I read something this week that reinforced my suspicion that modern football’s turning into a complete circus. It comes from a new book chronicling the demise of Coventry City since they were bought out by a hedge fund in 2007. In a board meeting it was discussed that the Club introduce a ‘text-a-substitute’ scheme during games. Supporters would be given a number they could text (at premium rates) to say who they wanted to be substituted and who would replace them. Votes would then be counted and the change announced. The manager would then have to comply with the crowds wishes.
Fortunately - or unfortunately depending on your feelings regarding Coventry City, and no, I haven’t forgotten that game either - the scheme wasn’t adopted. And whatever your feelings, you can’t deny that the Club have been run into the ground since the takeover. They have no stadium agreement after next season, the training ground could be sold off for development, the academy is at risk of closure and the Club faces a real risk of disappearing from the League altogether. And what can be done about it? Very little.
Once the owner(s) have a majority shareholding they only have to answer to themselves and this is the accepted business model for the vast majority of English league clubs, as some have learnt to their cost. Leeds United is a similar case. When their owner Massimo Cellino arrived he started his tenure by sacking the manager Brian McDermott. He then reinstated him because he didn’t actually own the Club when he pulled the trigger. As soon as the deal went through he sacked him again and appointed the ex-Forest Green Rovers manager Dave Hockaday. Just to confirm he was a raving nutjob, he got rid of the goalkeeper Paddy Kenny because he was born on the 17th of the month which he believed was hugely unlucky and banned anything in the club which was purple.
Although extreme, it’s not an isolated incident. New owners don’t always have the best interests of the clubs at heart when they take over. The Glazers took over Manchester United as a money spinning exercise, Ashley took over Newcastle to advertise his main business, the Venky family – poultry specialists, took over Blackburn Rovers because.…no-one really knows, they didn’t even realise that teams could be relegated. Until they were. Similar problems at Manchester City where they dodged a bullet with Thaksin Shinawatra, and at Blackpool, Cardiff City and Charlton which have all resulted in protests and left supporters with feelings of disillusionment and helplessness.
It therefore comes as no surprise that such clubs have a high turnover of managers and back room staff and are less than successful both on and off the pitch. If you look at clubs such as Everton with Bill Kenwright at the helm, Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough, Peter Coates at Stoke you can see their influence disseminated throughout the Club leading to stability and prosperity and if this is the ideal, what measures are in place to save other clubs from the fate of Coventry, Blackpool and Blackburn?
It’s called The Fit and Proper Test and the fact that it’s been in place since 2004 gives us some idea as to it’s effectiveness. It sets out all the criteria that would preclude a prospective owner from taking over a football club, including the usual company law stuff of being prohibited from being a director, have unspent criminal convictions or are bankrupt etc. However, with all these things, the devil’s in the detail, and the fact that the Football League and The Premier League interpret the test in different ways is an indication that a change is long overdue.
In the Football League the ‘unspent criminal convictions’ clause only relates to crimes of dishonesty, whereas in the Premier League it includes dishonesty or any sentence of twelve months or more imprisonment. So if you’re a rapist or murderer, you’re better off buying a club outside of the top flight where it’s entirely legal. Similarly if you’re a serial arsonist or a paranoid schitzophrenic that’s just inherited a fortune and think that people in uniform are out to get you - then the Football League is the one for you.
Unless you’ve been banned by another sporting body of course, in which case you can’t buy in the Football League, but can in the Premier League.
However, there’s nothing in the test about the individual being fit and proper to run the Club in a manner which most benefits their supporters and their community and until it does, then we’re all playing a lottery with the clubs we love.
Burnley have no such problems. Back in the Premier League after dropping out last season, and many would agree, run as a football club should be. After winning promotion as Champions, their biggest investment to prepare them for another season at the top was to buy new floodlights. And it seems to be doing well - wins against Liverpool, Everton, Watford and Palace as well as a draw at Old Trafford see them currently sitting in the top ten. But it’s Sean Dyche that’s taking all the plaudits. He took over from Eddie Howe four years ago and has shaped the team in his own no-nonsense image.
And the question has to be asked – could any other Premier League Manager take Sean Dyche in a fight? I don’t think so, but I’d like to see Alan Pardew try. If he was on the door, Dyche could stop half of Fawcett Street getting into The Vestry on the night Sunderland won the Champions League. He’s the only manager that could keep Joey Barton on the straight and narrow for a whole season – and get the best out of him, and he comes across as knowledgeable, practical and realistic and the Premier League is better off for having him and his team in it. As long as we beat them, of course.
Slaven Bilic thinks Andy Carroll is a ‘really brave man’ after the West Ham striker was pursued by armed gunman after leaving training on Wednesday. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘target man’, doesn’t it? For me, the most surprising aspect was the fact that Andy Carroll was in training. That he was targeted by gunman – not so much.
Just think back to his Newcastle days when he had to live with Kevin Nolan (something to do with beating up his girlfriend as I remember) and his brand new Range Rover was torched on the drive - it made me think then that Andy was hanging around with unsavoury sorts, and it sounds like nothing has changed. Given the directors in charge at his current club, he’s probably feeling very much at home.