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 the ‘Human Resource Management’ Category

Unsung heroes

Posted by John Beech on October 14, 2011

The news that Plymouth Argyle’s players and administrative staff are still failing to get their full pay (1) is not, of course, really news at all.  This situation has been going on for roughly a year.  It’s a message of despair that has become as familiar as Peter Ridsdale cooing that he expects a deal to be finalised very shortly.

There are still those who do not break out in sympathy with the players at least – you know the sort of stuff: “Overpaid prima donnas.  Serves then right.  No sympathy whatsoever.”  This is of course nonsense.  Plymouth Argyle is not a Premier League club, and the majority of players are on salaries that do not even begin to approach the telephone numbers that Premier League players command.  They do have the professional Footballers Association supporting them though.  Still, it’s hardly easy to adjust to dramatic changes in family income whatever your salary is.  I should know: I once had no choice but to make the first Mrs. Beech redundant from our shared workplace.

The administrative staff will undoubtedly be on generally lower salaries, and I have even more sympathy for them.  Apart from being worse off financially, they didn’t sign up to a profession where a transfer to somewhere else in the country was going to be an industry norm.  I’m sure most of them are local folk, who have more than demonstrated their loyalty to a club which is not just their employer but a club that they care about.  They are the real unsung heroes.

In a different news story today, another super-loyal administrator (in the non-insolvency sense of the word) has left his club/employer after an amazing 38 years – now there’s loyalty.  This is the case of Portsmouth’s Club Secretary, Paul Weld (2) .  As the club website points out: “Paul has worked through nine changes of ownership, 19 different managers (22 if you include Frank Burrows, Alan Ball and Harry Redknapp, all of whom managed Pompey twice), encompassing two periods of administration, four relegations, four promotions, one FA Cup final triumph, one FA Cup final defeat and a season in Europe!”  No doubt it was the two periods of Administration that must have caused the greatest stress in the Weld household.  Why did he remain so loyal when there must have been more secure job opportunities open to him over the years?  Well, “A Pompey fan, Paul was an active member of the London Supporters’ Club before arriving at Fratton Park from the Football Association as assistant to the then secretary Jimmy Dickinson, before taking over as club secretary.”  So, someone to whom it was clearly more than ‘just a job’.  And here’s a hint, Paul – yours is an autobiography that I can’t wait to read.

I’m sure there are similar stories to be told at a myriad of clubs.  Let’s not forget these unsung heroes, especially in the troubling circumstances of the current Plymouth Argyle administrative staff.  A club is much more than just the team who turn on Saturdays.  Let’s hope that those directly involved in the takeover negotiations can bring a rapid close to the brinkmanship and haggling, and show a little humanity to their loyal staff and their families.

Posted in Community, Human Resource Management, Identity, Insolvency, Investors | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Substitutes and ‘cheating’

Posted by John Beech on July 21, 2011

The Football League has announced that its member clubs have voted “voted to reduce the number of substitutes that can be named on the teamsheet for matches in the npower Football League from 7 to 5” (1).  As a rationale for this change, it was stated that “This was felt to be a sensible and prudent step given the financial challenges facing many football clubs and the commitment made earlier this summer to adopt UEFA’s Financial Fair Play framework“, or, to put it another way, it’s ultimately a good way of cutting costs by employing a marginally smaller squad.

I for one would like to see a change in the rules regarding the actual substitutions allowed.  Nothing imposes such a feeling of anti-climax at the end of a tense game is the tactical (and essentially unnecessary) substitution of players as the final whistle approaches.  It has far more to do with the ‘gamesmanship’ of Stephen Potter than the gamesmanship of what used to be the Beautiful Game.

Musing on this, I turned out an early report by the Football League (but actually published in the FA Yearbook 1966-67, and hence not available online I’m afraid) called “Substitutes: An Experiment Justified“.

