From Man U to Mansfield via Argentina, plus Ashley Cole is arrested.

This article is about relationships. (For details of Ashley Cole’s arrest, which is also about relationships, please see the second article near the end of this post.)

The relationship between organisations like FIFA, the FA and the EPL and their relationships with the clubs and each other.  Plus relationships between clubs and fans.  And relationships between the media and football.

In the end, it is all about relationships.

To try and make my point I am going to take in four totally diverse situations: Manchester United, Mansfield Town, Chester City and football in Argentina.   I’ve made these connections because these  examples seem to hold up to the light the problems we are facing.

Manchester United first: not the famous £750m debt, but the fact that supporters are turning against the owners of their club with the “green and gold” campaign.  The latest story to come out of Very Old Trafford is that the club is trying to stop the use of these flags and their web site has said that the green and gold flags may not be allowed in the future.

They have also recently sacked one of their long-serving stewards after he tried to return a banner (which had been removed) to fans after a game.

This complete lack of relationship between the club and the fans has been going on for some time – some people at the Ems don’t like the stewards and the standing policy, but the problems we have are nothing compared with those in Manchester.

But in the world of football all is not lost, although sometimes you have to look hard to find the rays of sunshine.  But here’s one…
Mansfield Town decided to allow fans to pay what they liked to watch their team at a recent match.  And the home attendance more than doubled.  Kick-off against Gateshead was delayed by 10 minutes as more than 7000 supporters turned up – more than turned up for the game against Middlesboro in the Cup a year or two back.  Home fans and away fans mixed together in the “away” end.  Everyone seemed happy.
(I think Bradford City are another club that do try to work with fans, and if I remember correctly, they regularly offer half price tickets providing they double the number of people at the game.)
Rather different at Chester, where the club is about to go out of existence, after some characters of interesting repute have been running the club into the ground for some time.  Chester failed to play their game against Ebbsfleet because the players refused to get on the bus – having not been paid in weeks, and now the police have refused to attend the next game against Wrexham (a local derby) because they haven’t been paid by the club either.   The fans have been boycotting Chester recently in protest at the way the club is being run.

And so to the Argentine. The start of this season in Argentina was postponed in August because the clubs owed so much money to players.

The clubs (including ones that even I know about like Boca Juniors and River Plate) blamed the recession in Europe  because European clubs are not paying so much to buy Argentine players, (although Boca themselves are now considered one of the few well run clubs and I believe are not in debt.)

Another part of the problem is that in the past the Argentine FA has bailed out clubs in trouble.   This is an interesting point, because the bail outs have made the clubs more and more reckless – and yet putting money aside to help clubs in the tough times is the grand scheme of that jolly old fella Lord Sugar of the Tiny Totts.  Interesting to see that it doesn’t always work.

Another possible reason for the chaos – and one we should note with interest – is that because the clubs are owned by members who elect the directors, the directors of clubs change all the time, and so there is no stable policy.  Mismanagement is rife, no one is ever held to account  and most  teams would have vanished into liquidation years back if any sort of financial regulations used in business had applied.  (I suspect Real Madrid might be much the same – and it is the downside of clubs being owned by fans).

But there is another issue: the “Barra Bravas” – an equivalent to the Ultras.  They also have an “ownership” within the clubs – in that they demand money from the clubs in return for their support!   Now how do you deal with that when you are in debt?  (I told you this was all about relationships).

In Argentina it seems you don’t although the clubs say that the Argentine FA should deal with the matter.  The Argentine FA says the clubs should work within their budgets.   Players in the Argentine are paid in dollars, because no one trusts the local currency.

But they have found a radical solution and it goes like this.

The TV rights for football in Argentina have been held by Televisión Satelital Codificada for years and years.   TSC had a monopoly, being owned by TyC (the biggest sports channel in the country), and Grupo Clarín, (the largest media group).

The monopoly has been felt to be a “bad thing”, despite bringing in huge amounts of money, so a law was passed this season ending the deal part way through the contract, and making all football free to air for any TV station that wanted it!

