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! Football Finance

More unexpected ‘benefactor’ behaviour

Posted by John Beech on September 17, 2010

Following my last posting, two stories have caught my eye – at Altrincham and at Accrington Stanley.

For those not familiar with Altrincham’s business model, it would only be fair to provide some context.  In July 2002 Geoff Goodwin became the Chairman.  This followed  a period of considerable instability – an ex-director had threatened to serve a winding up petition, for example – and rising debt, said to have reached a level of £500,000.  Goodwin became the majority shareholder in April 2005; however, in January 2007 he announced that he would relinquish the post in May 2008, but by the end of season 2007/08 he had decided to carry on (1).

Apart from that wobble, Goodwin had held firm in bringing Altrincham into a period of relative stability, managing to turn a small profit most years.  Certainly he had been under pressure over the period he had been in charge, notably with three consecutive ‘great escapes’ from relegation.  There have been indications of increasing pressure of late – in July there was a call for fresh backers to come forward (2), and at the beginning of this month there was at least a possibility that the squad might need rationalisation (3).

So, it was not completely unexpected when Goodwin announced that he would be standing down as both Chairman and as a director (4).   He gave two reasons for his decision.  First, the fairly standard reason that ‘benefactors’ offer, that of ‘mounting pressures at work‘.  This is all too often the case as ‘benefactors’ do have higher priorities associated with their day jobs (an inherent weakness of the benefactor model is that the club cannot be their number one priority; you can’t after all seriously expect them to ignore their day job).

What was unexpected, at least to me, was his second reason: ‘his involvement with his son’s karting activities‘.  His 13-year old son is beginning to make a bit of a name for himself in karting circles apparently, and like any parent he wants to be supportive.  But on the other hand, he was a self-appointed benefactor of a football club.  The fact that his son’s karting comes first is perhaps understandable at a human level, but it makes a mockery of any notion that ‘benefaction’ offers a sustainable business model.  If your club is run by a ‘benefactor’, you will always be worried that his son is suddenly going to divert your interest and time through the discovery of some unusual talent.

The other announcement that , again to me, was unexpected was over at Accrington (see postings passim).  The club had almost been wound-up last year, and had only been saved by a dramatic last-minute accommodation between the intransigent old guard and wannabe owner Ilyas Khan.  Khan has made a great deal of being pro-Supporters Trust in his battle to gain control, but, as Ian King of TwoHundredPerCent pointed out at the time (5), “The white knight on the horizon at Stanley continues to be the Accrington Stanley Supporters Fund, which was recently formed by a group of fans and backed by Stanley shareholder Ilyas Khan. Khan has been trying to wrest control of the club for some considerable time now, and is said to have put £250,000 into the Fund, although the club is unlikely to see very much of this money unless Khan takes control of the club, a situation which the current owners are loathe to to agree to. Despite the name, ASSF is not a Supporters Trust, rather a vehicle for Mr Khan to take control of the club. Whether this is a completely desirable or not may not be known until he takes control of the club, if he takes control of it but, for most supporters, this seems like their only option.

In fact Khan seemed to back away from the Supporters Trust once he had got his feet under the boardroom table.  But wait!  Battle seems to have been resumed, according to a report yesterday: “Chief executive Rob Heys has called for an end to the war of words raging behind the scenes at Accrington Stanley FC. Non-executive chairman Ilyas Khan and managing director David O’Neill have had a long-running difference of opinion on how the club should be run, following the £308,000 tax debts last November that almost forced the club to be wound up.” (6)  The report also tells us that Khan “is now in talks with the Accrington Stanley fans to set up a Community Trust to run the club.”  What can this all mean?  Is this a regression to Plan A? There are more details of his new attempts to woo the fans here.

Apparently the club’s spin on events is “Following the recent public discussions involving Accrington Stanley Football Club Ltd, the club are now looking to internally resolve the many issues that have arisen over the past couple of weeks.  It is the club’s full intention to issue a detailed press release outlining the situation in its entirety, as soon as all outstanding matters have been legally resolved. During this time, Robert Heys will continue in his role as chief executive officer while continuing to work alongside managing director David O’Neill who will concentrate on the legal matters that have arisen.  The club has been instructed by its shareholders to call an AGM as early as possible in October and will announce this to all shareholders once the date is set.”  No doubt all will become clear in the fullness of time, but if any Accrington activists can cast some light in the meantime I would be pleased to hear from them.

What becomes ever clearer in the bigger picture is that the supporter-based co-operative model not only wins over the benefactor model because the committment to the club is ever-so-sustainable, but also because it avoids focussing all the power in the hands of just one individual.


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