Football chairmen hold a position of great power and therefore great responsibility yet it is amazing how often they abuse this power and ignore their responsibility. If you think Mike Ashley is a bad chairman, he’s not a patch on some of the spectacular meddlers to grace the boardrooms (and changing rooms) of Britain. A quick look around the leagues of British football brings up more tales of relentless interference, selfishness and stupidity than the premiership has kiss and tells.
There are two types of terrible chairmen. The first is the meddler. Some of these men are under the dangerous illusion that owning a football club suddenly qualifies them as a professional manager. Others just do what they want because they can. It’s their money and they’ll be damned if someone else gets to play with it.
The most high profile meddlers in British football are Flavio Briatore and Vladimir Romanov. Briatore has now relinquished his role as Q.P.R boss but was known to have dabbled in team selections and once ordered a substitution by phone from Malaysia. Romanov, the current chairman of Hearts, is currently working with his 9th manager since gaining ownership of the club in 2004. His involvement in team affairs is common knowledge with a succession of managers forced to fax their team selections to him on Friday morning and then field whatever team Romanov faxed back. He has essentially just worked his way through a string of puppet managers, unsurprisingly without great success.
Of the chairmen who actually took on the title of manger, here are two particularly fine examples: P.E. teacher and sports science enthusiast Michael Knighton nearly led Carlisle United to back to back relegations before he came to his senses and hired Nigel Pearson to rescue the club. And American Football coach Terry Smith led Chester City to a triumphant relegation fielding three captains at once in the process. One for offense, one for defense and one for midfield he reasoned.
In the lower leagues there have been numerous examples of unsavoury owners running clubs into the ground. However there has only been one example of the owner burning it to the ground. In 1995 Doncaster chairman Ken Richardson hired two men to burn down the main stand for insurance purposes. One of the men left their mobile phone at the scene and Richardson was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
It is surprising how many fraudsters and disreputable people manage to get their hands on football clubs. Anton Johnson owned two clubs (which is illegal), Rotherham and Southend, in the early 80’s and was found guilty of financial malpractice at both!
In a world where some Chairmen pick the team every week and burn down the stadium, the Premiership looks blessed with a fairly hands-off and honest bunch. The only problem the top tier chairmen really face is debt. Let’s hope they’ve learned from Ridsdale’s mistakes.