by Tony Attwood
Remember Portsmouth FC? Won the FA Cup in 2008, and were runners up in 2010. Went through a lot of owners with their own unique brand of governance. Now playing in the fourth division, after a seemingly endless series of owners did the dirty on the club. Oh and there was Arry Redknapp too.
Then there was Wimbledon – they won the FA Cup too beating Liverpool! and like Portsmouth have spent some time in the top division. Had a few financial difficulties, moved to Milton Keynes and now the original team is back in south London, where they have just got close to selling their Kingsmeadow ground to Chelsea. They aim to use the money to build another stadium in Merton.
Both clubs seem to be ok financially now, from the little I know of such matters, but that is more than can be said for a team that sits above both AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth: namely Northampton.
Northampton Borough Council used taxpayers money to finance a loan to Northampton Town FC for a stadium development. The stadium hasn’t been developed and the local authority says the club owes it more than £10.25 million. Tax officials say the club owes more than £166,000
The winding-up petition brought by HM Revenue & Customs against League Two club Northampton Town has been adjourned until 30 November. Players and staff were not paid in October. Quite separately the council have brought an administration petition against the club, to be heard on 27 November.
All of which leads to a question about governance, going on the from the article published earlier today on Untold: Is Governance the problem at Arsenal?
Arsenal has had various forms of governance since it was formed. For many years it was run by a committee, elected by all the members, but slowly the financial side of things got messy. When the solid guiding spirit of Jack Humble left the club in 1907 things got really bad, and when the club’s benefactor said he’d had enough the club came within moments of ceasing totally.
They were saved by the intervention of Henry Norris who paid off all their debts (including those that were not fully disclosed at the time) and who then tried to sell the now debt-free club to the citizens of Plumstead at £1 a share. When the locals didn’t want to know he spent much of his own fortune building Highbury, and moved the club north of the Thames.
Benefactors such as Sir Henry Norris (as he became in 1917) have thus been around since the earliest days of football, and Arsenal, being formed as a working men’s team, run and owned by the workers in the munitions factory, was very much an oddity. Most clubs were set up and run by the wealthy.
But even today not all clubs can make it.
Bolton Wanderers have just appointed the insolvency specialist Trevor Birch as an advisor to club owner Eddie Davies, an Isle of Man multi-millionaire who has said he can’t go on bankrolling the club. Where until 2012 there was a Premier League club there is now a Championship club currently in 23rd position with debts of £172.9 million and no way of raising more money.
|13||Queens Park Rangers||16||5||5||6||22||24||-2||20|
|17||Preston North End||16||3||8||5||11||13||-2||17|
|21||Milton Keynes Dons||16||4||2||10||14||23||-9||14|
And just take a look at that extract from the second tier table at the moment. Fulham – an ex-Premier League club taking the money of Mohamed al Fayed and now firing managers at a rate of one every couple of months. QPR who nearly got expelled from the league because of over-spending, until so recently a Premier League team, still with the same owner, but languishing. Leeds Utd, the team that so strongly challenged Arsenal in the early 1970s, wrecked under chairman Peter Ridsdale who took out large loans against the prospect of gate receipts from Champions League games. As Leeds had failed to qualify for the competition, there was simply not enough money coming in to repay the debt.
I’m not too sure what their fans thought of the third division, but I know what they thought of Ken Bates, and I don’t think Massimo Cellino who is currently in charge of governance is an owner who is most highly thought of at the moment. The phrase “Doing a Leeds” slipped into the lexicon.
Down one place we have Blackburn. The season 2011/12 was the club’s 72nd year in the top flight and they remain one of only five clubs to have won the Premier League, along with Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City.
In November 2010 the Indian company Venky’s London Limited bought the club, sacked the overweight manager and announced they were going to win the Premier League. “How hard can it be?” asked the Venky chair.
She found out quickly. In December 2011 it was announced that Blackburn Rovers posted an annual pre-tax loss of £18.6m. On 7 May 2012, the club was relegated to the Championship, where they have stumbled around ever since, often making idiots of themselves in the courts.
Then Nottingham Forest. From 1977/8 to 1979/80 they won the Football League, the League Cup (twice) and the European Cup (twice). By 2006 they were in the third division.
And then Charlton. By 2004 they were challenging for a Champions League position and coming comfortably mid-table or above in the Premier League under Curbishley. That he left was largely due to a load of fans saying that yes he had done well, but it was time for a new man to take them onto the next level – something that was beyond the most abilities of Curbishley.
By 2009 it was clear where that new level was – the third division.
And so to my point: when we talk about Governance of the club, we need, in my view, to talk about the outcome of the governance. Despite competing with two clubs that have funding the likes of which has never been seen before, Arsenal have won two of the domestic competitions of the past two years, just as Chelsea has, just as Man City has.
When wishing for a change just remember what can happen to clubs – even big clubs – when they start trying to grow and lose the plot. Tottenham in the second tier as recently as 1978. Man U were there in 1975. Chelsea in 1989 and by 1999 Man City decided to take a look at the third tier. Just to see what the third division was like.
Arsenal have not been out of the top tier since the first world war, and have just built the best stadium in the country using their own money. The governance that has allowed that, must have something going for it. Be careful what changes you wish for.
19 November 1897: Tom Parker born. He joined his local club playing his first season in the war leagues that carried on until 1919, then played with Southampton in the Southern League and then in the newly created third division.
The Untold Books
Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed football, is now available on Kindle at £9.99. For more details and to buy a copy please click here or go to Amazon Kindle and search for Woolwich Arsenal.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal