oh yes it is!’.  That at least is what the twitterati thought, and, with retweeting of the news, the story begins to read that Portsmouth are going into liquidation.  Even my daughter-in-law was prompted to message me ‘Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time Portsmouth ‘likely to close down”, together with the link to a BBC story.

By quarter to seven the local BBC radio station had contacted me for a comment, and by ten past seven I was in the Coventry studio emphasising that this was a breaking story, with no doubt some twists to come.

Sure enough, Administrator Andrew Andronikou, apparently rather taken by the response he had provoked, was prompted to change ‘Oh yes they are!’ to Oh no they probably aren’t.’  By mid-evening Andronikou was denying the club’s imminent demise to The Guardian’s Jamie Jackson (2), and in the early hours of Saturday morning he told BBC Sport (3) “Yesterday evening’s activities were really a wake-up call for everybody to say ‘look, we just can’t sit here whilst everybody else finesses their position. It is about coming to the table and cutting a deal’

Among the journalists following the story, Nick Szczepanik and then the BBC’s Matt Slater were quick to rumble what was going on – an attempt to pressure Gaydamak through the media, one that went rather wrong because it was in a sense too successful.  The original ‘Oh yes they are!’ story was widely repeated internationally, generally without the later retraction.

What is strange about this PR fail is that Gaydamak, through his lawyers, has refuted the story, denying the allegations of his obstruction (4).  What the truth is we will probably never know.  All we can do is chalk it up to experience, and the Pompey fans among us hope that agreement and signatures really are close.  Hopefully one lesson has been learned – while lack of transparency is singularly unhelpful, selective transparency can have decidedly unexpected outcomes.

Posted in Journalism, Media, Ownership, Public relations | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Thin ice at Cardiff?

Posted by John Beech on August 18, 2010

The news of Craig Bellamy’s loan to Cardiff City, coming as it does on top of five other signings (Koumas, Heaton, Drinkwater, Oloinjana, and John), will have done much to lift the spirits of Bluebirds fans, and to offer them hope that this year they will make it to the Premier League following their recent disappointment.  Excitement in Cardiff has “seldom been so tangible” (1).  In the broader picture, the club now has the backing of Malaysian investor Dato Chan Tien Ghee (aka TG) too of course.

But is all as well with the club as might at first glance seem?

The recruitment of Bellamy has provoked a furious reaction North of the border, in Motherwell to be precise.  The background to this is the transfer of Paul Quinn from Motherwell to Cardiff last July for an estimated fee of £300,000 (2).  At the time Motherwell were in a CVA, having previously been in Administration.  Having turned small profits since agreeing the CVA in 2004, for 2008/09 the club had made a loss.

As is often the case, payment was agreed to be over a period of time.  Motherwell were due a payment of £100,000 last January and a further £75,000 this summer.  Neither payment has been made, and Motherwell are now claiming interest additionally.

Cardiff meanwhile have of course been through a traumatic period (see postings passim), appearing regularly in court to ward off winding-up petitions from HMRC.  On the other hand, there has been the much vaunted arrival of TG with a £6m investment at the end of May (3).  Not that the club’s woes immediately disappeared – they were last in court against HMRC just over a week ago (4), and the transfer embargo was only lifted the week before (5).  It was the subsequent spree of signings that have prompted Motherwell’s actions, although almost a month ago they had made clear their dissatisfaction with the fact that the Quinn debt was outstanding (6), declaring then “We have made clear to the board of Cardiff that we are left with no option but to pursue every possible avenue of recourse to secure our own club’s interests“.  Cardiff Chief Executive Gethin Jenkins responded by saying “We are fully aware of the debt owed to Motherwell and we are working to resolve the issue as soon as possible“.  Not quite hard enough it would seem.

