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

Archive for November, 2010

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 »

Groundhog Day for the Trotters?

Posted by John Beech on November 12, 2010

Reading through my Bolton file certainly makes for consistent reading, although ‘consistently inconsistent’ might be more accurate.

We have to balance the books” he told us as far back as 2003 (1), adding “We can’t afford to spend any money we haven’t got. We’re not going to go down that route.”  A fan of Mr Micawber then.  Unfortunately, less than a fortnight later it emerged that Burden Leisure, the parent company of Bolton Wanderers, had debts of about £38m and the wage bill had risen from £5.2m to £21.7m during the previous financial year (2).

Later that month the Bolton financial model became clear – put your faith in a benefactor (3), but not some ‘johnny foreigner’, a thoroughly pukka British benefactor, Eddie Davies, a life-long Bolton fan, who lives in, erm, the Isle of Man.  As Gartside put it, “Without Ed’s support we would be watching a very different standard of football…  We can now sit down with the banks and have serious talks about restructuring our debts.

These themes – living within your means and depending on a good old British benefactor – constitute the consistency in that regularly recur in the years since.

This week we have seen the latest Burden Leisure figures published (4) – turnover from football operations was £54.0million, which was £2.2million higher than the 2009 total of £51.8million; the retained loss for the year was £35.4million; and the cost of retaining existing players resulted in the cost of wages increasing by 14% in the year to a total of £46.4 million from the 2009 total of £40.9million.

No wonder then that one of Gartside’s favourite themes of late has been the need for a salaries cap in the Premier League.  Bolton have certainly been one of the better behaved clubs in this respect, managing to keep wages/revenues at under 60% from 2004/05 to 2008/09 (see table here), an achievement shared only by Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool.

So ‘where is the inconsistency?’ you ask.  The calls for restraint on wages and keeping within ones income are fine and deserve to be more widely supported.  The living on debt mountain sustained by a rich benefactor are not – they are forms of financial doping, attempting to disrupt competitive balance by the use of unearned money.  The inconsistency is beautifully expressed by Gartside himself, suggesting that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play protocol is not quite what is wanted: “There are ways of tweaking it that would suit the English game better.  Owners should be allowed to invest in equity.  So if you, as an owner, want to buy a striker for 10 million (pounds) that shouldn’t be a problem. But what you then can’t do is pay him extortionate wages that take you out of the breakeven situation.”  His logic is one that escapes me.

Posted in Costs, Debts, Ethics, UEFA, Wages | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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