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 April, 2011

Some stadium snippets

Posted by John Beech on April 22, 2011

Mainly, but not exclusively, bad news from various clubs at various levels in the pyramid:

Bradford City  (L2; population 294,000; nearest higher Level club Leeds United 10 miles [city centre to city centre, not stadium to stadium])

Younger readers may be forgiven for not knowing that Bradford City was home to Premier League football, albeit briefly, ten years ago.  In what was later described by their Chairman as ‘six weeks of financial madness’ (1), the club spent wildly in a failed attempt to stay up, and have been paying the price ever since.  Stadium issues are complex, with an alternative under review as a possibility (see 2), and have been so since the club was forced to sell and lease it back in 2003 (3) in the wake of Administration – new owner: the then Chairman’s pension fund.  At the time it was said “The aim is for the properties to return to the club’s ownership at the earliest opportunity when the financial strength allows.
That has not happened, and the Yorkshire Telegraph has recently reported that the club cannot continue to spend on rent at the current rate (4).  They are currently having to pay £370,000 a year in stadium rental, and a similar figure on office rental, which together with other overheads brings their costs of simply existing to £1.25m a year.

Brighton and Hove Albion  (About to rise to the Championship; 256,000; Fulham 52 miles)

The only positive snippet. At long last, exile at the inappropriate Withdean Stadium is to finish and the brand new Falmer Stadium is virtually finished.  This will bring to an end one of English football’s longest exiles.  (Ian King has good coverage on this situation here)

Darlington  (Conference; 98,000; Middlesbrough 16 miles)

Hopefully not the template for Brighton’s future.  The saga of the Arena is well known enough to not need repetition in detail hereWith areas of the stadium closed off on Health & Safety grounds and dwindling crowds, the club teeters on another financial precipice.  Creditors are pushing for the sale of the stadium (5) and Raj Singh’s attempts to revive the club are in jeopardy.

Eastwood Town  (Conference North; 18,000; Nottingham Forest/Notts County 10 miles)

Perhaps not the most familiar of clubs, but one that caught my eye some time back. The club joined the Midland League in 1971 and had progressed via the Northern League East to the Northern Premier League.  It was the arrival of local entrepreneur Rob Yong as Chairman that prompted me to add the club to my list of those to track.  He announced “Our target is simple, two promotions in the next four seasons including 2007/08. This will clearly mean additional investment in the team but we will not waste money by paying over the odds for players or being held to ransom.” (6)  Yong held back from projecting Eastwood’s future into Europe, which is just as well as he clearly had no intention of pursuing a policy involving Financial Fair Play.  So naked was his intent to engage in financial doping, he openly boasted “I personally pay the players’ wages and any other money that comes in from the fans through gate money and the like goes straight into the club.  I’m very conscious that I don’t want to leave the club in any debt at any point – that’s the way it has been structured.  There is no restriction on [the manager’s] player budget but we must always be getting value for money.” (7)
Just over a year ago Yong was pledging his commitment to the club until 2017 (8).  He had already clearly identified the need to upgrade the ground to Conference National standards.
The club is currently in the play-off places for promotion from the Conference North.  Earlier this month however the Conference ruled that Eastwood could not participate in the play-offs, which the club attributed to “a difference of opinion in the interpretation of one of the play-off rules” (9).  The FA rejected the club’s appeal (10).  Yong has shown his commitment to the club when it faces some problems by putting it up for sale for £1 (11).  Reading the statement, it is easy to sympathise with his frustration, but rather less so with his decision to walk, leaving the club debt free but paying wages that are not budgeted against revenues.

Farnborough  (Conference South; 57,000; Aldershot 4 miles)

Farnborough is a resurrection of Farnborough Town, who went into liquidation in 2007, and has already managed to climb back to the Conference South.
In February 2009, the club signed a contract to develop a new South Stand (12), the club itself being committed to half of the £500k costs.
In March last year the club managed to beat a winding up petition brought by a coach company over an unpaid bill (13)In September it received funding of £30,000 from the local council for ground improvements, in spite of the fact that it was in debt to the council to the tune of £18,000 (14).  As recently as December a transfer embargo was lifted after the club settled its debt to HMRC (15).  Still the stadium improvement marches on – earlier this month the purchase of the East Stand from Darlington’s old Feethams ground was agreed in principle (16).
(Accrington Stanley fans will no doubt recall what happened when their club bought a second-hand stand from Aldershot, especially as there is talk currently of buying one from Blackpool or Morecambe (17).)