It begins “When the Football League introduced its Substitute Rule at the beginning of the 1965-66 season, it was received with misgivings from many people inside and outside the game.  Many of those who were against it chose to ignore the fact that substitution of players for injury has been permitted by the Laws of the Game for a good number of years”.  The second sentence came as a surprise to me.  Did substitution actually take place before 1965?  Surely in that era the culture was for a player to battle on, hiding injury in spite of the danger of exacerbating it causing permanent injury.  Think Bert Trautman.

The report continues: “There were many forecasts of the amount of cheating [sic] and misuse which would follow.  In point of fact, there has been no instance of the Substitute by a manager in order to gain a tactical advantage over his team’s opponents.”  Would that the same could be said today.

Data in the report broadly backs up the claim.  It records that 772 substitutions had been made in 2,028 League games.  These occurred during games thus:

Period of game


Up to 10 minutes


11 to 19 minutes


20 to 29 minutes


30 to 45 minutes


Total, first half


46 to 59 minutes


60 to 69 minutes


70 to 79 minutes


80 to 85 minutes


86 to 90 minutes


Total, second half


The number of substitutions in those days was limited to one, and, as the report says “If substitution is raised to two, this would increase the danger of substitutes being used tactically, which is really what everyone wants to avoid“.  Substitution was, in any case, only permitted then for injury.

Subsequently ‘everyone’ apparently stopped wanting to avoid the use of tactical substitution, and we have seen the number permitted on the bench grow to 5 in 1996 and then the about-to-be abandoned level of 7 in 2008.  Memory fails me on when tactical, i.e. for reasons other than injury, substitution was first allowed (any offers?).

Do I detect in all of this the idea that the Football League cares less about the game and its enjoyment by fans today than it did in 1965, and cares more about the costs of its member clubs?

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh.  Substitution for injury is a principle I would strongly defend, on the grounds of players’ well-being, and I wouldn’t want a return to pre-1965 practices.  It’s just that it seems to me we have gone too far with tactical substitution, something which I still want to avoid, to use the League’s phrase.

Posted in Costs, Ethics, Football League, Health & Safety, Human Resource Management, Organisational culture, Players' careers | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The fickle fate of football managers

Posted by John Beech on March 14, 2011

This morning’s announcement that Aidy Boothroyd has been sacked as manager of Coventry City (1) brings a local dimension for me on that increasingly common fate for a manager who does not bring success to their club.  There is a second very recent local case, that of Ian Sampson at Northampton Town (2), which I will turn to below.

In Boothroyd’s case his team had produced only one win in the last sixteen games, so it is pretty clear that some action by the board was justified.  In a general sense though, and I emphasise that I not focusing on recent form and events at Coventry, there are the unaddressed, and I suspect internally unasked by a Board of Directors, questions a) have we given this manager a chance to show his mettle beyond the short-term situation he inherited, b) have we given him the support he might reasonably expect, and c) are there any issues to do with his recruitment and appointment that we, the Board, have been in any way at fault with?  I doubt that in general the answers to these three questions are an unequivocal ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, and ‘No’.

At Coventry there have been recent Board changes (3), so there may be at least an element of ‘new brushes’ and ‘sweeping clean’.  Nevertheless, as recently as five weeks ago, Chairman Ray Ranson (4), someone not exactly unversed in the vaguaries of the football sector, who has been chairman of Coventry City for just over three years, and who must accept the responsibility for Boothroyd’s appointment in May last year, said “There are no issues whatsoever with Aidy – we’re still very supportive of the manager” (5). Not, of course, that such statements of confidence in a manager are infrequently an omen of a sacking.

At Northampton Town at the beginning of this month Ian Sampson was sacked as manager (6), having failed to produce a win in the previous seven games. In this case, the three questions I have posed certainly need to be asked.  Sampson had been an employee of the club since 1994!  He had played 449 games for the club, then been promoted from youth team coach to first team coach, then caretaker manager, and finally manager in October 2009. He was given a fresh three-year contract in March 2010.

‘Seven failures to produce a win’ sets Sampson’s recent form in an unfairly poor light – six of the results had been draws.

