‘Good Rangers’ v. ‘Evil Rovers’?
Posted by John Beech on December 21, 2010
The top of the Conference table intrigues me. The top seven clubs come from right across the spectrum of football business models, from clubs whose fans can be rightly proud, through those that have been abused by boards past and/or present, through to clubs that engage in blatant financial doping and whose fans have seen the club become identified with a ‘benefactor’ rather than with a local community.
As I write, the top seven, in order, are
The exemplar of how fans can run a club successfully. Their story is so well known it doesn’t need repeating.
- Crawley Town
Southern League champions in 2004, and since then they have managed to stay up in spite of several sets of points deductions. Their recent history off the pitch has been one that you would reluctant to wish upon you deadliest rivals. A brace of Administrations (in 1999 and 2006), being pursued in court by HMRC as recently as last July (1), and a string of owners.
The most recent is Bruce Winfield, together with Susan Carter, who has produced a ‘war chest’ for the purchase of new players. Manager Steve Evans was happily spending money throughout the summer transfer window on a scale virtually unprecedented at the Conference level. One failed attempt to buy success was a cheeky knocked-back try at purchasing Wimbledon’s captain, Danny Kedwell (2).
All in all a somewhat colourful history off the pitch. The mystery surrounding the war chest, and who the investors are, to me puts a measure of uncertainty over the sustainability of their current business model.
A club much abused by its previous owners. The new ownership team inherited the massive points deduction, but things seem to have finally bottomed out, and it looks as if it will not be too long before it is back in the Football League. Its home gates would not be out of place in League 2; in fact, they would be the second best!
- Newport County
Not the original club, which disappeared in 1989 thanks to the shenanigans of one Jerry Sherman. The resurrection club has had to claw its way back up the pyramid, including a period in significant exile and an attempt to have them kicked out of the English pyramid. The club is now roughly 20% owned by the Supporters Trust.
- Fleetwood Town
A club with a very chequered background, and many football fans will still be wondering ‘who?’. The club is owned by Andy Pilley, also the owner of Commercial Power, who sponsor the club’s shirts. Commercial Power has some interesting approaches to the conduct of its business – see (3) and (4).
The club went full-time last summer and a £4m stadium redevelopment is under way. With home gates at just under an average of 1700 this season in spite of the club’s success on the pitch, I fear that, for fans, there may be tears before bedtime. The financial doping may prove unsustainable.
- Kidderminster Harriers
A club in meltdown. It was reported last month as having debts of £250,000 and has been in and out of court at HMRC’s behest for much of this year. Although they had a winding-up petition dismissed earlier this month (5), its other debts are only sustainable through handouts from the owners (6), and there seems to be a shortage of those willing to pick up what has become a poisoned chalice (7). Short of a new local millionaire suddenly riding to the club’s rescue, Administration is looking increasingly likely.
A club which famously had to take its own Chairman to court to regain ownership of its ground. Even today there are concerns over its future (8).
There has been talk of the Supporters Trust taking over the club (9), but relations between owners and fans have not always been good.
By the end of the season we will of course have one club as champion and automatically promoted, and four into the playoffs. The battle to be promoted will be fascinating to follow with its business model overtones, especially if these remain the seven clubs in contention. Will ‘good’ triumph’ over ‘evil’? That is of course oversimplifying, but I will find it difficult to remove considerations of their business models from deciding who I want to be promoted.
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