On Friday Motherwell issued a writ against Cardiff City (7), with no-one from Cardiff City apparently attending the hearing at Hamilton Sheriff Court.  They did however offer to pay the money by installments – erm, isn’t that precisely what they have failed to do so far?  Motherwell Chairman John Boyle said “We’ve followed every football and legal regulation and we’ve been messed around. The bailiffs are coming towards Cardiff; be afraid. We will use every legal means at our disposal.”  Jenkins’ rather low-key response? “I see they jumped in ahead of us.  Our lawyers have been in communication with them and it will be resolved within the next seven days“.  Cardiff manager Dave Jones was reported this morning on BBC Radio Wales as suggesting dismissively that Motherwell were seeking “an opportunity to get on television“.

Motherwell are thus presenting themselves as the ‘David’ of the pairing, against ‘Goliath’ Cardiff, who barely seem to acknowledge that there is any problem.  By failing to score in the first half of the public relations game, Cardiff are in serious danger of giving the impression that they either can’t pay or won’t pay – either still on shaky financial grounds or cavalier in their attitude to paying for a player whose service they have had for a year.  Either way, it’s hardly an impression I imagine they would want to give.  It will not help them when they next dabble in the loan or transfer markets, and it gives easy ammunition to HMRC should they face each other again in court.  Not a smart move, as I would imagine that Cardiff’s scalp is up there with Portsmouth’s and Southend United’s as one they would dearly like to claim.

As a final thought, I am wondering what role, if any, Peter Ridsdale has played in the summer spending spree that kick-started Motherwell into action – when he stood down as Chairman in May, it was reported that he was “set to have a big hand in the Bluebirds’ transfer dealings this summer” (8).

UPDATE – 18 August 2010

Cardiff’s acquisition has attracted the attention of the Football League (A).  The club has been asked to prove they have the means to fund Bellamy’s loan move.  Without these assurances the League may refuse to register Bellamy.

Good to see this move.  As FL Chairman Greg Clarke says “Our job is to make sure there is an integrity of competition, that people don’t take on liabilities they cannot meet“.  Heaven forfend.

With an almost Risdalesque sense of self-rectitude, the club complains of Clarke “We are disappointed that he’s chosen to discuss these matters in public and will be in contact with the Football League on Thursday morning“.  No sense of having created the situation themselves then.  But at least slightly more sense of urgency than they have shown in dealing with Motherwell.

Posted in Debts, Public relations | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Who loves fans? Who doesn’t?

Posted by John Beech on July 26, 2010

There’s an interesting pair of stories in the news today.

First comes the news (1) that UEFA have introduced a new requirement in their club licensing requirements – the necessity for a club to appoint an operating supporter liaison officer (SLO).  The purpose of this rather clumsily named role is to “to ensure a proper and constructive dialogue between a club and its fans“.  The need for this is so fundamental and obvious that it is amazing that UEFA have only just come up with it!  In fact, they did so at the prompting of our own Supporters Direct (SD) and its SD Europe arm.  The SD website (2) offers this expansion on what exactly an SLO is:

Supporter Liaison Officers at clubs already exist in a limited number of European countries and primarily help improve the dialogue between the fans and the clubs they support. Most importantly, SLOs must be credible with fans, and therefore should have experience with and contacts to the networks in the fanbase at the club.

They inform the fans about relevant decisions made by the club management board and, in the other direction, communicate the needs of the fans to the board, as well as building relationships – not just with various fan groups and initiatives, but with the police and security officers, They will also engage with fan liaison officers of other clubs before matches to ensure that the fans behave in accordance with security guidelines.

To implement the new requirements, a network of SLO project contacts from each national governing body across Europe will be created and work together with the UEFA club licensing team and Supporters Direct to assist clubs and supporter groups improve communication in each of the 53 UEFA member associations. This year more than 600 clubs applied for a UEFA licence with many more applying for domestic licences based on the same or similar principles. Hence, the broad scope and significance of the SLO project.

Like the licensing system itself, the implementation and development of supporter liaison officers will be a tool to raise minimum standards; a dynamic system changing over time, and focussing on developing and improving the dialogue between the fans and the clubs.

An excellent development – here’s hoping it would be accepted throughout the English football pyramid rather than just by clubs hoping to play in Europe.

