By Alan Myers
Football club ownership is never usually far away from the headlines. More and more frequently, supporters and media talk extensively about the performance either good or bad of the owners of their particular clubs rather than the football itself.
During the past ten to fifteen years but increasingly more so in the last couple of years, we’ve seen very varied and sometimes shocking displays of poor ownership and in a few situations a total neglect of everything those clubs and indeed the national game stands for.
I don’t look to point fingers or talk about well documented or specific examples, but more so look at the reasons why we see such failures and what can be done both locally and nationally to prevent them becoming more prevalent.
It must be pointed out that the majority of our clubs are well run and specifically at times under very difficult circumstances, in a very tough market. However, it is the minority of failures which often keep us awake at night.
There are many reasons why these clubs don’t enjoy success and indeed almost guarantee failure when new owners come in. Of course it’s easy to point towards foreign owners as the example, but I don’t subscribe to the theory that it’s exclusively people from oversees who necessarily get it so wrong, there are many examples to the contrary.
It is however, fair to say that most cases of an ownership going wrong usually involve those who come into the game without the unique and complex knowledge of how football in England works. I can tell you from experience it’s a tough place to do business, even if those same people boast an impressive and successful portfolio away from football either at home or abroad.
For me, the biggest problem I’ve seen and experienced, is the issue of responsibility and accountability. All businesses whether it’s football or not need both. Without responsibility you cannot have accountability and without accountability you will find opportunism; all this is a recipe for disaster.
Most owners, and in particular those coming to the English game from different parts of the world, in the main, rely on people who have been in and around football for many years – not bad practice at all and in fact, a sensible policy. Unfortunately I believe a number of these owners rely on too many of these people at the same time, leading to, in some cases, an environment of confusion as to who is responsible for what, which creates the aforementioned issues.
For example (and not being specific) with regards the Director of Football role, I’ve seen very little evidence that this system works. If it does then good luck to those who achieve it, but for me a strong Manager/CEO relationship is all that’s needed to create a successful working environment, along with a strong scouting system to compliment. Clear lines of responsibility and again accountability.
There are cultural differences also in the way people do business, this can often be an issue but with a measure of understanding and patience one that can easily be avoided. Again though in football, especially at the fast paced and unforgiving nature of the top end of the game, these are rare commodities.
I often hear fans saying that the games governing bodies “should do more” and “the fit and proper test isn’t fit for purpose” and whilst there may be a degree of mileage in this argument, I have sympathy for those who administer the game, as often it’s naivety, apathy or in some cases bordering on stupidity which causes the problems. The last time I looked there is no law against any of these.
In truth the answer to the problem is very difficult to find and the varied nature of the mistakes makes it hard to police or legislate against. How people do business is something for them and not necessarily the administrators of the game.
As supporters we often expect, in contrast to other businesses, owners to not only plough finances into a sometimes seemingly lost cause, but to also have a social and moral responsibility when handling our institutions. At the same time I accept the argument that nobody forces people to buy a football club.
However, I believe that more should be done to educate, advise and ultimately protect those choosing to come into football club ownership at the point of entry, a kind of joint task force of the various governing bodies if you will, at the very least to point out the pitfalls and complexities of the business. The question is I guess, how many would listen?
The game needs the global interest and finance for it to continue to prosper. Our leagues are arguably the best in the world and I believe the game has got to where it is in some part due to the global nature of the ownership in this country.
However, we must ensure that anybody coming to own a club in the “home of football” should be given every opportunity and assistance to make it work, whilst at the same time, guarding against those who choose to disregard its history, passion and traditions.
It’s time for everybody in the game to think about that tradition because it’s the heart and soul of the game we love – it’s what all our clubs, whether in the Premier League or the National League, are built on.
We all want those owners who bring the trophies and successes to our clubs, we all know them and thankfully, as I’ve said, the majority are caring and respectful. But we also want all owners to understand their responsibilities and, at a minimum, respect what our clubs mean to all of us.