Chairman David Cardoza defended the sacking of an employee with seventeen years service thus:

“The club must always come first but that doesn’t make this decision any easier.  I, my fellow directors, the staff and supporters all wanted Ian to succeed.  I really hoped Ian would prove a successful manager here, but I did not see enough signs that we were improving as a side. Ian had put together a decent squad, and in a way that made our league position all the more unacceptable, and we are at a crucial time of year.

“I wanted to make this change now to give us time to go through a detailed recruitment process and to give the new man time to assess the squad before the end of the season, to look at the budget for next season and have a full summer to recruit and make the changes they see fit.

“No-one is ruled in and no-one is ruled out as we begin our search for our next manager. I think this will be an attractive job.”

Ironic that you should think that, David.  Ian Sampson himself had said just before Christmas “I’m a fairly loyal person, I was happy with my work and the environment created by Northampton. When you’re happy, you don’t look to go anywhere else.”  Not of course unless you’re sacked that is.

If Sampson were guilty of incompetence, á la Peter Principle, would the decent thing not have been to have moved him sideways rather than that ultimate and brutal decision to sack him?

Wouldn’t it be rather fine if just once a Director put his hand up and said “I accept full responsibility for the appointment of this manager“, did the decent thing and resigned himself?

UPDATE – 28 MARCH 2011

A rather more reasonable approach is shown at Scarborough Athletic (A) .

Posted in Human Resource Management, Organisational culture, Players' careers | Tagged: , , | 4 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 »

Green Army to the rescue

Posted by John Beech on December 22, 2010

It’s a shameful state of affairs when a business can’t even pay its lower-paid workers on time at Christmas.  All the more shaming that its customers should step forward to the rescue.  That may not be an analysis that immediately occurs to a football fan, but that is precisely what has happened at Plymouth Argyle (1).

Argyle fan Ian Newell, through PASOTI (Plymouth Argyle Supporters on the Internet) have started a campaign to raise money for the club’s non-playing staff, who were paid late in November, and for whom there is uncertainty over their December pay cheques.  As Ian puts it, “We want to help the lads and lasses who we see every other week at Home Park, but we also want to show to people like Sir Roy Gardner [chairman], and Keith Todd [executive director], that the normal rank and file fan seems to think more of their staff than they do.  The Plymouth directors should hang their heads in shame for what has happened to this club and the way they have treated their staff.”  Well said Ian.

The club offers the following on their website, describing what happened following the extension to HMRC’s winding-up petition until February: “The club then applied for a validation order to allow us access to our banking facilities, which had been ‘frozen’ pending the winding-up hearing.  On Monday, we were duly given limited access to our account, enabling us to carry out transactions essential for our immediate trading needs.  This meant we were able to pay a majority of the Home Park office staff in full; however, the playing staff and some office staff have received a partial payment.” (2)  Which is fine as an explanation, but certainly doesn’t constitute an excuse.

Three cheers for Ian and PASOTI, and three boos for Sir Roy and gang.

Not that this is a unique occurrence.  Pompey fans stepped in earlier this year to pay club creditors St John’s Ambulance when the club went into Administration (3), as did Crystal Palace fans (4).  And see too A good news story? for football club staff so loyal that they were willing to take a ‘pay holiday’, where I cited five instances.

It’s a shameful state of affairs in any business sector that this should be a worryingly often repeated incidence.  It’s not exactly the case that there isn’t money going into the game – it’s just pouring out in obscene amounts to an elite amongst the employees.   In the Christmas spirit, I would point out that David James and colleagues at Portsmouth did put their hands in their pockets to keep some of the ground staff away from the dole queue (5).  Again in the Christmas spirit, perhaps his greedier colleagues might like to think twice as they sit by and let their agents push their salaries up to even more ridiculous levels. Who knows – perhaps they might even donate to the fund.


Posted in Fans, Human Resource Management | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Another side to the World Cup

Posted by John Beech on July 6, 2010

Most of us will have been (eventually!) enjoying the World Cup as a feast of football, soaking up the atmosphere even if only in our sitting rooms or in the pub, and savouring the more dramatic and skilful moments.

