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 Post subject: Football Owners... a real mixed bag
PostPosted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 2:47 pm 
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General of the Army
General of the Army

Joined: Mon Sep 15, 2008 11:53 am
Posts: 31162
Location: Milton Keynes
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There was a time, even if it is going back to the days when Fred Perry was Wimbledon champion and the first K6 red telephone boxes were being put in place, when Brentford could legitimately claim to be the top club in London. They finished fifth in their first-ever season in Division One in 1936, one place above Arsenal and three ahead of Chelsea. Tottenham, West Ham, Fulham and Charlton were all in the division below and, to show it was no fluke, Brentford had top-six finishes in two of the next three seasons before the second world war put the league on hold.

Since then, not so much. Brentford were relegated in the first season after the league resumed and have plodded along innocuously ever since, bar the intermittent periods of crisis that clubs their size occasionally encounter. There have been more seasons than they will care to remember when they have been bucket-collection skint and the nadir, in 1967, was an attempted takeover by Queens Park Rangers that would have closed them down and invited the Daily Mirror headline: “Goodbye, Brentford”. The takeover was abandoned and Brentford went back to the puddles and potholes of lower-league football. They had dropped down another level in 1954 and 59 of the next 60 years were spent in the bottom two divisions.

Then something strange happened. Mark Warburton was appointed as manager in December 2013 when Uwe Rösler left for Wigan. Brentford were swiftly promoted and their upward momentum has continued in the Championship this season. They had been in the top six since 8 November until losing at Charlton on Saturday and there are only four managers in the entire country – José Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini, Brendan Rodgers and Steve McClaren – who can better Warburton’s average of 1.87 points a game during his 14 months in charge.

Ready for the catch? Last week, Warburton was told he will be moved out at the end of the season even if Brentford get to the Premier League and all the bags of gold that involves. Moreover, he learned the club’s owner, Matthew Benham, and the chairman, Cliff Crown, had already started the process of finding a replacement and flown to Spain to sound out Paco Jémez, the Rayo Vallecano coach. The story was leaked and Brentford initially tried to pretend it was over-imaginative journalism, then had to think again when it became clear Warburton would not go along with the deception. That night, they played Watford at Griffin Park. When the home side scored the first goal every single player ran to the dugout to pile on top of their manager.

It is a remarkable story but especially when Benham is actually regarded as one of the more switched-on people in the business. Benham is a former hedge-fund manager turned professional gambler who has followed Brentford since 1979 and put in almost £90m so far. They sing his name at every game and, until now, he has always seemed like a Sensible party candidate, if you remember the old Monty Python sketch, at a time when too many of his peers could be divided up between the Silly party and the Slightly Silly party.

The sport is littered with stories of boardroom buffoonery, of course, and Brentford’s supporters can certainly vouch for that bearing in mind one of Benham’s predecessors, David Webb, was so unpopular a protest group used to drive a van bearing the message “Why are you killing Brentford FC, Mr Webb?” around various destinations, including Trafalgar Square and Football Association headquarters. Ron Noades appointed himself as chairman-manager, proposed a ground-share at Woking and eventually had to sack himself, and Brentford’s older fans will remember how the deal that the chairman of the time, Jack Dunnett, secretly cooked up with QPR led to another protest movement and posters saying: “Who done it? Dunnett dunnit.”

Every club invariably has a few horror stories and I doubt anyone could possibly outdo the one Sir Bobby Robson told at a League Managers Association dinner a few years back about his time managing Ipswich Town and a game at Leicester City when they lost 5-0 and his chairman, John Cobbold, bounded over afterwards. “The team’s playing bloody well, Bobby. Have you been doing something special in training?” It took a few minutes before Robson realised Cobbold – who would tend to drink a bottle of champagne during every match, or two if they won, and went by the rule “there is no crisis at Ipswich until the white wine runs out” – hadn’t realised Ipswich were in their away kit.

All the same, the question has to be asked: has there ever been a time when the people running our football clubs have been such an eclectic, unpredictable and downright bewildering bunch? There has certainly never been an era before when the owners have been so prominent and the long-held view here is that if Spitting Image ever did make a comeback there is all sorts of fun to be had from Mike Ashley, Roman Abramovich and the Glazer siblings, just for starters.

Yet it’s probably even worse outside the Premier League, just with less exposure, and one does fear for some of these clubs if they ever did reach the top division and the publicity they might get if they carried on acting this way. It is also probably just going to get worse now the tills are ringing with all the satellite-dish money and don’t be surprised over the next few years if we see even more sackings and chronic knee-jerking now the relevant clubs know the different set of numbers, financially, between the top two divisions.

Yet it’s already fairly extreme if we just take a look through the Championship and consider that the biggest club, Leeds United, are waiting for Massimo Cellino, a Sardinian convicted fraudster, to resume duties (behind a desk, I make no apologies for repeating, where he keeps a small tower-block of fag packets and a fruit bowl filled with jam doughnuts) after a year in which he has employed four managers, been banned for failing the fit-and-proper-person test and confirmed his irrational dislike of the No17 by making it one of the reasons why Paddy Kenny – born on 17 May 1978 – was fast-tracked out of the club.

Elsewhere, it isn’t easy sometimes trying to understand Vincent Tan at Cardiff City or Fawaz al-Hasawi at Nottingham Forest and something stinks about what is happening at Charlton Athletic and the way Roland Duchâtelet is establishing them an end-piece in an empire of clubs that has Standard Liège at the top.

My colleague David Conn reported recently how the Football League had written to Birmingham City asking whether their former owner, Carson Yeung, was effectively acting as a director from behind a prison cell while the one-time hairstylist serves a six-year sentence for money laundering.

Then we get to the Lancashire clubs and their extensive issues. Dave Whelan, Wigan Athletic’s chairman, has just returned to work after a six-week ban for using racially offensive words, shortly after employing a manager who is under investigation for precisely the same. Bolton’s chairman, Phil Gartside, is due in court later this month after being summonsed on five charges of perjury and one of fraud (he denies them all). Karl Oyston probably deserves a column of his own but let’s keep it short and just say that Blackpool’s chairman is not only showing how not to run a football club but doing it in a way whereby many supporters think of him as having a heart of gold. Yellow and hard.

As for Blackburn Rovers – well who could have thought that Ewood Park, under the ownership of the Venky’s family, would suddenly seem as calm as a still pond compared to the rough seas elsewhere? Venky’s spent an awfully long time getting everything wrong when they took over, so it is only fair to point out they do at least appear to have found another way than the theory of chaos. For now, anyway.

Back at Brentford, it turns out Benham wants a more scientific approach, including the appointment of a specialist free-kick coach and someone to monitor sleep patterns and recovery periods. Warburton’s argument is that he has not done too badly with his current methods and already embraces sports science. Yet that clearly has not been good enough and Benham has concluded a foreign manager might be better, even though Jémez barely speaks a word of English.

Hopefully there’s still time for owner and manager to work it out and Benham will think again. He really ought to because – whether it is fair or not – he is opening himself to allegations of being another Silly candidate with more money than sense. He just has to look around the rest of the league to realise there are enough of them out there already.


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