Time was the chairman of the football club you support was a local businessman.
His luxury was the Rolls Royce you saw him drive.
He likely ran a company in the industrial heartland of England.
He was a distant figure. If you got a pat on the head from him as he arrived at the ground, you felt special, writes Vernon Grant.
Jeremy Peace is a rarity these days. As Chairman of West Bromwich Albion he was actually born in West Bromwich. In June of this year he was asked about how well his manager Steve Clarke had done last season with West Brom finishing 8th in the table.
Peace said: “This club is probably a mid table Championship side that are massively over-performing.”
He went on to say that, last season, the club was punching above its weight.
So what does he do once the team lose four straight games? He sacks the manager Steve Clarke. The same manager who was a hero and being praised by his Chairman only a few weeks ago. Peace has taken the easy option.
Seasoned BBC Midlands based reporter Pat Murphy says: “Forget the 4 defeats in a row. Jeremy Peace will focus on 31 points from 34 games in 2013. Peace looks at trends.
“Steve Clarke was probably right in late August to say the club was leaving its transfer business late. I suspect Peace has not forgotten that.
“So he smashed the club transfer record twice in a few hours and is entitled to ask what’s the return so far.”
Murphy went on: “One certainty about the new head coach – Jeremy Peace won’t be present at his media anointing because he would face some questions. Usual pattern at so many clubs these days. Pravda will wheel out sporting director Richard Garlick, while chairman ducks public accountability.
I get where Pat Murphy is coming from.
In that regard, little has changed in the five decades that I have been following football as a fan, or covering the game for newspapers and television.
Put a camera or microphone in the face of football chairmen back in the 60’s or 70’s and you would get a dirty look.
They thought themselves to be above criticism. After all, they employed many football supporters at their local factory or shop. So who were the fans to demand the Chairman resigns? Most Chairman still think that way.
As for the media… a grubby lot!
Most Chairman I dealt with from the late 70’s through to 2002 would not talk on camera. They genuinely did not think they had to make any verbal connection with the supporters.
My club – Sheffield Wednesday – has had a chequered past when it comes to the individuals who have run the club.
We gave English football the man who spent a fortune on Fabio Capello. But not before he had sold the family silver at Hillsborough to a bank, foreign footballer agents and all manner of debtors. But Sir David Richards was not the first shady character to control the reins at Hillsborough. Nor, sadly, probably the last.
But we have had at least two good men in positions of power at the club. Sadly neither went on to be the Chairman. Wish that they had.
Eric Taylor was a visionary who ensured Sheffield Wednesday was a football club ahead of its time. That was in the 1960’s when Hillsborough staged World Cup games and Taylor oversaw plans for a new North Stand. You needed to be alive at the time to know what a big story that was in football.
The cantilever stand would not have been erected but for Taylor looking into a crystal ball and seeing the future of football. The man served the club for 45 years, rising from office boy to General Manager.
A title and a length of service to one club that has gone the way of baggy shorts and edible hot dogs.
Derek Dooley was a player who gave a leg for Sheffield Wednesday. Literally.
His reward, decades later, was to be stabbed in the back on Christmas Eve 1973.
He was sacked as manager of the Owls when a virus decimated his first team squad.
Dooley had to field players who should have been throwing up in hospital, not the dressing room.
Derek Dooley was probably the finest man I have met in football. And I’ve met a few.
Had the local businessmen who then ran Sheffield Wednesday not made the gross error of sacking him as manager, I very much doubt the club would have sunk as low as it did in the seventies.
I remember those men. They’d be lucky to get a job filing paper clips today.
Dooley did go on to be an influential chairman – as I knew he would.
The shame was that he did so across the city, at Sheffield United.
He should have been the main man at Hillsborough until his death.
Instead he went on to do a brilliant job at Bramall Lane. So much so they erected a statue in his memory.
Mr. Sheffield Wednesday became Mr. Sheffield United.
Through my work in television I often filmed with Dooley at Sheffield United. He built something there. Talented local young footballers went first to Bramall Lane, not Hillsborough.
His was a calming influence. He was a barrier, a mediator between the volatile manager Neil Warnock and directors who took offence at Warnock’s latest torrent of abuse aimed in their direction.
Derek Dooley was one of the first men I came across who was the perfect football chairman.
A local man.
A diplomatic man.
A man who knew that sacking a manager the moment results went wrong is not the long term solution for any club.
A man who knew that spending big money on foreign players is fine if all you want is a quick thrill, but no good if you want to build something that lasts.
Had Sheffield Wednesday kept Dooley as manager, they would not then have gone on to change managers more often than I change my socks.
And Dooley could have gone on to become Chairman and appoint the right man to take over in the dugout.
He would never have suggested Sheffield Wednesday change the colour of their shirts to red. Or Sheffield United should start playing in blue and white stripes. He would not have said the Owls must be called the Robins or the Blades become the Blunts (though in my eyes they always will be!)
At the time I write this article my football club is once again in limbo.
Milan Mandaric (who has owned more clubs than I’ve consumed pukka pies), wants to sell the club.
From the time he rescued the Owls from the approaching horror of administration; Mandaric made clear to fans that he was not one of them. He stressed that he was a businessman.
He paid off a long standing and sizeable debt to a local bank and then paid pennies for the actual right to own the club.
