The continuing ownership saga at Liverpool reveals that for fans, a club’s ownership structure is matter of luck. Whilst some supporters will express a sense of entitlement, it is a chaotic lottery when it comes to who takes charge of these storied sporting institutions. John W. Henry may be in pole position to takeover at Anfield but swathes of the club’s supporters would prefer a benevolent benefactor originating from China or the Middle East. Two years ago Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and his cohorts were branded a ‘cockney mob,’ their presence thoroughly resented in the city. These boardroom events may be beyond the control of the humble fan but does the personality of an owner matter? Is it preferable to have a forthright owner or one who rarely converses with the media?
West Ham United co-owner David Sullivan and David Gold reside at one end of this spectrum. This outspoken twosome took charge of the financially threatened club in January and proclaimed that their acquisition was more of an expensive folly than an astute business decision. Their reason for purchasing the club was predicated on the argument that they were fanatics too who saw Upton Park as their natural home. Whether believable or not they have espoused their commitment to bring better days to the club. But this supposedly noble gesture has given them carte blanche to expound their views on all manner of topics, ranging from Gianfranco Zola’s character to the weight of Benni McCarthy.
Problems have occurred when the business partners have made comments about other clubs. For instance Gold later regretted the decision to make an official complaint to the PL concerning Fulham’s selection policy last season. Following a recent day in the life segment with said entrepreneur on Match of the Day 2, Colin Murray asked Alan Hansen what makes a good owner. The Scottish pundit comically registered his disapproval by stating that a reputable owner does not sign autographs, pretend to be an expert on the game or talk to the press.
However are their positives to be deciphered from the style of this inimitable pair? The employment of bold, unequivocal comments provides a useful barometer for which to judge their future actions. After Sullivan’s public pledge not to sell Scott ‘Mr West Ham’ Parker, acquiescing on that promise may have broken a bond of trust with the supporters irrevocably. The disparity between words and actions from owners has pervaded Liverpool, as this protest video demonstrates. There is an overwhelming perception that Tom Hicks and George Gillett have reneged on their initial promises, particularly on the plan to start construction on a new stadium at Stanley Park.
The candur of Gold and Sullivan may push the boundaries of diplomacy but their presence at a football club would certainly be preferable to the situation at Leeds where the club’s ownership is shrouded in secrecy. The view that a football fan is merely interested by occurrences on the pitch is outdated and inaccurate. Many would argue that the ownership style of the fabulously wealthy Roman Abramovich is preferable to that found in east London. His fortune is envied but is there a dearth of communication with the fans? Members of the club’s board and its executives can serve as able intermediaries between the owner and the supporters. Cynics would argue that Chelsea’s recent successes have merely been entwined with the Russian oligarch’s patronage. As such there were worrying rumours that he had fallen out of love with the game during Luis Felipe Scolari’s ill-fated tenure at Stamford Bridge. Guus Hiddink, however, reassured fans by saying, “Roman lives with the interests of the club and spends a lot of time here, often coming to training sessions.” Indeed the Russian’s presence was felt last season in the wake of lurid press reports concerning John Terry and Ashley Cole.
Owners evidently come in all shapes and sizes but it is arguable that Abramovich has found the correct balance by not divulging unnecessary information to the press and displaying a passionate enthusiasm for his expensive project. Regardless of personality traits, however, the hard currency of money will continue to dictate fans’ perceptions of their owners.