To make sense of this we have to consider Julio Grondona who has run the Argentine FA since 1979 and who is FIFA’s senior vice-president and head of its finance committee (you knew FIFA were going to come into this somewhere didn’t you!)   Let’s be clear – here is the man who has almost total control of a Football Association that is financially an absolute and total wreck and who is head of the finance committee of FIFA.   Got that?  Right, let’s get on…

When club directors went to the FA for money to pay players Grondona went to TSC and demanded cash up front for future TV contracts.  (I think we should note this, and in three years time nod knowingly when the EPL turn to Sky in the same way).   Grondona then said he would distribute the cash to the clubs. Personally.

TSC offered £7m in advance, but the clubs said they wanted a “better and more permanent solution”, and demanded over £42m.

Grondona then asked the government wipe out the clubs’ tax debts.  (Portsmouth, Cardiff, Southend, everyone – are you reading this?)

The government then came in with its  “everybody has a right to watch football” slogan, and made football a human right (the government really doesn’t like Clarín and sees it as running the opposition).

So the government seized football and gave it back to the people.  (But the tax debts still exist, and players are not being paid on time.)

Of course I am not saying all this will happen here, but there are just so many links with what is happening in the UK, that it makes you think….   And then you read what three guys who love Mansfield have done for their club, and know, it doesn’t all have to be like this.   Compare Chester, Mansfield and Man United – and then throw in Argentina and FIFA.

In reality football and economics are totally mixed, and any discussion of Arsenal, Wenger, or football in general, which does not include the economics is ultimately pointless.  To solve the mess you need a will, and intelligence.  It is all about relationships

And now, a new regular Untold Arsenal feature…


Ashley Cole is under arrest, charged with having an illicit relationship with a shoe box (according to the Daily Screwdriver).  Mr Cole, who is unable to drive because of a congenital inability to tell “50” from “120” denied the charge.  Inspector Letz Makeiteasysson in charge of the case said the shoe box (for size 12 loafers) had not yet been found.

  • Arsenal 100 years ago – read the rather amusing and quite adventurous MAKING THE ARSENAL novel  click here
  • Want to write for Untold Arsenal? Send in your idea or your piece to  Please send as a word document, include your name as you want it to appear in the article, and please assert that the article has not appeared and is not on offer anywhere else.  Articles must be in keeping with the style, wisdom and general elegance of this site.

Tony “I know football makes sense but I haven’t quite worked it out yet” Attwood

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28 Replies to “From Man U to Mansfield via Argentina, plus Ashley Cole is arrested.”

  1. I liked the Mansfield story a lot. Good to see how some teams use innovative ways to get the crowd in and to get more money in the club. They could have been searching for some Arab guy with lots of money but the way they did is great for the fans.

    About MU the fans I know and who have been putting their head in the sand for years despite me warning them (thanks to your articles Tony) have suddenly all gone very quiet on the Glazer subject as they begin to realise how deep they are in it. Must say it gives me a tiny bit of pleasure. Well why deny it… I really love it and hope they do a Leeds as it was one of them who said to me when Henry left that we would be out of the PL at the end of that season and we would be doing a Leeds.

    The Argentina situation is beyond words I would say. Maybe I could say it’s just the Argentina way of living but I don’t know Argintina that much to make that statement. But just crazy, very crazy.

  2. About the fans being paid for their support (what an idea…) I just read somewhere a few weeks ago that in Barcelona they have also some kind of ultra’s that get free tickets in exchange for their support. But as they turned out to be some kind of criminal organisation the president of Barcelona wanted to get rid of them. And this caused some problems between the board and those “fans” and even people were arrested if I remember right.

    What a crazy crazy world.

    And what a club we have who is like an oasis in the dessert.

  3. I think the thing about fan ownership is that it will probably most likely work if financial rules are imposed not within clubs but by the League as a condition of participation.

    So if football:
    1. Required wages:income ratios to be within certan boundaries.
    2. Worked tirelessly with HMRC and suppliers to enforce timely payment of creditors and deducted clubs 25pts if they didn’t comply.
    3. Required clubs to build up a cash position to pay for future stadia (you usually get 50 years+ notice for the need to build a new one so contributions probably won’t be penal), cash which is not accessible for payment of players or agents.
    4. Brutally locked up players, managers and Directors who conspired to fix football matches for gambling gain.

    then fan ownership might work. They could focus not on being auditors, policemen or lawyers but on being fans looking for the best fan experience for all.

    Of course, such a culture is somewhat alien to football traditions, particularly in this country.

  4. Walter, the Barça ultras you mention are called the Boixos Nois. They did have free entrance to the Gol Nord in the nineties, but they have conflicted with Laporta, especially after they threw a flare on a the Espanyol fans, Brigadas. Brigadas are their big rivals of course and the Boixos sing a song to commemorate a Brigada murdered by the Boixos, although I don’t know whether it actually happened.

    This kind of ultra’s power is of course recently pointed as one of the major flaws in the Serie A by Capello. I don’t know about current situations, but ultras in Italy used to have their tickets to away matches (and coaches) paid by the club. The capos made money out of it because they got a chunk of tickets and resold them. Also you’ve probably read about the ultras storming the training centres after bad matches etc.

    There is an interesting book on these kind of subjects written by Franklin Foer, called ‘How football explains the word’.

    Some of the stories are quite grim, like the fact that in the Balkans during the war a Serbian paramilitary group called Arkan’s Tigers were formed largely from the ‘Delije’, supporters of the Crvena Zvezda (or Red Star Belgrade). Although I must say that as a football fan and as a member of a small, dedicated fan group of our small town club, I really dislike the fact that people who don’t follow sports always tend to think that most football fans are some sort of hooligans.

    I think Misha Glenny’s excellent book McMafia also had something about ultras, but of course it’s mostly about organized crime.

  5. Yes, you have pointed out that fiscal irresponsibility can destroy the very foundations of your club, league even.
    No one doubts for a second that Arsenal can’t go nuts in the transfer market without risking financial armageddon. But that would be going from one extreme to the other- because for a club with such a supposedly healthy balance sheet Arsenal are taking no risks at all.
    Suggest that the debt incurred in building the Emirates stadium and the cautious approach to risk management means that Arsenal are only able to compete for Europe’s youth stars? Was that the purpose of building a 60,000 stadium to be Europe’s best feeder club?
    So what is the point in being healthy- so that you can appoint more beaurocrats? What are you suggesting that Arsenal’s player transfer and wages strategy should be?

  6. Tony,

    Scary stuff! How ironic that FIFA executive director of Finance is also the Argentinean FA commissioner. You almost want to believe that people “mean well” who hold these positions of power. But, the realization is the corrupt put themselves in the positions of power and do what they do. Where have all the honest people gone to?

  7. Oh, and good points about there Rhys about the fan ownership and financial rules. The presidential election nonsense is clearly the downside of the fans ownership (or doing a Notts County), like the Boixos Nois -case shows as well (ex-members of the board have influenced them and tried to use them to get rid of Laporta).

    The fan ownership seems to work much more sensibly in Germany but I think they do have stricter rules. Exception being that outside investors can buy minority shareholdings. Like Audi, who owns a part of Bayern München. I think that Purslow dude in Liverpool is trying to achieve something similar, with very little success. I think also French League has strict financial rules? They are of course in trouble as well, because they have relied also on transfer fees from the big leagues.

  8. walter, this is from barcaforum about the arrests: “a group called “FCB Casuals” who are the more extreme part of the BNs was recently targeted by the Mossos d’Esquadra in relation to extortion and drug charges. Their leader is expected to spend around 10 years in prison.”

  9. Goongerry…

    My own personal belief is that

    1. The feeder system Wegner set up seven or eight years ago is now bringing up through a number of excellent youngsters, who will make the team in the next couple of years, thus saving us transfer fees.

    2. The policy of buying young foreign players from Merida to the two bought last month, will also feed players through to the first team, again saving us money.