On the other hand, there is the news (3) that the vast majority (it appears to be all except Arsenal and Liverpool) of the Premier League clubs are simply ignoring the 2000 Premier League Charter which pledged that replica strips would be released every two seasons at a minimum.  Worst offenders are Tottenham, who have launched three new kits every year for six seasons in a row.  This coming season they will have different sponsors, and hence, it is reported, shirts, for their Cup games, resulting in no fewer than six shirts being offered, although at the time of writing only three shirts are being offered on the club website (4).

It’s not exactly difficult to see which is more pro-fan – UEFA or the Premier League.

Posted in Merchandising, Organisational culture, Premier League, Public relations | 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 »

The Portsmouth Horror Show

Posted by John Beech on April 24, 2010

It is to the credit of Andrew Andronikou, the Administrator, that with an unexpected transparency that he has published the report (1) to be presented to the creditors at the meeting on 6th May.  That said, there is little more that can be said to deserve the term ‘credit’ in this latest episode of the sorry saga of Pompey’s decline and fall.

The report sets out to the creditors the various options, which are essentially that they agree a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA) or the club is liquidated in an attempt to pay off the debts.  It is abundantly clear that, while the creditors cannot realistically expect to recover anything like all the monies owed to them (reports have suggested that the crucial figure missing from the report is settling for 23p in the £ [2]), liquidation would be an even less attractive option for the creditors.  Whether the creditors will accept this kind of level of payment remains to be seen, but it is difficult to see why Andronikou is so optimistic that a CVA will be agreed, although the quite what the situation is with prospective new owners, and their willingness or otherwise to contribute to paying off the debt, is, as yet, known only to Andronikou.

Inevitably the richness of financial data in the report provides the entrails to be picked over in order to assign blame for Pompey’s decline and fall.  A good starting point is the fact that wages had risen to the level of 109% of revenues, not exactly a sustainable business model.  It could only be sustainable with a benefactor prepared to keep pouring money into the club – a luxury that Portsmouth has not enjoyed of late.  A major tranche of the club’s debt is to previous owners – £39.2m in the form of unsecured loans and £14.2m secured against the stadium, the better part of half the debts – who are not prepared to write their money off, in effect, as equity in the way that Abramovitch or Gibson have done at Chelsea and Middlesbrough respectively.

Is it as simple then as attributing Pompey’s ills to their involvement with the ‘wrong sort of benefactor’? Well, only at a very simple level.  At the next level down in a hierarchy of causation, there is the issue of how it would have been possible to have avoided the wrong sort of benefactor.  Certainly these benefactors must accept a major part of the blame – after all, they chose to take on the role.

To me the story of Portsmouth since Gaydamak decided to walk away has been a savage indictment of the obvious inadequacies of the benefactor model, offering examples of a benefactor who gave up, a benefactor who simply didn’t have the necessary funding, a benefactor so disinterested that he never visited the club, and a benefactor who ended up in that position by default rather than by plan.

The media have tended to focus more on the mid-size debts, and there are plenty of rich pickings among the entrails here.  The staggering level of debt to agents, for example.  The largest is to Jaques Perais for the sale of Diarra to Real Madrid, a matter of over £2m.  So significant is the debt that Perais is on the Creditors committee (a first perhaps for football Administrations?), other members including two football clubs Stade Rennais and RC Lens (again perhaps a first?).

The small-size debts reveal a particular horror show.  Among is the shameful debt of £2702 to those stalwart supports of the game, St John Ambulance.  Pompey fans have a history of dipping their hands in their pockets – in 1976 SOS Pompey raised £35,000 [which would be of the order of £200,000 today] from fans to save the club (3) – and it is not surprising that fan Tom Purnell established a webpage to raise money to clear the disgraceful debt, something that was achieved in roughly a day (4).  Well done Tom!

Since the publication of the report, it has been suggested that the figure of £119m debts may yet rise further (3).  In particular, there is still some uncertainty over future bonuses and appearance fees for players that will need to be paid.  The Portsmouth Evening News has already uncovered two unlisted debts that are even more shameful (4) – the club owes two cancer charities almost £15,000, money already raised in their names.  The fans have shelled out over St John’s Ambulance, the players have shelled out to keep ground staff in their jobs (5), so isn’t it time that the former owners and/or the former Chief Executive dug deep to stop the club’s name sinking even lower?