We may even spare a thought for the pressure on those who produce this spectacle.  This morning Sir Alex Ferguson spoke of the pressure on Wayne Rooney, suggesting that this was the reason for his poor performance (1).  It’s all too easy to forget that the pressure is also on a whole load of people who are not players.

No less a figure than Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and ex-United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has strongly criticised FIFA for causing hardship to street vendors through the creation of exclusion zones around stadiums (2).  Street vending is estimated to account for 7 percent of South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product, and it has been estimated that there could be more than 100,000 street and informal traders who have lost their livelihoods during the World Cup.  No great benefit for them from the World Cup then; rather, they and their families will have had an extremely hard time.  Their reaction is recorded here.

This is not the first time that this kind of issue has emerged.  You may have noticed the strike.  I’m not referring to the problems of Les Bleus, but to the stewards protesting over pay (3) – they claimed they had only been paid £17, significantly less than they had been promised.  The strike was broken by bringing in police to take over their duties (4).  Whether they too were expected to work 15 hour shifts is unclear (5).

So far the World Cup, as an event, has been a great success.  But when talk turns to ethics it should not be confined to Suarez’s handball.  Given FIFA’s budget, it should be possible to ensure that the benefit of the World Cup extends to the hosts.

Posted in 2010, Ethics, FIFA, Human Resource Management | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Au revoir les Bleus

Posted by John Beech on June 26, 2010

If Schadenfreude is your thing – and you are not French – then you would have enjoyed the last few days in France.  The ignominious departure of the lacklustre national team from the World Cup caused a positive hurricane of media outpouring.

On Tuesday, the press was already clear in its displeasure with events in South Africa.  Today in France led with:

‘Thanks and see you again’ was certainly tongue in cheek – the article begins ‘After six weeks of psycho-drama, there hasn’t been a miracle.

This is how Tuesday’s definitive loss to hosts South Africa was reported the following morning.  France Football went with ‘Death on the Field of Dishonour‘, showing the sense of understatement that you would normally associate with a British tabloid.

It was “The End of a World” according to top French sports newspaper l’Equipe.  Even le Figaro made the departure of Raymond Domenech its lead story, assuring its readers that his ‘retirement’ was approved by presumably the entire French nation.  He did himself no favours with the media – the French TV showed the clip of him refusing to shake hands with Carlos Alberto Parreira, South Africa’s manager, again and again and again.  His post-match interview might have seemed statesmanlike on the radio, but casually picking his ear took away sime of his gravitas on television.

Being of an academic disposition, I immediately conducted a survey to establish who exactly the French public saw as being responsible.  Admittedly a sample of just one – the owner of the bar in Granville where I was drinking – does not ensure statistical confidence, but he was unequivocal in his answer: “Everbody.  The President of the French Football Association, Raymond Domenech, all the players…

By Thursday morning the whole crisis had escalated:

An affair of state‘ it had indeed become.  President Sarkozy was supposedly spitting bullets, and Sports Minister Rosalyne Bachelot dishing out public bollockings.  She said that she believed it inevitable that French Football Association President will go.  FIFA has of course reacted angrily at to this perceived blatant interference by a government into football affairs (1).  Gerard Houlier is also featured in the story, although by this point Herself was becoming more reluctant to translate French press reports on football into English while on her holiday, so I’m not sure why.  As my bar-owner friend had said though, everyone is to blame.

While there are deeper long-running issues which have led les Bleus to the disastrous situation they find themselves in, the immdediate setting is the refusal of Ncolas Anelka to apologise for swearing at Raymond Domenech, Anelka being sent home as a result, the players then striking briefly, Evra grassing to the press, etc. etc.

Already there have been commercial repercussions.  The team has already lost its kit sponsor (2), and Crédit Agricole and fast-food company Quicktoday have cancelled their television adverts with the team (3).

How very different from England’s campaign.  Cheeky chappy John Terry had of course come close to becoming a ‘traitor’, as Evra was branded, but I like to think of him as a public-spirited whistle blower.  Well, it would be disloyal not to, wouldn’t it?  And England had apparently (I say ‘apparently’ because French television preferred to show the Algeria game) beaten Slovenia convincingly 1-0.  Of course I believe The Sun report which spoke of “renewed optimism after a performance which was a lot more convincing than the score suggests” (2).  I certainly hope so – a scoreline of 1-0 against a country of 2 million people which only became a country less than twenty years ago doesn’t strike me as particularly convincing.  Who knows, we may yet see Steven Gerrard, à la Theirry Henry, summoned to Downing Street to explain.