    3. We can go out and buy if we need to – Arshavin is perhaps an example of this.

    4. Since the Ems was built we now make more money per game even after the mortgage payments are made. So financially on a month by month arrangement we are better off – which is why it was built.

    5. In three years time Man U and Liverpool will be in such financial trouble they will be in administration or in retreat. One way or another they will become like Leeds. If we tried to follow them, we would do the same.

    6. Chelsea and Man C are each dependant on the whim of one man who could at any time up sticks and leave. Besides, Chelsea have repeatedly said that they want to be self-sufficient to meet with the requirements of UEFA but they have utterly failed to do this. As things stand we have seen no strategy from them for making this happen and without it they will be stopped from entry to the Champs League.

    You might disagree with some of my thoughts, but even if just half of them are true, we are on the edge of a new golden age.

  10. Thanks anaconda for the additional and intresting information. The thing you mentionned in your last comment was the thing I also had read somewhere but it was just reading and not really considered it important. Untill we play Barcelona in the next CL final. 😉

  11. Goonergerry, can you give me some examples where we have been Europe’s best feeder club ?
    We have sold the young players who weren’t good enough in the past years (and made money of them even when sold further on – eg Bentley to Spuds LOL). Not all can succeed and so get the chance of leaving us and build careers in other PL clubs.

    The players that have left the last years like Hleb, Flamini, Toure and Adebayor are not players that have been in the youth teams so we didn’t bring them up we bought them at a certain age and then sold them further for much money except Flamini.

    So in fact non of our youth project players really have been sold to big European clubs yet. Don’t talk about Cesc as he still is our captain and I have big belief in him and in his love for The Arsenal.

  12. If I was Roman Abramovic I would be absolutely gutted and pig sick by where Chelsea are today – over £700m pounds invested and yet they are faced with massive financial losses each year still, and now have a rapidly aging squad that will need to be rebuilt completely within the next 2 years or so. I would bet my life that if Abramovic could go back and start again, then he would adopt a model the same as Arsenal from day 1, rather than the buy everything that moves thats 25 yrs or older at top price, model. Thing is, he can’t even build a new stadium so the only way to really increase revenues for them now is by continual hikes in season tickets which are already the most expensive around. And despite domestic success they are still no closer to winning the CL.
    I also have a dream that one day Arsenal will field a team of completely home grown talent, incl. some British players, that goes on and dominates EPL and CL for a few years – much like that brilliant Ajax team of 1994/95 (Davids, Seedorf, Kluivert, Kanu, Van Der Sar, the De Boers, Bogarde, Overmars, Reizeger et al). What a team that was, and surely it must be all clubs ambition to field a team completely from its own ranks
    So I am happy that Arsenal go their own way and follow the path they have chosen – developing young talent, investing in the grass roots and scouting systems. Money is no guarantee of success and I remember back a few years when Liverpool were in the UEFA cup. they had been spending a good few millions even back then, but they met a Celta Vigo side that didn’t contain a single player bought for more than £1m, and got completely played off the park in both legs (I think Celta may have even got to the final that year as well). Scouting and finding and blending good young players does work, so carry on Lord Wenger.

  13. @Rhys: Although you make interesting points about the fan ownership and strict financial regulations, there is one fundamental problem that we forget to address- Anarchy!.. just imagine the future of a manager like Wenger would rest on the delicate balance between the divided support among us fans.. Thats why imo democracy is just a massive failure (although we’re made to believe otherwise).. in terms of “being run well”, there is not a single democratic nation that fits the bill.. So the club can be run by two kinds of ppl.. 1) Like our board (Not so crazy) 2) Chavs et al. (he he!).. So in this case there is atleast a 50% chance that it’ll be run efficiently.. none of our clubs in the EPL were owned by fans per se (My history is limited to the last decade and half), but there have been clubs where the fans have a huge say on vital issues.. The D&Gs could run naked screaming for Wenger’s head but it wont happen until the board decides so . There has been a lot of talk about Leeds but when it comes to theissue about “fans running the clubs” the classic example just has to be Newcastle FC.. They sacked one of the Greatest ever managers in football (RIP Sir Bobby) and from then on its been downhill!!

