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 ‘Organisational culture’ Category

‘Part and parcel of the modern game’

Posted by John Beech on January 29, 2013

To develop an old media dictum, a ball boy kicking a footballer, now that would be news.  The Eden Hazard incident (1) was always going to have legs as a story because of its ‘shock horror’ value.  Its inherent symbolism, a Goliath kicking a David, would guarantee that.  As has emerged, there were nuances of the particular incident, which have only added to media interest, which will swell up again when Hazard’s case is heard by the FA.

Not only was it a case of a footballer (at this stage, allegedly) kicking a ball boy, it was a case of a highly, highly paid footballer allegedly kicking a partisan volunteer.  To me this was the true shock horror element.  It epitomised the incongruity of the modern game.  On the one hand there are, in the Premier League, players on enormous salaries, whilst, on the other, vital contributors to the flow of the game, unpaid underage volunteers.  Quite how underage was, of course, an element which added to the story.  The ball ‘boy’ turned out not to be 11 as originally reported, but in fact 17.

Where else but in the modern game would you find a physical confrontation between two people with, to use the language of organisational behaviour, such a phenomenal power distance between them?  Power distance in football, at least as measured by salary, is a real oddity – participants exist on a greatly extended scale, ranging from players, through managers (where else would a manager earn less than his subordinates?), then a considerable distance along the spectrum match officials, all the way to unpaid volunteers.  It is a mixture that is explosive, and it is surprising that it has rarely exploded.

Chelsea’s initial reaction was, not surprisingly, to defend Hazard (2).  I say ‘not surprisingly’, because I am mindful that this was the club that managed to smooth over an incident in which a fire arm was discharged, albeit accidentally, in the workplace injuring an intern (3).

Among the many differing reactions was a condemnation of the ball boy for his attempt to waste time.  This is arguably misplaced, as time-wasting is undoubtedly ‘part and parcel of the modern game’.  It has of course been officially sanctioned since the 1967-68 season by the process of tactical substation.  Out of curiosity I looked at the substitutions that had taken place the previous weekend in the Premier League.























Even a cursory glance shows a wild skew towards the later stages of a match.  Substitutions because of injury would tend to happen far more evenly, and it is obvious that tactical substitutions are ‘part and parcel of the modern game’.  That particular weekend, all twenty clubs made two substitutions, and twelve of them made a third.

My gripes with this aspect of the modern game are twofold.  Firstly it generates an immense irritation for the fans of one of the two teams, and indeed the players, as the Hazard incident demonstrates well.  In short, it lowers the entertainment value of a match, and tends to enhance the feeling of ‘we wuz robbed’.  Which is my second gripe.  Time-wasting is, in my eyes, unethical from a sporting perspective.  Tactical substitution is all about trying to cement a current score by allowing the opposition less opportunity to compete on the pitch.  It simply doesn’t make sense from the perspectives of sport as sport or of sport as entertainment.  It doesn’t even make sense from the perspective of sport as business to irritate and frustrate half the people who generate the revenues.

It s surely time we moved on from meekly accepting what is ‘part and parcel of the modern game’, started to look at the modern game critically, and call for change to ensure that ‘sport as sport’ is the dominant perspective.  Time in fact for a major and effective review of football governance.  Oh, I forgot… (4)

The time for redefining the modern game is surely badly overdue.  Who though is holding their breath?  Well, for once, I’m just a tiny bit optimistic!

Posted in Ethics, Governance, Organisational culture | Tagged: , , | 1 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 »

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 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 »

Denouement at Liverpool?

Posted by John Beech on October 7, 2010

The long-running saga of Messrs Hicks and Gillett’s failure, first, to bring Liverpool’s level debt down, and, next, to find a purchaser of the club willing to pay the unrealistic price they were asking, has until the last few days been, to me at least, a soap in which there is constant speculation on how the plot might develop but with very little meaty activity – a soap on an obscure satellite channel that I really couldn’t excited about enough to pay a subscription to view it.  Suddenly, on Monday night, all that changed.  Not only did  Twitter erupt into seemingly more unlikely and dramatic messages, even the club website sprung into unusual communicativeness, although it rapidly emerged that it was telling only one side of what was rapidly becoming, to use the now standard cliché, a civil war.  To see how little had actually happened up to this week, see the timeline provided by Sky Sports.