I must admit that although I am not often shocked by new stories of appallingly bad management in English football, Andronikou’s report is exceptionally disturbing reading.  Just how many more wake-up calls do we have to have before the game gets itself properly in order? The self-serving Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore is right when he says Pompey’s problems are just that (6), but, unless the process of governance precludes the antics we have seen in the boardroom at Fratton Park of late, English football continues to head remorsely towards a brick wall.

Posted in Benefactors, Ethics, Governance, Insolvency, Ownership, Premier League, Public relations | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Spinmeister unspun? ;-)

Posted by John Beech on December 12, 2009

A new message has come through from Planet Ridsdale (1). It reads:

Cardiff City are delighted to announce that they have signed a settlement agreement with the Langston Corporation regarding the loan notes that were taken out in 2004.

This agreement, signed by both parties, therefore removes the threat of any further legal proceedings in the foreseeable future.

Cardiff City chairman and chief executive Peter Ridsdale said: “On behalf of Cardiff City Football Club, I would like to thank the Langston Corporation for their co-operation in this matter and Mr Sam Hammam for helping to facilitate this agreement.”

What could a ‘settlement agreement’ mean?  Was it the debt or the dispute that had been settled?  How come Sam Hammam, previously the arch-villain, was suddenly Peter’s new friend?

Even Auntie seemed puzzled when reporting this on her website.  With the judicious use of a pair of single quotes, she went with ‘Cardiff City ‘settle’ with creditors Langston‘ (2). The interview with Peter there gave some glimpses of what was actually meant though.

A crack team of lexicographers, grammarians, syntaxologists and even former NASA employees (decoding Peter Ridsdale is rocket science!) have managed to remove the spin and come up with the following translation. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but, for what it’s worth, here it is:

‘Langston could have dragged us back to court again if we didn’t start paying them back some of the money they lent us five years ago.  We might have lost, and been forced to actually start paying them their money back, plus we could have been lumbered with more legal costs.

‘Now this would prove a tad, shall we say, inconvenient, especially as we’ve lost money every year bar one since 1999, and just had an embarrassing little disagreement with the tax man (and please don’t mention 777).  We came up with this cunning plan to get our new chum, Mr Munto TG, to sub us.  Problem was, he wasn’t very happy with us still hanging around with Big Sam.

‘So, we gave in and said we’d start paying Big Sam back so we could get TG to start paying us to pay Big Sam back.  Brilliant or what!

‘Unfortunately our solicitors said we’d have to sign the agreement with Big Sam and his mates as well as get them to sign it. Still, January’s another year.’

Posted in Chutzpah, Debts, Insolvency, Public relations | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Pack Up Pompey?

Posted by John Beech on December 10, 2009

Well, according to the club itself in a statement issued this morning, “The club is not going into administration. If that were the case it would have happened at the end of September or early October. This week alone, HM Revenue and Customs were paid £2m and other historical arrears are being dealt with on an ongoing basis” (see 1 for full statement).  The qualification after the blunt denial at least confirms that what we all knew is true – these are deeply troubling times for the club.

Also in the statement we find “Much is happening behind the scenes but constant malicious rumours and speculation do not assist with the proposed major long-term funding that is currently being put in place“. Far be it from me then, a Pompey fan, to add to that speculation.

However, it is interesting to note that a denial from the club of impending Administration does not always mean that Administration is not so far away.  The denial is certainly not a classic contra-indicator, as in “The Board has complete faith in the manager”, but a cull through my records turned up the following denials, although to be fair it turned up a much larger number of denials that turned out to be correct predictions:

Pompey is not alone among Premier League clubs to deny, at various times, rumours of impending Administration.  These include West Ham, and last season Newcastle United were moved to deny that relegation would lead to Administration.

Certainly Pompey fans do not need to panic, but they should perhaps treat the reassurance with just the merest dash of caution.

Posted in Insolvency, Marketing, Public relations | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

 
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