[Normal service is almost resumed.  I will be away in Austria next week for a funeral, but plan to get at least one more posting up before I depart.]

Posted in 2010, FIFA, Governance, Human Resource Management, Sponsorship | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

A good news story?

Posted by John Beech on January 11, 2010

I don’t suppose, if I’m honest, that this a blog you would rush to in order to read ‘good news’ stories, packed with fluffy tales of people being, erm, nice.

From Crawley Town, a club which has been through a fairly crazy time financially in the last few years, comes a story which warms the heart.  Manager Steve Evans and assistant Paul Raynor have agreed to take a ‘salary holiday’ for November and December to help the club towards a debt-free future (1).  Evans said “It’s not asked upon, it’s not forced upon…It’s purely a gesture back from the management team to say a big thank you to the people who have sorted the club out… I’ve sat in board meetings over the last three or four months and I’ve seen the unbelievable finances coming in from two very committed directors.  As a gesture I said I’m quite happy to put my salary in the mix for a couple of months. Sitting with a coffee in the office with Paul Raynor, he agreed to do the same. The nice thing from our point of view is that we have owners at the top of the football club who’ve sorted it out in a really dignified, professional way and more importantly opened their chequebooks.

Now we are talking the salaries of a Manager and Assistant in the Conference, not footballers in the Premier League.  Such a gesture shows a committment to their club, all the more suprising in an industry where managers seem to have very little job security.  All credit to them.  How many others would do the same?

Well, there was Carl Heggs in the dying days of King’s Lynn (2).  And the staff at Bournemouth during their lowest ebb this summer (3).  Oh, and likewise at Weymouth (4).  And going back a bit there was Carlton Palmer taking a pay cut of 50% at Stockport County (5).  I’m sure that is certainly far from being a full list.

Come to think of it, as well as undoubtedly being a good news story with respect to the individuals concerned, it’s a pretty shameful story of the football industry as a whole, where being paid your salary is not something you can always bank on.

Posted in Human Resource Management, Organisational culture, Wages | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Job security and the football manager

Posted by John Beech on November 24, 2009

The sacking of Paul Hart by Portsmouth (1) has been greeted with universal sympathy in cyberspace and this will doubtless be repeated in newsprint tomorrow. Received wisdom is that he was on a hiding to nothing and made the best of a bad job in the circumstances, made all the more ironic by the number of goals scored last Saturday by former Pompey players (no, please don’t mention Ricardo Fuller’s contribution; he left Fratton Park as far back as 2005 in any case).

The sad fact is that managers have one of the most insecure jobs in the world.  Yes, there are the exceptions of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Dario Gradi, but they definitely are the exceptions.

Dr Sue Bridgewater at Warwick Business School conducted a very comprehensive survey of manager employment trends including dismissals in the top four divisions over the period from 1992 to 2005 (her very readable report is downloadable here, and there is a webcast of her talking about the key findings here).  She found, among a number of fascinating conclusions, that more experienced managers who have longer in post achieve higher levels of success.  It also emerged that the average rate of tenure over that period, 2.19 years, was declining, and could be projected to have fallen, if the trend is maintained , to one year by 2023.

She also found that there is a significant correlation with success for managers who have followed the route of taking coaching and Management qualifications.  Yet still we see good ex-players without coaching badges being given special dispensation to manage even in the Premier League.

Human Resource Management in the football sector is way, way behind the times.  In other sectors it is not generally accepted that you get the best out of people by kicking boots at them or continually swearing at them.  And I have yet to see any evidence that such approaches actually work in football.

To return to Paul Hart, my recent posting (2) suggests that current board-level HRM practices at Portsmouth are poor even by football’s low standards.

Posted in Human Resource Management | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

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