How not to run a football club

Go to football club and you will find people who complain.  They complain about the price of beer, the quality of the food, the action of the stewards inside the ground, the attitude of the police, the incompetence of the box office…

Over the years I have found football clubs to be among the most awful of business organisations, relying on my desire to give them money rather than any notion that they were providing a service.

If you want to know about the contempt with which clubs can regard the paying customer, just go back to the Bradford fire, caused by masses of rubbish that was packed under the seats of the main stand being ignited.  It is not so much that no one ever bothered to think, “oh this might be a problem”, it is more that a review of football grounds that many of us footballing nerds tend to buy, pointed out the danger years before.  It was public knowledge.  Nothing was done, the fans’ safety was not considered, and disaster struck.

Last season I was moved to make a complaint to a local authority health and safety department regarding a football match.  It was the pre-season friendly at Barnet, where the arrangements for fans to leave the main stand were insane, and could easily have led to disaster.   The officials at the Authority listened and took notes.  Whether they have done anything about it will be revealed at this season’s friendly.

Quite often the issues are on a much smaller scale – trivial in comparison with the issues of safety at football grounds.   Things like getting answers to questions, getting hold of tickets and so on.

Last season the issuing of membership was an utter disaster at Arsenal. There was delay upon delay at getting memberships out to fans and at the first league game of the season there were fans queuing half way round the ground to pick up membership cards for which they had paid a thousand pounds or more for, months before.

My own memberships were no problem, but the Junior Gunner memberships I took out for my twin grandsons (watch out for them as future mascots, they look amazing together in their kit) failed to arrive.   I phoned the club four times and sent three emails.  There was no reply to any email, and each time I got through on the phone I was given a different story.  They were out this week.  They would be out in a month.  They were sent last week – give it another week.  In the end the membership packs (complete with Gunnersaurus) turned up three months late.  It was atrocious, given that I was setting up what I hope will be a lifetime’s support for the boys.  I was marketing Arsenal, paying to do it, and being treated with contempt.

But, this year, I think they have sorted things out.  I might be tempting fate, but it looks that way.

I want to renew my two season tickets (obviously) but I also want to change the seats and move elsewhere in the stadium.   A special system has been set up to do just that, complete with one’s chances of getting the change one wants.  It’s neat and straightforward.

I had a particular query, so sent back and email, and got a reply that day.

In went the forms, but then I got a notice, as everyone got, telling me that the renewal deadline was only a few days away.  I emailed back saying, “does this mean you didn’t get my renewal notice?”

Within a few hours, a reply which politely pointed out that I was a total drongo because I had not told them my membership numbers so they couldn’t check my situation.  (Actually they were very polite).  I told them, and next morning there was the notice saying they had got my forms, and would try and reseat me, once all the renewals were in.

OK its not 100% but compared with last year its a bloody miracle.  Well done to Arsenal Independent Supporters Association who took up complaints about admin with the club a while back, and well done to Arsenal FC for getting it right.  Yes, they should have got it right before, yes it should be perfect now, but nevertheless this is a welcome improvement.

Compare and contrast with Man U, and the way they are handling the green and pink (or whatever the colours are) affair of rebelling supporters.   Life long steward removed from his job for handing a banner back to a supporter at the end of the game… not very good PR.

But best of all, compare and contrast Arsenal with Walsall.  OK not a major club, but I keep an eye on them ever since Paul Merson was there.

The Chief executive Roy Whalley announced that he was banning all  banner-waving protesters.  He’s annoyed that the chairman Jeff Bonser has  critics and he wants them shut up.

Whalley accused fans of “trying to destroy the club”, through their protest.  And so he invoked what he claims are Football League ground regulations to ban these fans from the ground.  He said, “The people who were involved will not be coming in to the match on Saturday. They will be banned until further notice. It’s against ground regulations and we’re not prepared to sit back and allow it to happen. We have pictures of those who were involved.

“They want to stop and think about what they are trying to do. They are damaging the club and putting off good supporters.

“When you have people who do not want to listen it’s as if they have a hidden agenda. If we let them do what they want they will destroy the club and drive people away.   They will not be allowed in! That type of behaviour is inciteful and is against ground regulations!”

That will teach them to beat us in the FA Cup in 1933.


Editor’s note: I am going away for a few days, and Walter has very kindly agreed to take over the operation of the site during my time away – for which I am extremely grateful.  If you have an article to submit for the next week please email (and not as I stupidly put last time.  I really must try and get this stuff right.  I think its an age thing).


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9 Replies to “How not to run a football club”

  1. Before we get too superior to Walsall, don’t forget that we banned national flags for a while. I don’t get to the Emirates/Grove often enough to know whether this caused problems to fans, but it never struck me as the smartest of decisions ever taken by the club.

    I do, however, fully support your policy on holding grudges. I was quite pleased that Blackpool beat Cardiff in the play-off last week, it was some small measure of schadenfreude for 1927!

  2. I got the feeling that the national flag thing was a problem in a small number of circumstances related to racist chanting by one or two eastern European clubs. The solution was, “stop them all” which is indeed a heavy handed approach.

    The relaxation of that rule is very much in keeping with a complete change of approach by the club, and a reflection of the attitude of the new professional managers that have taken over along with Mr Gazides. It seems to me like a breath of fresh air.

    But that’s not to say the club wasn’t progressing before. A year or so before the end of the Highbury era I went to a game as a silver member, and my partner forgot her ticket. We went up to the box office about an hour before the game, I gave my name and showed my ticket, and said her’s was bought with mine) and they had a duplicate printed in a second.

    That does not seem a big thing now, but 20 years ago I suspect we would have been refused admission.

    I’ve never forgiven Wrexham either.

  3. Sorry to be off topic, but how do you find old posts on here? Is there an archive section I’m not seeing?


  4. Hype,
    There is on the left hand side “archives” and “categories” and you can search on month or on categories.

  5. Thanks Walter, it’s one of your old posts I’m looking for!

  6. I’ve had the same experience when asking to change seats this season Tony. This is the first time the service has been respectable at Arsenal and I’ve had exactly the same experience of emails being ignored and rude phone staff in the past.

    If only they could sort out their match day service at the bars in the ground…

    Oh, and don’t expect a seat change – I’ve been asking for years! They always say the same: “we get thousands of seat change requests but can usually only move those that have a medical reason”.

  7. maybe is they ran it as a football club again and not a “businness “, it would be better off.

    It’s all design to bring financial benefit to shareholders, and the companies and corporations laws demand the shareholders get a benefit.

    See what happens when you allow private ownership of a sporting club?

  8. “I think its an age thing”, maybe you do need a few days holiday, Tony. 😉

  9. I believe the flag issue was after complaints about ‘rival’ Greek and Turkish ‘versions’ of the Cypriot flag

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