After the first round in the contest for ownership, we now have a break in activity until the matter of who does or doesn’t have the right to change the membership of the Liverpool board is heard by an English court, with most observers predicting that Hicks and Gillett will fail.  I’m certainly inclined to that view but a) I’m not a legal expert versed in the intricacies of this rather obscure area of the law, b) I’m not privy to what if anything was written down when the newer board members moved in and c) decisions by English courts still manage to be entirely unpredicted.  We shall see, although it seems likely that even if Hicks and Gillett win, short of them suddenly coming up the money to repay the Royal Bank, they are still likely to lose control as the bank will force Liverpool’s parent company into Administration, and the club will then be sold to John Henry as currently planned.  One big surprise in this scenario would be the fact that the Premier League have indicated that the 9 points would not be deducted for the parent company going into Administration – entirely the opposite view to the Football League in such circumstances, and not a view that will be well received in Southampton.  I have frequently railed against points deduction as a sanction (see my Working paper on the subject), but, if we must have it, we surely should see the rules being consistently applied across the leagues.

With this post-Dunkirk phase of the confrontation, most commentary seems to be around whether Liverpool would be moving out of the frying pan of one American ownership into the fire of another.  I really can’t get my head round this as an issue – is the nationality of the owner really the over-riding variable that determines whether it will be good for Liverpool?  Might it not just be to do rather more with the effectiveness of the new management team (and not just the owner), the ability of whoever emerges as (football) manager, and the skills of the playing squad to bring success on the pitch, and hence revenues?  To assume that all these factors are a function of the owner’s nationality is a nonsense.

Equally nonsensical is to extrapolate from Henry’s track record.  Turning the Boston Red Sox round is one thing, turning Liverpool round is an entirely different kettle of fish – different game, which he has virtually no experience of, different set of business rules, different governing bodies, different organisational culture, etc. etc.  You might as well argue that Virgin Trains would follow the success of Virgin Atlantic.

If Henry gains control, we will have to wait and see how he chooses to have the club run.  Certainly there are no contra-indications in his business record, but there is still plenty of scope for notching up his first big failure, not least because he is moving into a different ball game (pun intended).  He may emulate the failure of Hicks and Gillett to get to grips with running an English ‘soccerball franchise’, perhaps picking up some tips on the way from the Glazers, or he may follow in the rather more successful footsteps of Aston Villa or Derby County.  Only time will tell.

Speculation on the subject of new American investor-owners simply draws discussion away from the real issue here.  Do we want investor-owners at Liverpool, or any other club for that matter?  Or do we want a fan-owned co-operative in charge of Liverpool?  By now, if you are a regular reader, you will no doubt have guessed my preference.

Posted in Debts, Investors, Organisational culture, Ownership, Points deduction | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The inevitable tension surfacing…

Posted by John Beech on August 20, 2010

Although there is always a tension between, on the one hand, the needs of a club from a footballing perspective, exemplified perhaps by the views of the manager, and, on the other hand, the needs of a club from a business perspective, it is inevitable that the tension will be greatest when a) clubs are facing financial pressures and b) the end of the transfer window is beckoning.

In the last week or so, the tension has been manifest at some clubs (in alphabetical order):

Aston Villa
Although Chairman Randy Lerner, a ‘good benefactor’ in my book, has been guarded in his comments on why Martin O’Neill has left, he has said “I can say only that we no longer shared a common view as to how to move forward. To deal in greater detail would do little but cause additional distraction for the club as it faces imminent games and the clear priority of hiring a permanent manager.  Finally, there have been no changes in our approach to building the club, aiming always to be as competitive as possible given our size and resources” (1).  I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the clue lies in the last phrase – an expression of ‘cutting our cloth’.