Fleetwood Town  (Conference; 27,000; Blackpool 9 miles)

Fleetwood also have a bit of a stadium development fixation.  A 1997 resurrection, the club is bankrolled by controversial (18) local businessman Andy Pilley
Last week the new East Stand was opened at a cost of £4.5m (19)

Poole Town  (Wessex League Premier Division; 138,000; Bournemouth 6 miles)

Yet another club suffering from ‘stadium envy’, although, it must be said, with good reason – they are ‘unable to get promoted with their present (temporary home) stadium (20).  The fight to get planning permission for their new £2m stadium is edging ever nearer success, which would mean their first permanent home since 1994 (21).

Worcester City  (Conference North; 94,000; Birmingham City/Aston Villa 30 miles)

Another club suffering from the result of over-ambitious stadium plans, albeit put in place by a previous regime.  Their dreams of moving to a new stadium at Nunnery Way in a scheme with developers St Modwen having become increasingly unlikely to succeed (22), and even a scaled-down plan carries some very worrying costs (23).  A good summary of the current situation is here.

Far too many instances of unrealistic over-ambition, and there are bound to be tears before bedtime somewhere.  That said, I wish Brighton, the exception in this round-up, well in their new stadium – it’s been a long and painful saga since leaving the Goldstone so inauspiciously almost two decades ago, and they deserve a good break after all that has happened.

I’ve been trying to find out what is or isn’t happening with the redevelopment of Stoke’s old Victoria ground over a decade on.  Does any reader have any insight?

Posted in Stadium | Tagged: | 4 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 »

The worrying news of Brazil 2014

Posted by John Beech on April 18, 2011

On a recent work trip to Poland I asked my host if he thought Ukraine would be ready for Euro 2012.  His response was “Never mind Ukraine – I’m not sure Poland will be ready!”  Perhaps he was being unduly pessimistic.  Certainly Poznan’s stadium is looking good already:

Rather more worrying, I would argue, is the lack of preparedness for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.  Research just published by Brazil’s Institute for Economic Research (IPEA) and reported on the Sport Business website (1) includes the following gems:

  • Only two of 13 airport terminal construction projects are on schedule to be completed by the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
  • A third airport might be ready for the tournament “if everything goes right”, but the shortage of air travel provisions would cause transport problems for fans.
  • It’s increasingly unlikely that these projects will be ready on time.
  • State-owned airport authority Infraero “has a low level of efficiency in the execution of investment programs”.
  • Even if all 13 airport upgrades were to be ready on time, 10 are expected to be operating over capacity by the time of the World Cup.
  • Fourteen of Brazil’s 20 largest airports are already operating at more than 80% of capacity.
  • The World Cup is expected to attract up to one million visitors.
  • In addition to the 13 airports being upgraded for the World Cup, a brand new airport in Natal, another World Cup host city, still has no firm date for completion.

The map on the FIFA website (2) makes clear how important air travel will be for fans to move between venues, road and rail not being viable alternatives.  Flying distances can be checked out here (3) – Rio to Manaus, for example, is 1,765 miles, almost exactly the same flying distance as London to Ankara in Turkey.

I’d have to put my hand up and admit that my level of Portuguese is, well, completely zero, but if any reader can abstract more relevant info from the IPEA website I’d be glad to hear from them – the URL for the original report, is, I think, given a Google Translator fail,

So, potentially another fine mess Sepp has got us into.  By the way, it’s interesting to note what the IOC said in their evaluation report leading up to the award of the 2016 Olympics to Rio: “Necessary expansion plans for Rio International Airport will increase its capacity from 15 million people per year to 25 million by 2014.” (4)

Posted in 2014, FIFA | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

On Hillsborough and other football tragedies

Posted by John Beech on April 15, 2011

Today has rightly been a day of remembrance for the victims of what can only be described as the Hillsborough tragedy.  Part of the reason for the scale of remembrance and the depth of emotion today is the continuing unanswered questions, well posed by David Conn in The Guardian (1).

I suspect that at least part of the reason is also the power of social media such as Twitter (2, and also 3).  Of course, it’s the fact that it’s the anniversary of Hillsborough that determines the poignancy and scale of remembrance.

It often strikes me though that we are actually not very good at remembering the tragedies that have befallen football, except perhaps when we are reminded by an anniversary.  Perhaps we should be more mindful of the scale of previous football tragedies:

  • 1902 Ibrox – 25 fans died
  • 1946 Bolton – 33 fans died
  • 1971 Ibrox – 66 fans died
  • 1985 Bradford – 56 fans died
  • 1985 Heysel – 39 people died
  • 1988 Kathmandu – 93 people died
  • 1989 Hillsborough – 96 fans died
  • 1992 Bastia – 18 fans died
  • 2001 Johannesburg – 43 fans died
  • 2001 Accra – 127 people died
  • 2010 Kampala – over 70 people died in two bombing attacks on cafés where fans were watching the World Cup on television

And of course that is nothing like a definitive list.  But I wonder how well we remember all of those events, let alone show our respects to the victims.  Similarly, the Munich Air Disaster of 1955, when 23 people were killed, is very much in our collective memory, but the Turin Air Disaster, where 31 people died, is rarely recalled in the UK.