  14. i just discovered the most amazing fact……a civil war in Nigeria was stopped for 48 hours so that the people could watch Pele play.
    really it makes me believe in the power of football…….

  15. Unfortunately, the societies in the world are structured to favour the corrupt, the crooked, the wicked and the heartless. A soft-hearted, reasonable or methodical person is always laughed at and bullied. No wonder they always proclaim Arsenal to have a soft underbelly.

    There is no such thing as Common Sense. For if sense were common, everyone would have it. That’s why people are pathetically unable to appreciate the quiet strategic revolution that is going on at Arsenal.

    I read 2 very great articles today that put out great perspectives on our football development. If Tony would allow me, I will post the links,

  16. Here is one that asks how English the EPL truly is:

    And this one tries to eaplain why Arsenal chose the ‘Youth Policy’:

    I strong recommend these 2 articles. You’ll most certainly find them interestingly informative.

  17. AGS – I think you are half right about Abramovich. I do not think he has any problem with the money he has already spent. When Roman took over Chelsea he paid only 140million. He must have seen Chelsea as a very undervalued asset and rightly figured that, given its location, if he could turn them around then they would be worth a lot more money than 140million. So the money he has invested already is pretty much offset by the current value of Chelsea FC on the open market. That is why he has converted all his debt to equity. If he sells the club now then he will get most, if not all, of his money back.

    Where Abramovich must be annoyed is in the fact that Chelsea are still completely dependent on him, unable to buy players without his cash, and almost completely devoid of youngsters coming through their system.

    Roman would see the money already spent as a wise investment. However the thought of further expenditure wouldnt be so welcome.

  18. I’m not sure about how Spanish clubs run their elections, but I get the impression that they vote for a single candidate, who then gets the right to appoint everyone on the board. That all-or-nothing type of election leads to instability and the insane crazy promises (Cesc to Barca, Ronaldo to Real Madrid) that get made every election.

    I’d suggest that a member-owned and run board need not be so autocractic. Take a board with 10 members, on 4 year terms. You could make voting proportional. Candidates could still have group tickets, but votes counted will be for individuals. Thus, if two groups feature strongly in the voting (and win 50% of the vote each), both would get representation on the board. Or you could stagger the elections so that half the board are elected at any one election, thus retaining some sort of continuity.

    Plus, the difference between Spanish and English football is that the manager still has full control of transfers in English football. In Spanish football, a political candidate could pledge that he’d sign X, Y and Z. In English football, if the same candidate said that, the manager would tell him to go hang.

  19. “As a team, we need to be stronger. We can’t hide behind people saying we are too young or we have injuries. We just have to compete. People say you must learn from your mistakes, but you learn how to play football when you are 12, 13, 14, 15. You don’t learn these things when you are 25. That is why I do not believe age is an excuse.

    “In the past few years, we have been doing very well, but whenever it comes to important moments, maybe we haven’t been up where we need to be. We have always tried to play our football, but the goals we have conceded lately have come from defensive mistakes. We are a team, so we all take responsibility for it together. We can keep playing the same style of football, but it is the mentality that will determine whether you win trophies or not. We need an extra edge in these big games.”

    Cesc Fabregas said that. He mentioned nothing about cathedrals to football, Arsenal’s sound finances or Wenger’s great vision. His focus is on winning trophies, our defensive frailties and our mental deficiencies. Does that make Cesc Fabregas a spoilt plastic fan as well?

  20. WEG, No because Cesc Fabregas never said one of my teammate is shit or not worthy of wearing the Arsenal shirt.. These sort of comments shouldnt be coming from a fan.. Moreover Cesc didnt say we need world-class players or that we need to spend. If you read all his interviews, he says We HAVE the squad to win trophies. He believes in the squad. So why can’t some of the fans believe??