Cardiff City
Given the transfer embargoes, it’s hardly surprising that manager Dave Jones should be anxious to add to his squad (2).  It’s equally unsurprising that, with the massive Langston debt, the board take a more constrained view.  Even allowing for the clearance by the Football League of the Bellamy deal, additions have tended to feature loan deals.

Hartlepool United
Yesterday Chris Turner quit as Director of Sport (3).  He is quoted as saying “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what could happen if we haven’t improved much from the squad that only just stayed up last season and other teams have strengthened… Whether we will be able to get any more people in, you will have to ask the owners” (4).

Manager John Beck is today reported as leaving ‘beleagured’ Histon (5).  Chairman Russell Hands explained “It was a difference of opinion.  We couldn’t give him what he needed to do the job. Because of the financial restrictions we’re under he found it very, very difficult…In the end John felt that he had got as far as he could and in the interests of both parties we decided to go our own ways“.

Ipswich Town
Here, Roy Keane said today “We’re doing a lot of talking but supporters don’t want to hear that, they want to see players coming in.  We’ve been close but getting close to signing a player is no good… You’ve got to get the deals done.  We’ve been in talks and more talks and more talks. We’ve had players lined up 12 weeks ago who wanted to sign for Ipswich and they weren’t done” (6).  In spite of the backing of Marcus Evans, it would seem that there are constraints on spending.

There are certainly others that could be added to the list; please feel free to contribute other examples.

What is noticeable, apart from the general theme of frustrated ambition for the club, is the range of levels of the clubs, and the varying degrees of financial troubles they face.

It will be interesting to see how quickly O’Neill and Beck take to reappear.  They should be respected for having the conviction to vote with their feet, but their ambition may prove an impediment when facing the owners of a different club across the interview table.  O’Neill in particular has undoubted talents as a manager, but has he revealed his Achilles heel to an employer?  There are still clubs out there apparently committed to financial doping, at least while funds last and the Financial Fair Play protocol remains unaddressed, but increasingly owners seem to be opting for realism over ambition.

Posted in Costs, Organisational culture | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Who loves fans? Who doesn’t?

Posted by John Beech on July 26, 2010

There’s an interesting pair of stories in the news today.

First comes the news (1) that UEFA have introduced a new requirement in their club licensing requirements – the necessity for a club to appoint an operating supporter liaison officer (SLO).  The purpose of this rather clumsily named role is to “to ensure a proper and constructive dialogue between a club and its fans“.  The need for this is so fundamental and obvious that it is amazing that UEFA have only just come up with it!  In fact, they did so at the prompting of our own Supporters Direct (SD) and its SD Europe arm.  The SD website (2) offers this expansion on what exactly an SLO is:

Supporter Liaison Officers at clubs already exist in a limited number of European countries and primarily help improve the dialogue between the fans and the clubs they support. Most importantly, SLOs must be credible with fans, and therefore should have experience with and contacts to the networks in the fanbase at the club.

They inform the fans about relevant decisions made by the club management board and, in the other direction, communicate the needs of the fans to the board, as well as building relationships – not just with various fan groups and initiatives, but with the police and security officers, They will also engage with fan liaison officers of other clubs before matches to ensure that the fans behave in accordance with security guidelines.

To implement the new requirements, a network of SLO project contacts from each national governing body across Europe will be created and work together with the UEFA club licensing team and Supporters Direct to assist clubs and supporter groups improve communication in each of the 53 UEFA member associations. This year more than 600 clubs applied for a UEFA licence with many more applying for domestic licences based on the same or similar principles. Hence, the broad scope and significance of the SLO project.

Like the licensing system itself, the implementation and development of supporter liaison officers will be a tool to raise minimum standards; a dynamic system changing over time, and focussing on developing and improving the dialogue between the fans and the clubs.

