Those Attacking Foreign Owners Should Look Closer to Home

Manchester City Owner Sheikh MansourThe other week Oliver Holt wrote an appalling piece on how the cancellation of the Bahrain GP has “forced us to question football’s Gulf connections”. In this piece of drivel, he wrote such incisive comments as:

But if, as many have suggested this week, Formula One should never have been racing in Bahrain in the first place, is it right to let the dictators of Abu Dhabi own Manchester City?

*Read the full article by clicking here

Apart from Holt’s complete ignorance of middle-eastern politics, it’s another cheap swipe at the foreign influence in our game, and the arrogance that affects many of how other countries should be run like us, because afterall the United Kingdom is such a pecaeful, democratic society with no stains on its character. So what if our prime minister has just been visiting Cairo with a group of arm dealers?  But City have an owner in a country not experiencing full democracy so they too are evil dictators by association and so should be banned from involvement in football in this country.

Personally, I don’t give two hoots about the nationality of a club owner – this country sold off most of its assets a long time ago. The nationality is irrelevant – it’s their intentions and business acumen that matters. Let’s not kid ourselves that British owners are automatically better than foreign ones, and the way forward if looking to improve our game. The passport is not the important consideration here.

The fact is that the lower leagues are awash with tales of corrupt owners who destroyed the clubs they owned. I could list a whole raft of terrible foreign owners of English football clubs, and I could compile a similar list of Englishmen. Depressingly when compiling this article, it dawned on me just how many terrible club owners there have been. It would take a long time to list them all.  But who would you rather have in control of your club? Sheikh Mansour or Peter Ridsdale? Carson Yeung or David Sullivan? But on the flip side, Michael Knighton did a few keepy-ups on the pitch, so what’s not to like?

I might be seeing something that isn’t there, but I do sense a certain level of underlying xenophobia when talking about foreign owners – well at these those that aren’t white/English-speaking.

Over the past few years, the concern over foreign owners has reached right to the top. In 2008, Sepp Blatter  tasked Uefa president Michel Platini with enforcing tighter licensing rules on prospective owners, which would probe deeper than the Premier League’s current ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test’, ensuring they have adequate funds in order to launch a takeover rather than build the club on debt.  It was reported that Blatter was seeking to stop foreign billionaires investing in English clubs, warning that the game was at a crossroads where the richer clubs will only get richer while those without wealthy benefactors will gradually decline in an uneven playing field, not prepared to spend vast sums to gain success. “We have to be alarmed,” he said, suggesting the businessman seldom have the best interests of the club at heart. “The economic power of football is immense.”

He said: You get people turning up with banker’s guarantees who are not interested in football and then they lose interest in the clubs and leave. What happens to the clubs then?”
“There is always a danger that these people will just one day leave.”

And as soon as Platini was elected as president of UEFA, he made moves to make sure clubs are not falling into the hands of businessmen who just want to make a profit.”

Great points Blatter. I mean, a British owner would never “just leave” would he?

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Tom Bower, author of the excellent Broken Dreams, wrote an article in the Observer in 2007, warning of the impending doom of foreign ownership of clubs.

“The Football Association’s failure to investigate properly the background of the foreign nationals buying top clubs or their growing influence on the sport heralds the end of the Premier League as an English institution. The silence and self-inflicted paralysis in Soho Square is endangering the whole of English football.

“Premier League football will not be played for English fans, but for one billion paying spectators on global television. Over recent weeks, some of the nine foreign owners of Premier League clubs have been quietly discussing Scudamore’s dismissal and his replacement by a non-British executive…

*Read the full article by clicking here

The rot started with Abramovich says Bower. But tell me this – what would have happened to Chelsea if he hadn’t taken over. Under ENGLISHMAN Ken Bates, I seem to recall the club was heavily in debt and close to disaster. In fact Bower, shows some of the scaremongering that foreign owners cause in the English press. All his predictions have proven to be baseless 4 years down the line. Scudamore is still here, the clubs he said would be taken over haven’t been. West Ham is run by an English pornographer.

Do you think I, as a Manchester City fan, am losing sleep because the club that  now possesses the best team I have seen in my lifetime is owned by a foreigner? I don’t turn up to matches thinking my club is “less English”. It’s certainly better run, that much I do know. Do you think I pine for the days of Francis Lee, or Peter Swales guiding us into near-oblivion? Do you think our foreign owner isn’t investing in youth? Or isn’t investing a billion pounds in regenerating east Manchester?

Tough choice isn’t it? But how I pine for a Mike Ashley. I mean, a British owner would never be in it for profit, would he?

Oh for a sensible owner like George Reynolds at Darlington, who ended up in administration, and Reynolds in prison. Reynolds resigned as a director in January 2004 with the club under threat of imminent closure.
“We will bring a new dawn to Darlington and give fans a real reason to celebrate. They won’t have to wait long before we are knocking on the door of the Premiership.” Reynolds said when he first took over.

I turn to David Conn, who has chronicled much of the carnage left by British club owners

Take Dave Richards, for example. He left Sheffield Wednesday in February 2000 when the club he ran were bottom of the Premier League, heading for certain relegation, making losses, owing £16m to the Co-operative Bank, and weighed down by a swollen wage bill for poor signings which would deepen the overdraft and debts in the Football League. Richards, whose own business, Three Star Engineering, was heading for insolvency, was personally championed within the Premier League by Ken Bates, then Chelsea’s chairman, and approved by the clubs as their first paid chairman – his salary £176,667 for the part-time role. Over the decade, that salary package has risen 77%, to £314,000 last year.

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Ah, yes, Ken Bates. Ask him who owns Leeds – actually don’t bother, because he won’t tell you, and no-one seems to know. Over, to you, Mr Conn.

“The ownership of Leeds United has been routed via a network of offshore companies ever since Ken Bates arrived at Elland Road as the club’s new chairman in 2005, and now mystery surrounds it again.
Bates told the Royal Court of Jersey in January this year that he himself jointly owned the club’s holding company, the Cayman Islands-registered Forward Sports Fund, with his long-term financial advisor, the Guernsey accountant Patrick Murrin. It has since emerged that in May Bates swore an affidavit in the same court, stating that it had been “not correct” and “an error on my part” to say he was the joint owner of his club.”

So, is the issue not the nationality of the owner, but whether they are fit for purpose? Many link the two together, but shouldn’t. For the final time I turn to Conn, and an article he published in the Guardian in 2009 on the fit and proper person test.

Q: Who must pass the “fit and proper person test”?

A: Under rules established by the Premier League, Football League and by the Football Association for the Conference, anybody who takes over as a director of a football club, or the owner of more than 30% of a club’s shares, must pass the test.

Q: What is the point of the test?

A: It was introduced by the authorities in 2004 following concern that anybody, even those convicted of fraud, could take over football clubs, and it is intended to protect the clubs from people not “fit” or “proper” to run them.

Q: What restrictions do the tests impose?

A: There are several grounds on which you could fail it, but the most important are that anybody with an unspent criminal conviction involving dishonesty, or who has run a football club into administration twice, cannot take over at a club.

Q: Has anybody ever failed a test?

A: We do not know if anybody has been barred from taking a club over, but the only serving director who failed was Dennis Coleman, who was a director of Rotherham United when they had financial problems and went into administration twice

*Click here to read the rest of David Conn’s ‘Fit and Proper’ article

It would be hard to determine or measure what a prospective owner’s intentions are. But to do so is the key to having better owners in British football. Not the colour of their skin, nor the language they speak, or the actions of the people who run their countries. If we start excluding people on those criteria, the British game would be much poorer, in every sense of the word, as a result.

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