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

Posts Tagged ‘Players' careers’

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 »

‘Club’, ‘club’ or ‘club’??? A 3Cs model

Posted by John Beech on February 9, 2011

The evidence submitted by the Premier League to the House of Commons Select Committee prompts me to write again on the inherent ambiguity of the word ‘club’.  The evidence contains the following statement:

English football clubs are very resilient with 95% of the clubs in the Football League in 1923 still in existence today and the vast majority within two divisions of their 1923 position

How can you square this with the equally true statement that over half the clubs in the top 92 have suffered insolvency events since 1990, with frequent cases of Administration and a new company being formed by new owners?  The difference, of course, lies in what exactly is meant by the word ‘club’.

In one significant respect it is not a word that should, in any case, be applied to today’s ‘clubs’.  It dates from the nineteenth century when football clubs were indeed members’ clubs, run by and for their members, associations of two or more people united by a common interest or goal, but professionalisation of the game at the end of that century meant that the formation of a limited company became the only practical way to operate.  ‘Members’ disappeared from the equation.  The use of the word ‘club’ persists, however, nearly always at least in the actual name of the company.  A breach of the Trades Description Act perhaps?

If we ignore the meaning ‘members’ clubs’ then there are to me three distinct meanings, and they are all too easily confused.

First there is the social construct.  This is the ‘club’ that fans normally think of as being the club.  It doesn’t actually exist in any formal sense, but is incredibly ‘real’ to its supporters.  It provokes the ‘till I die’ element and the tattoos.  It is built on heritage, culture, mentality and mythology.  To illustrate it, I have used in presentations a photo of the famous John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood.  It is notable indeed for its longevity.  It survives the disappearance and (later) resurrection of a club, and often with slight changes in name – think Aldershot; think Accrington Stanley.  Or conversely, don’t think Wimbledon and MK Dons – it is precisely the construct of ‘Wimbledon’ that to some extent is still contested, a fight over ‘Whose Wimbledon is it anyway?’.  (I’m sure readers don’t need telling the answer by the way!)  This example serves well to show how this social construct is also embedded in location and identity, which gives it its permanence.

In short, it is the club as construct that fans support.  There is no inconsistency other than the use of the word ‘club’ when fans find themselves in conflict with the owners of the ‘club’ (and, remember, there are no longer members of the ‘club’), to use a second meaning – the club as company, a different  meaning.  My loyalty to Pompey – the club as construct – does not in any way automatically transfer to a loyalty to Messrs. Mandaric, Gaydamak, Al Fahim, Al Faraj, Chainrai or indeed Uncle Tom Cobleyski.  I doubt too that John Eastwood has been tempted to have any of their faces as tattoos.

This distinction between club as construct and club as company is an important one.  In particular, it should be considered when desperate directors call on fans to get the collecting boxes out to save the club.  fans will certainly want to save their club as construct, but want to think twice about saving their club as current company, i.e. the current board of directors.

The club as company does not show the longevity, or continuity, that club as construct does.  Frequently the inclusion of a bracketed year in the company’s name is an indication of discontinuity, for example, Middlesbrough Football and Athletic Club (1986) Ltd., Wrexham Football Club (2006) Ltd.  95% of the (football club) companies around in 1923 are most definitely not still in existence!

The third version of club is the club as crew, in other words the players.  The crew has a continuity, but no consistency of membership over time.  The crew is a case of Trigger’s broom, with players coming and going, and sometimes reappearing in an opposition team.  The days of one-club players such as Jimmy Dickinson (Portsmouth) or Jack Charlton (Leeds) are long gone.  As fans we show them our loyalty, but the minute they leave our loyalty tends to evaporate, as we perceive a lack of loyalty to the club as construct on their part.

Three different meanings of the word ‘club’ with quite significant difference in the loyalty we show them, in longevity and in continuity.  Is it just petty academic differences?  I think not.  For fans, it is the construct that matters ultimately.  Directors have been known to have no concern for club as construct; the postings on this blog can certainly suggest some examples.

The important distinction to me is the fans’ view of club as construct as opposed to the directors’ perspective of club as company.  My blood boils when directors use the club as construct to get fans to help them hold on to power in the club as company.  There are certainly situations when fans might well be advised to not donate to collections, as this can just prolong the mismanagement of their beloved club.

Mind you, confusing, at haste, club as construct with club as crew can be a mistake to regret at leisure, as at least one Liverpool fan must now be doing.

Posted in Fans, Governance, Identity, Ownership, Players' careers | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

Bournemouth’s predicament

Posted by John Beech on October 11, 2009

Bournemouth is a club which is, in the words of Ron Pickering, ‘really quite remarkable’ (1).

Last season they manged a remarkable run, avoiding relegation in spite of starting with a 17 points penalty.  Without that penalty, they would have been nudging the play-off positions.  As I write, they are sitting at the top of the table, in spite of a transfer embargo and injury problems – a fortnight ago they were down to a 14 man squad, and given special dispensation for an emergency loan (2).  In short, players and manager are doing an amazing job.

Off the pitch, things are not so bright.  The club has had ongoing financial problems for over a decade.  In January 1997, following a period of rather too light a touch management, they went into Administration with debts of £4m, including a debt to Lloyds Bank of £2.3m.  They managed to repay these debts while in a CVA, but it can be argued that this financial burden is still being felt today.