An excellent development – here’s hoping it would be accepted throughout the English football pyramid rather than just by clubs hoping to play in Europe.

On the other hand, there is the news (3) that the vast majority (it appears to be all except Arsenal and Liverpool) of the Premier League clubs are simply ignoring the 2000 Premier League Charter which pledged that replica strips would be released every two seasons at a minimum.  Worst offenders are Tottenham, who have launched three new kits every year for six seasons in a row.  This coming season they will have different sponsors, and hence, it is reported, shirts, for their Cup games, resulting in no fewer than six shirts being offered, although at the time of writing only three shirts are being offered on the club website (4).

It’s not exactly difficult to see which is more pro-fan – UEFA or the Premier League.

Posted in Merchandising, Organisational culture, Premier League, Public relations | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Significant development at Lewes

Posted by John Beech on July 9, 2010

Lewes, who avoided relegation to stay in the Conference South, have appeared a number of times on this blog (see postings passim) for the usual ‘wrong’ reasons.  In 1977 they joined the Isthmian League Division 2, and by 2008 had reached the Conference National, only surviving there for one season.

Off the pitch the club has of late been troubled financially.  A long running battle with HMRC has seen the club flirt with Administration, the latest crisis being in January of this year (1).  The club had been struggling to pay off a £107,000 tax bill (2) and at that time were reported to owe £45,000 to other creditors.  This round of the battle to survive had been achieved through a mixture of donations and a couple of longer-term interest-free loans (3).

Today comes the news that the club, in what is being described as a ‘velvet revolution’ (4), has become a Community Benefit Society, moving to what historically football clubs were – organisations where a one person, one vote system operates, rather than organisations run at the whim of a single owner.  Details of the new organisation and the all-important transition over the next two years are available on the club website.

This move to a system of fan ownership is highly significant, and most welcome.  It is not a magic wand of course; the club still has debts, and the loans will have to be repaid.  If the Rooks can keep up the impetus, and, given the new climate of fans being directly involved the chances look good, they will succeed.  I certainly wish them well.


The Rooks Supporters Trust (which is a different body from the Community Benefit Society) Newsletter 11 includes an interesting discussion on the context of this development.  It can be downloaded as a .pdf file here.

Posted in HMRC, Organisational culture, Ownership | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Premier League Old Boys Club

Posted by John Beech on April 9, 2010

This is the mixed bag of clubs who face the drop from the Premier League.  Likely contenders for membership this year include of course Portsmouth, Hull City and West Ham, all of whom have been hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons with regard to their financial performance as much their on-the-pitch performance.  It’s not a club that you have to pay any membership subscription to belong to; on the contrary, it’s an elite club in receipt of handouts – parachute payments.  And in the case of the aforementioned clubs, the money will come in handy to tackle their existing debt mountains.

Latest development is the proposal to not only increase the payments, which will in any case rise from £12m to £16m per year, to a four-year period rather than the current two years, so each of the dropping clubs would receive up to £64m gratis (1).

However, facing them on the pitch next season will be clubs that include those promoted this summer from League 1, the likes of possibly Millwall and Huddersfield.  And what bonus will they have to compete in the transfer market with given that they are having to ratchet up a gear financially?  Well, precisely nothing, because, while we increasingly reward failure with parachute payments, the clubs that rise the pyramid without recourse to financial doping, do not receive any reward for their success.  Dysfunctional or what?  As regular readers will know, I have long been an advocate of rocket payments rather parachute payments.

To add to the insanity of this, it is worth remembering that the Premier League that is so impressed by its own generosity in paying roughly £30m per year to the Football League in what it calls, without any apparent sense of irony, Solidarity Payments (2).  Will we see any rise in this figure, given that the three  failed Premier League members will be benefitting to the tune of £48m a year?  I’m not holding my breath.  It seems to have become a way of life in football to reward failure rather success.