Though some Wednesday fans have been critical of Mandaric recently, not one that has a brain would argue against the fact that he saved the club from a fate that could have equalled death.
Mandaric has employed more managers than I can recall. And he has fallen out with many of them.
At least two of them are currently unemployed but say that not even hard times would drive them to work for the man again. That must tell you something.
Former Portsmouth player and manager Steve Claridge worked under Mandaric, and several other chairmen. He says: “Lets be honest. The people who give out these jobs are not football people. They are not doing due diligence. They don’t do their homework and they are not qualified to make these decisions.”
Well said that man.
As I see it, the general problem of those who run football clubs is this.
Whether it is a man living locally in East Yorkshire who wants to change the name of Hull City to Hull Tigers; whether it is a wealthy foreign owner who has changed the bluebirds of Cardiff City into a team that play in red shirts; or whether it is a Milan Mandaric type seeking to buy and sell football clubs as though they were on offer at a car boot sale; these men simply do not understand what a football club means to its loyal supporters.
How can they? The majority hail from overseas. Most of them are not footballing men. Few of them understand the important and historic role football clubs play in the life of a local community.
How could they? They were not born and bred there. They have not walked or caught the bus to watch their football team play. They cannot appreciate how much the weekend football match means to those who have spent another dismal week at work, school or watching daytime TV.
Football Chairman cannot feel it the way we football fans do. The it that is hard to describe to someone who doesn’t understand football.
To own a football club today you have to own much more than the local factory.
Being a millionaire may only ensure you keep the club in the same division. But is no guarantee of so doing.
Despite his vast wealth and his passion for football, the former player Dave Whelan could not keep Wigan in the Premier League.
To challenge the big boys these day you must at the very least be a billionaire.
So is there an ideal Chairman at work in the Premier League today? I would say so.
Bill Kenwright at Everton is that man. (I can already hear the shouts of “you what?” aimed at my direction from one side of Stanley Park).
But, yes, I stand up for the same man who has taken so much stick from Toffees fans over the years.
In my humble opinion, they don’t know how lucky they are. And here is why.
1. He has what is for me a most desirable qualification. He is a lifelong fan of the club.
2. He has not spent money as though there were no tomorrow.
3. Despite them periodically calling phone-in shows demanding he sack David Moyes; his knee did not jerk. He knew what he had in Moyes. The fans did not.
4. He knew that, on a limited budget, Moyes was the man to keep Everton in the Premier League.
5. He didn’t want the club to go the way of my Sheffield Wednesday or Leeds United.
In the game today, despite his self made wealth, Bill Kenwright is not rich enough to ‘do a Chelsea.’
The millionaires have been overtaken by the billionaires who themselves will increasingly be surpassed by the oligarchs.
Bill Kenwright knows that how you spend the money you have is as important as the size of your wallet.
He has not had much practice at choosing managers. He hasn’t had to. He was loyal to Moyes and, until the call came from Manchester United, Moyes reciprocated.
Bill Kenwright could have chosen the wrong man to replace him.
He could have gone down the ‘flash Harry’ route. Or gone for the type of manager who is full of himself. Or he could have scoured the foreign leagues and followed the fashion of thinking a manager whose name ends in a vowel automatically equals success.
He did appoint a foreign manager. Sort of. After all these years, former Wigan boss Roberto Martinez is almost as British as you and I.
And, so far at least, what a fine appointment that has been.
Everton and Martinez may be that rare beast in football. A perfect match. Time will tell.
Everton fans say they are watching better football than they did under Moyes.
And their toffees have a harder centre. Under Martinez they do not capitulate.
They are proving tough to beat.
Bill Kenwright is more like the old style chairmen I knew in the 70’s and 80’s. He made his money the honest way. By working hard and taking risks. Not by having business rivals done away with.
As an actor he first trod the boards. Then he filled them with sell out shows, including in the West End. He has manufactured happiness in theatres the world over. The local lad did well.
He could have done all sorts with his wealth. He could have spent decades sailing around the world in an expensive yacht with a bevy of beauties. He might have been involved in all kinds of dodgy dealings. He might even have blood on his hands.
Bill Kenwright not only took charge of the football club he has loved for longer than many of you have lived; he kept control of that club through rocky times and put up with all manner of abuse at a time when Anfield was the home of silverware.
I have a soft spot for Everton football club.
After all, they are the reason I support Sheffield Wednesday.
Everton came from behind to beat the Owls in the 1966 FA Cup final.
Had the result been the other way around I may have spent the best years of my football supporting life at Goodison Park, and not at Hillsborough.
So I say to Everton fans: Please be careful what you wish for.
You have a fit and proper Chairman.
One day you may have a man who wants Everton to play in red shirts.
Or some faceless foreign group of dodgy rich folk who decide you will be called the Goodison Ganates.
Or, as has been the case at my Sheffield Wednesday recently, you could have a Chairman who considered employing as manager a man who hates that club.
How do I know that?
Neil Warnock told me so, that’s how.
So Everton fans, be thankful for the stability your club has enjoyed for many years courtesy of Bill Kenwright.
One day he will do what many of you have urged him to do for years. He will leave. But not until he can be as sure as possible that he is handing over the keys of the club to someone who is also fit and proper.
At a time when football clubs are hawked around the world like goods on E-Bay; that is something for which you should be very thankful.