By 2003 the club was having to borrow from the PFA in order to pay wages (3).  Serious attempts were made to sort out the club’s financial position (e.g. [4]), but in February 2008 the club was back in Administration, with debts of £5.8m, including £1m to HMRC.  It is worth recalling that a High Court judge at the time of the 1997 problems said, in adjourning a winding-up order brought by the Inland Revenue, “The Inland Revenue have waited long enough for their money,and this has to be the last chance” (The Guardian, 21 March 1997).  It had already been forced into a sell-and-lease-back deal on the stadium (5) in late 2005.

Ownership of the club has been a story in itself.  Jeff Mostyn and Steve Sly took over in March 2007 (6) from a supporters-based group, but by December that year were considering the need to put the club into Administration (7), and two months later they did (8).  One Eddie Mitchell lined up a bid for the club (9), but in April the Administrators accepted a bid from Marc Jackson over one from Jeff Mostyn (10).  The bid however collapsed (11).  Two new bids were announced, but by the end of April Mostyn was announced as the preferred bidder (12).  In July another bidder appeared – Alan Pither (13) – but the club was sold to Sport-6, a consortium involving Jeff Mostyn, Steve Sly, Paul Baker, and Alastair Saverimutto (14), who promised a seven-figue investment.  Baker provided the Bournemouth Echo with an interesting interview (15).

As the players began the battle to overcome the 17 points deduction, events off the pitch accelerated at an unnerving pace.  Mostyn resigned in October (16), Baker became Chairman and Adam Murry joined the board (17), and Saverimutto was interviewed by the Bournemouth Echo (18), asserting that Baker had put “billions” into the club, or at another point in the interview “not far off that seven figure sum [Well, which?  One million is a seven figure sum! JB], which was rather surprising as on the same day a notice that liquidators had been appointed appeared in the London Gazette (19)!

In November Pither re-emerged as a wannabe owner (20), then Saverimutto insisted the club was not for sale (21) and again tried, with perhaps a hint of desparation, to set the record straight in the Bournemouth Echo (22).

At the end of December, Baker announced that he had sold his shares (50%) to a Murry-led consortium (23 and 24), but at the beginning of February it emerged that the consortium had not materialised (25).  Meantime the creditors were circling (26) and the club had to defer rent payments on the stadium (27).

Later in the month Pither tabled a £1 bid for the club (28), shortly followed by Saverimutto announcing that a Middle East consortium was negotiating to buy the club (29) (could it have been Munto?), and then the sale would be to a Murry-led consortium which includes Mostyn and Sly(30).  Saverimutto then departs (31), stating “For the record, both the HMRC / VAT and the Football League both received direct contact from the Middle East consortium’s UK-authorised representative, detailing and confirming their principal intent to invest several million pounds of liquid cash into the club in April, and an immediate intent to re-purchase the stadium“.

By the end of March the creditors are again circling (32 and 33).  Bidders come and go, and only on 20 June is it finally announced that the Murry consortium has actually bought the club (34).  Now included in the consortium is Eddie Mitchell (see postings passim), who is appointed Chairman.  Almost four months on, the club is still under a transfer embargo and still fighting off an HMRC winding-up order.

As I said, really quite remarkable.  A microcosm of all that is good about players,and much of what is wrong with football management.  The big question is why is Bournemouth apparently so sought after by investors who turn out be unable and/or unwilling to invest significant levels of money in the club?

Particularly worrying to me is the possibility that the club does gain promotion at the end of the season.  The players and the fans would undoubtedly deserve it, but without a sustainable business model and appropriate investment the likelihood is that the club would simply yo-yo back, and enter another downward spiral into Administration.  Just how much can a club suffer?

Posted in Benefactors, Debts, HMRC, Insolvency, Ownership | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Of footballers and horses!

Posted by John Beech on June 17, 2009

Last week at the Play the Game Conference, my colleague Dr Terri Byers gave a very interesting paper entitled Use or Abuse ? Animals in Sport (1). She focussed in particular on horse racing, and how horses fitted into the sport.

Her framework for analysis identified three phases in the life cycle of race horses and eventing horses:

  1. The Breeding Phase
    where far too many horses are bred, the surplus are simply discarded with far too little thought for their welfare, and little thought is given on how this large unwanted surplus might be reduced
  2. The Competition Career
    where welfare of the horse is paramount, but any horse which is badly injured is simply discarded
  3. The Post-Career Phase
    which attracts little attention and where the welfare of the horse is a very low priority for those engaged in the sport

Sound vaguely familiar?

More seriously, if there is a parallel, it suggests interesting research agendas into youth football development programmes (and what happens to the many aspirants who do not make the grade), and what happens to retired footballers who don’t make the grade as managers or TV pundits. In the old days they would often have become pub landlords or opened an independent sports equipment shop in their home town – neither are likely to be career options for the footballer retiring today.

Now you may think “What’s the problem? They earn so much during their albeit short careers!”, but this is only true for the elite. For the journeyman footballer of the lower tiers of professional football, there is often a real problem. The PFA have taken significant steps to help footballers post-career, but there are so many of them.

You may recall Jimmy Glass, the Carlisle goalkeeper, who carved himself a particular immortal niche in pub quizzes by scoring the goal that kept Carlisle up during the final minute of extra time in the final game of the season – his ’95th minute of fame’. That was back in 1999. Today he drives a taxi in Poole (2).

At least they don’t shoot footballers.

Posted in Players' careers | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

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