Clubs seem to be hitting financial troubles left, right and centre these days. But Wolverhampton Wanderers are rolling along nicely, with no debt in sight. And that is thanks to Steve Morgan and his shrewd running of the Black Country club.
Of course, he was helped massively by the Molineux side’s former owner, Sir Jack Hayward, who wrote off £50 million when he sold Morgan his beloved club for a token £10 (yes, a tenner) in 2007. It was a marvelous gesture from Sir Jack who, despite hefty amounts of expenditure, couldn’t establish his boyhood club in the top-flight during his 17 years in charge.
Three years ago that burden was passed onto Morgan, but the Liverpudlian is not going to put the long-term future of the club at risk to achieve it. He told the Times last month:
“It’s important that this club is run for the long term. We want to be around and successful not just this year and next year, but in the future. And the only way you can do that is by managing things properly with a medium and long-term view. Two and two make four no matter what business you are in.”
And the 57-year-old tycoon sees it as imperative that football clubs are run as businesses, and within their means, in order to avoid financial meltdown. He added:
“You can’t keep hocking your future. It’s like pawning your family silver. Unfortunately, too many football clubs are spending too high a proportion of their income on meeting interest payments and paying wages that they can’t afford, and transfer fees which are unsustainable. It has got to go home to roost. We have already seen famous clubs like Leeds and Southampton who have gone that way and, sadly, I think they’re going to be followed by others.”
“Some of the biggest clubs in the country are running round the hamster wheel just to pay off the banks at the moment and that just can’t be right. Everyone should take stock and say, ‘For God’s sake let’s run football clubs as proper businesses.’”
But how did he get into business in the first place and go on to forge this common-sense approach?
After being born in Garston, South Liverpool, Morgan was educated at Colwyn Bay High School in North Wales. Once completing his schooling he trained as a site engineer and, in a bold move, borrowed £5,000 from his father in order to buy out his then employers, Wellington Civil Engineering, who were on the verge of going bust at the time. Morgan developed this into the building company Redrow plc and under his chairmanship Redrow was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1994, ultimately becoming a FSTE 250 Company. In the 1990s he developed hotels – St David’s Park hotel in North Wales and Carden Park – the prestigious four star hotel and golf resort in Cheshire. November 2000 saw him step down as Redrow chairman but his company, Bridgmere, remained one of its biggest shareholders. He later rejoined Redrow as Deputy Chairman in March 2009.
He was awarded with an OBE in 1992 for services to the construction industry and is also a Fellow of the Institute of Builders. Cardiff, Liverpool John Moore’s and Glyndwr Universities also all awarded him with honorary Fellowships.
Morgan was also a Non Executive Director of De Vere Group plc in which Bridgemere was the largest shareholder until the group was sold in 2006 to AHG. Via his Bridgemere Group of Companies, Morgan is involved in a considerable number of commercial property, housing and land remediation schemes throughout the UK, Europe and the USA.
The scouser is also a big believer in philanthropy and in the year 2000 he set up The Morgan Foundation, which budgets to donate in excess of £1 million per annum in support of local children’s and family charities throughout the North West and North Wales. Ten per cent of that budget is distributed to similar charities within the Wolverhampton area via Wolves Aid, part of Wolves Community Trust which is the club’s charity. He currently lives in Cheshire with his second wife, Didi, and the two youngest of his five children.
And how did he end up in football?
Morgan has always been a massive Liverpool fan. They were his first love and he used to watch his heroes from the terraces during the days of Bill Shankly. And he even built up a five per cent stake in the club. But after a couple of failed bids to take over the Reds and what he called ‘indecision’ from the board he withdrew his offers for his adored club. He is still convinced that they would not be in the trouble they are now if he had succeeded with a takeover.
“I was going to put at the time up to £70 million investment into the club. It would have been cash into the club. It would have pretty much reduced the debt and got the debt down to nil,” he said.
But it wasn’t to be. And in Wolves he found his ideal match. The West Midlands club didn’t need billions of pounds, they just desired someone with a strategy and a decent war chest (Morgan is estimated to be worth £350 million and is Britain’s 146th richest man according to the Sunday Times’ Rich List 2009). While Sir Jack Hayward clearly bled Old Gold and did many wonderful things for the club, such as re-building a decrepit Molineux, he lacked nous in some ways and money was frittered away. Sir Jack famously called himself ‘The Golden Tit’ after more of his wealth had been wasted on another promotion miss in 1997. Morgan seems to have brought a much more measured plan of attack to Wolves.
Something that the Liverpudlian is sure about is that continuity breeds success. Mick McCarthy, Wanderers’ manager, was already in charge when he bought the club. Many owners would have felt the need for their own appointment to stamp their authority on their purchase. But even when South Korea made an approach for McCarthy at the end of 2007, Morgan was determined to keep his manager in place. And this decision ultimately helped the Black Country outfit secure promotion to the Premier League 18 months later. And unlike a lot of owners who can’t stop themselves from interfering with the football side of things at their club, especially when they don’t agree with their manager’s decision, Morgan likes to let McCarthy get on with his job. When speaking about Big Mick’s controversial decision to make 10 changes when his team visited Manchester United earlier this season, he said:
“I didn’t necessarily agree with it. But there are lots of things with which I don’t agree. Mick is in charge of the team and Mick made a decision that he thought was right. And it’s not as if he put a bunch of kids out. He was just using his squad. You have your ups and downs in any relationship. I was surprised, like a lot of other people at the time, but it’s gone. Mick is here to do a job.”
And it is this no-nonsense approach that has made him so popular at Molineux. Morgan stated that the West Midlands club has always been his second team because he grew up watching them win league titles and FA Cups, along with contesting for European silverware. And this straightforward outlook was apparent when he took over the club. The deal was done in May 2007 but wasn’t finalised until three months later due to legalities and contracts. And with Wolves fans getting slightly worried that it was going to fall through Morgan spoke out, because he couldn’t wait to get started.
“The deal is done. Sir Jack and I shook hands on it and we are both men of our word. When the club first approached me about taking over at Molineux the deal was all but done in the first two minutes of discussion and I feel privileged to have been the right person to have come along at the right time.”
The tycoon rarely makes public statements. But when he does they are well thought out and mean something.
“I remember the days when Wolves were the greatest club in the land and, although times have changed, we are going to do our best to take Wolves back to where they were,” Morgan said.
Okay, so it is unlikely that he will take Wolves back to where they were during their glory days anytime soon. But if he can manage to establish them in the Premier League it will be a job well done. And one thing is for sure – Morgan will not put the club’s financial health at risk in order to achieve it. And in the days of football debt, administration and winding up orders, that astute outlook is so refreshing.