All I’m saying really is let’s try and be better at remembering on days which are not anniversaries, and let’s not all but forget some simply because they did not happen in this country.  (I’m thinking particularly of Kampala – only last year, and the victims were not accidental deaths; they were murdered.)

To borrow from John Donne, the death of any fan watching a game or any player travelling to do their job diminishes us.

Posted in Health & Safety, Stadium | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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 »

Crisis and confusion at Coventry City

Posted by John Beech on April 6, 2011

Since the end of January there have been various changes in the membership of the Coventry City Board, then we saw the sacking of Aidy Boothroyd, the tenth sacking of a Coventry City manager in the last decade (1).  Saturday’s three points against Watford brought at least some cheer to City’s fans, and the fear of relegation is receding.

With a certain irony, what has emerged at board level is a split into a new ‘old guard’ (Ray Ranson and Gary Hoffman) and a new ‘new guard’ (new Chief Executive Ken Dulieu, thrusting Canadian internet entrepreneur Leonard Brody and others parachuted in by SISU).

Brody is “a respected international entrepreneur with a strong track record in business, finance and online media.  He is President of Clarity Digital which is a subsidiary of the Anschutz Corporation, a large US-based sport and entertainment group and is also a two-time Emmy nominee” (2). Quite.

Brody offered an interesting explanation, as part of a new improved communications strategy, of what had been happening:

“What you were witnessing was three years of a dispute between shareholders, people who had different visions and different ideas about where the club was and what they wanted to do.  The key difference here is unity.  You now have the shareholders dispute resolved and a new board that is committed not only to the team but also to the community.” (3)

He paints an intriguing picture of a three-year battle between shareholders.  I have to say that I find this an unlikely picture.  The parent company, Sky Blue Sports & Leisure Ltd had six shareholders: SISU Capital Private Equity Fund A, SISU Capital Private Equity Fund B, SISU Capital Private Equity Fund C, SISU Capital Private Equity Fund D, and SISU Capital Private Equity Fund E, who together held 84% of the shares, the remaining 16% being held by R2 Sports Group plc, a Ray Ranson company.  So it’s the battle between the five SISU Fund Managers that has been holding the club back, is it??

He also says he is “saddened to hear fans think we’ve lost the brand“.  I would have to say that ‘losing the brand’ is not a phrase particularly featuring in conversations I have with City fans.  They are more concerned about survival, in the Championship, and simply surviving as a club.

Another interesting thread in this saga is the question of buying the stadium.  Al parties seem to agree that the Ricoh is a highly attractive ‘cash cow’, and that acquiring it would be a key to solving the club’s problems.  SISU have undoubtedly put money into the club since taking over, but clearly not enough to buy the stadium.  Either they do not have the funding to do so, or they do not have the inclination to do so.  No evidence points towards the latter.

How then can the exciting new board team move forward in the acquisition of the stadium?  Of course, new investors!

Her I see two major obstacles.  If you, as a potential investor, you were approached by SISU with an offer to invest in a club which could be a goldmine if only it could acquire its stadium and the associated revenue streams, once you had overcome your suspicion (‘if it’s such a great opportunity, why isn’t/hasn’t SISU seized on it in the last three years?’), you may well think ‘a cash cow, well, I want some slice of the action as at least a co-owner’.  Yet SISU insist that the club is not for sale.  We shall see.

The new board has already scored a PR own goal, which is not encouraging.  Ken Duliweu announced at a press conference last week that he was about to hold talks with the local Council about their 50% ownership of the Ricoh, a claim promptly and frostily denied by the Council (4).  As the Council statement out it, “The club has talked about a new era of openness and transparency, which we would welcome as a Council.  But so far, in their dealings with us, they have not shown this and we’re disappointed they’ve now said twice they’re meeting with us when no approach has been made to us.”  If there is to be a new policy of openness in communications, the messages should at the very least be accurate.

The only optimistic sign I can see is the talk of a bid by Gary Hoffmann (5) to buy the club.  But a) it’s supposedly not for sale, and one suspects, in the circumstances of his departure from the board, especially not to him and b) it depends on him finding investors.

The only comforts for fans is that the club is no worse off than it was when SISU took over (but arguably no better off), and that it could be worse for them – they could be Plymouth Argyle fans.

Available online is the full interview I gave Late Kick Off last week, just before the Coventry City press conference.

Posted in Insolvency, Investors, Ownership, Stadium, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

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