    He doesnt say anything about Cathedrals and stuff because He doesnt want to comment on things regarding the finances. It is not his business to talk about it even he is concerned about it because He knows there are people who are looking after that. Whereas we fans do need to be concerned about this as We dont want ou club to be in financial problems. Ask any Portsmouth or Leeds fans, they will explain this aspect better. We want our club to be at the top and in a good state for a long time. That is why the comparison with Cathedrals and stuff.

    If a player having a bad day or is playing when not fully match-fit, accept that but still support and cheer him instead of booing him.. Booing and making comments like ‘not fit to wear the shirt’ not only demoralises the player but the ENTIRE TEAM’s confidence. This squad has belief in every one’s abilities. If not, they wouldnt have been able to play the way they do.. They have lot of mutual understanding and knows other’s strengths and weaknesses. Check the way Song plays when he plays alongside Diaby and Denilson. Or the way AA plays with or without Eduardo or Cesc. or that TV or Gallas bomb forward lot more when Song plays..

    Check Henry’s interviews. He never says anything bad about the club or the players. He does gets disappointed when we lose like all of us but NEVER says any bad comments about any of the players..

    Or check Clichy’s latest interview on the official site where he says it feels good when FANS sing the players name. Just imagine the opposite where your own fans boo the players. Would that make them happy or worried for their teammate??

  21. Very well put IndianGooner.

    I just would like to complete by saying that in fact Cesc doesn’t have to care about finances. He only has to play and do his best for the team.

    Also read the Clichy statement and I really thought it was a kind of statement to the fans to get FULLY behind the team and ALL the players.

    Like Clichy said: cheering the players and singing their song is the only way during a game we, the fans, can make the players feel we are behind them even if they make mistakes.

    Can someone take a big hammer and hammer it in the heads of those booing type of fans and those fans producing lines on internet sites like “never fit enough to put a shirt on” or other b*llsh*t.

    Players that are feeling love of the fans will work harder than players who feel the disgust of some part of the fans.

  22. Walter,-How about Ashley Cole for starters. – but every close season since Arsene has been developing this team we have had our top stars playing cat and mouse with the big european clubs before eventually leaving. Players like Flamini, Overnars, Petit, even Vieira and Henry for all their greatness still saw this club as a stepping stone to a bigger club. It is an inevitability that young players we are developing will go elsewhere if we cannot match the ambitions, wages and conditions of other clubs when they develop into top players. Lets hope Cesc is different.
    It does seem strange to me to go overboard about our financial position when we have sold experienced players this season in order to partly finance our overall debt.

    Lets hope Cesc is different.

  23. Indian Gunner, of course Cesc isn’t saying that other players are shit. He’s probably thinking it, but that’s not what you say in the national media. Almunia isn’t good enough for the Arsenal. He hasn’t been good enough for 4.5 years out of 5. It’s not a radical statement I’m making here. 8/10 gooners would agree. But that’s not the point.

    The point is that Cesc is focused on the here and now, and not five years down the track. Here and now, we can do things to improve the squad: improve our application and improve our defence. This has NOTHING to do with finances. But is Arsenal doing anything to improve these two aspects of our squad? No. THAT’S what is pissing off the fans who have taken their blinkers off.

    So while it’s all good and well for you guys to talk about 5 years down the track, the rest of us are worrying about why we’re failing in the same areas that we’ve been failing for 5 years, and why there’s been no sign of improvement in the meantime.

  24. Tony: Your comment about Chelsea not being able to meet the new demands for financial solvency set forth by UEFA, in regards to competing in the ECL.
    Do you really expect that a G-14 club will be held accountable for these rigid (but altogether fair)demands? Or will the club’s lawyers be able to find and exploit some loophole? Think about the player trading ban imposed on Chelsea, but then later being completely lifted and the club acquitted of any wrongdoing, whatsoever?

    Thx for the good work.


  25. Well endowed gooner, No one can ever really say what Cesc is thinking so we only can look to his statements when he makes one.
    So it is a bit easy to say “he is probably thinking it”. I can tell that he is probably thinking the opposite. And we still don’t know what he is really thinking.

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