Posted in Governance, Organisational culture, Premier League, Pyramid movement | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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 »

Alternative models

Posted by John Beech on December 5, 2009

Notwithstanding the emergence of Supporters Trusts, there has been relatively little experimentation with alternative forms of business structure in English football clubs.

One notable exception has been Ebbsfleet United, which allows democratic paricipation by its members through the use of the internet – see the club website and Both websites have been silent so far on some significant changes in the way the club is run, and I am dependent on the Gravesend Messenger for the latest news.

The ‘world’s first and only web-community owned club’ kicked off in February 2008 (1) with 28,000 members who had signed up by paying £35. Things have not always run smoothly since then, for reasons both to do with the organisational structure and unrelated reasons. Members participated in the decision to sell a player (2) in August that year, but by December manager Liam Daish was expressing concern that his budget might be cut if not enough members renewed (3).

In February this year, with memberships due for renewal, there were reports that numbers were significantly down (4), with numbers falling some 2,000 short of the targeted 12,000 (5). Cost-cutting measures were announced in March (6), but plans for a new stadium were published in April (7).  This almost coincided with the resignation of Chief Executive David Davis (8), Chairman John Moules stepping into the role, before himself stepping down in July (9).

The club has also faced problems with its training ground (10).

The latest tweaking of the model has seen two significant changes.  Firstly the club has bought out the MyFC Operating Agreement from founder Will Brooks for £15,000 (previously Brooks had taken 20% of subscriptions to run the website), and secondly the subscription has been raised from £35 to £100.  The latter move is presumably on the assumption that the hardcore of supporters are relatively price insensitive, a risk unless some market research has been undertaken, although the fact that the decision “overwhelmingly backed by members in online votes last week” is encouraging for the club’s survival.

No doubt there will further tweaks as the club further explores this unique model, and it is certainly a model I watch with interest.

Another interesting development this week, albeit north of the Border, was the decision of Stenhousmuir to become a Community Interest Company (CIC) (11).  According the official government website “Community Interest Companies are limited companies, with special additional features, created for the use of people who want to conduct a business or other activity for community benefit, and not purely for private advantage. This is achieved by a “community interest test” and “asset lock”, which ensure that the CIC is established for community purposes and the assets and profits are dedicated to these purposes. Registration of a company as a CIC has to be approved by the Regulator who also has a continuing monitoring and enforcement role” (12).  A CIC is in many ways similar to a conventional company – it can be a public company limited by shares, a private company limited by shares or a company limited by guarantee, and will have the same benefits and obligations as other companies of its type, including registration at Companies House – but it must, among other obligations, only use its assets and profits for the community specified (or pass them to another body with similar features), and keep the community in touch with its activities. Sounds good to me – asset stripping of a stadium blocked, and mandatory community orientation; isn’t that just how a football club should be constrained?

As far as I can make out (the CIC website search function doesn’t seem to be working) the only English club to adopt this model so far is Eastbourne Borough (12) just over a year ago. Among the developments at this club is the offer of a directorship for £5,000, and, as the club points out with massive understatement, “You don’t get offers like this at the likes of Chelsea or Manchester United” (13).  Mind you, there’s an idea for Portsmouth.  😉

I’d be interested to hear comments from any Eastbourne fans on how the CIC model has worked for the club, and from any Stenhousemuir fans on what prompted this change.

Posted in Community, Governance, Organisational culture, Ownership | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

How not to run a club

Posted by John Beech on November 21, 2009

A press interview (1) given by manager Paul Hart reveals the level of communications which can be expected form Portsmouth’s new owners.  Following a meeting with their representatives (he has yet to meet Al Faraj some seven weeks after the takeover), Hart revealed:

“There have been discussions. They were preliminary talks which will lead to others.

‘The detail wasn’t great so there needs to be more said.

‘The talks were with two of his advisors and more talks are going to take place over the next few weeks.

‘When we get down to more succinct talks and conversations and a bit more direction then we will know where we are going.

‘The date for more talks isn’t in my diary at the moment.

So, a clear strategy effectively communicated from the top then.  ;-(

This style of football management is more appropriate to a pre-Herbert Chapman world of club secretarys than to the Premier League in the twenty-first century!  As if Paul Hart hasn’t got enough obstacles to overcome…

Posted in Organisational culture | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Is football really not ‘dying on its feet?’

Posted by John Beech on September 25, 2009

Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, in a slight toning down of his attack on the way English football and football clubs are run, has said “Football is a success, nobody is saying it’s dying on its feet” (1).

It would be nice to be able to come out in whole-hearted agreement with this prognosis of the English game, but I find it hard to do so, at least with respect to the management aspects of clubs.

Perhaps I have become jaded – in a recent posting on a chat forum, someone commented with reference to this blog ‘The Dr’s a cheery soul isn’t he‘ (2).  The next poster suggested however ‘He was probably the life and soul of the party when he started studying insolvent football clubs, and has been ground down over the years‘ (3).  A not entirely inaccurate surmise!

But, joking aside, my prognosis of the English patient is that he is suffering from a chronic (i.e. long-term) illness, the symptoms of which are giving me, at least, increasing cause for concern.  These include, with differing degrees at the various levels of the professional game, and, of course, at individual clubs:

  • an ever-rising debt mountain;
  • increasing dependency on benefactors, who themselves are under increasing pressure due to the credit crunch;
  • working on the false assumption that ‘soft debt’ will never become hard debt;
  • a cavalier attitude to the payment of PAYE and National Insurance to HMRC;
  • using HMRC, in effect, as a benign bank, when the signs are clear that it is no longer prepared to be benign;
  • the increasing incidence of seeing the club’s fixed assets such as the ground and the training ground pass out of the club’s hands;
  • allowing costs (mainly the wages bill) to escalate at a faster rate than the rise in revenues;
  • allowing other (external) stakeholders to have an undue influence on the game;
  • failing to recognise fans as stakeholders;
  • an obsession with the short-term;
  • a reluctance to introduce ‘negative performance’ payments, so that the wage bill automatically drops should relegation occur;
  • an assumption that part-time management at the very top of the club’s organisational structure is sufficient;
  • an inability to act collectively within the league structure to resist the expansion of financial disparity between top and bottom of the pyramid.

Add to this an at worst bellicose, and at best indifferent, attitude to the sensible recommendations of the Burns Report, and a real attitude problem to the more sensible recommendations of both the UK government and UEFA, and you start to get the picture of a patient who is ignoring his symptoms.

Frankly, I think there are too many individual clubs that are dying on their feet, or, more specifically, it is the companies that own the clubs which are dying on their feet.  The very real danger is that the collapse of the company will drag the club out of existence.  How long before we have another Accrington Stanley (heaven forbid, even at Accrington Stanley), Aldershot or Maidstone United?

Unless there is a sea-change in the way clubs are managed, the number of dead companies will only increase.  If nothing is done, it is just possible that we will see the sector die.  The patient’s last words will probably be ‘Platini’s to blame‘, still accepting no responsibility themselves for their predicament.

On the other hand, they may decide to clean their Augean stables and, with alacrity, put their houses in order.

Which would you put money on?

Posted in Costs, Debts, Governance, HMRC, Insolvency, Organisational culture, Wages | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Management of a PL club from the inside

Posted by John Beech on September 7, 2009

John Williams, Chairman of Blackburn Rovers – a post he was promoted to  in 2005 from his earlier position as Chief Executive, is no ordinary PL Chairman. Clearly he does not subscribe to the culture of secrecy (see previous posting Culture of Secrecy) that makes any research on football management so challenging.

Today the Lancashire Telegraph published an interview with him by Andy Cryer. It can be read here.

This rare transparency is not only to be welcomed, but much more importantly it demonstrates that a Premier League club can be run on sound business lines.  Well worth the read.

Posted in Costs, Organisational culture, Revenues, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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