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What can be done about rogue owners?

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The problem of rogue owners at clubs like Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Charlton Athletic and Leeds United persists.   There is no easy solution, although some ideas have been put forward and are discussed below.

During the past week a lot of the focus has been on Blackburn Rovers where there was a well-attended meeting called by two fan groups last Thursday.   In November 2010, when the Indian conglomerate Venky's, took over Blackburn were a stable, well-run Premier League club that had won the title under Jack Walker's benevolent ownership in 1995.

Admittedly, they had a net debt of £21m in 2010, but the pre-tax loss of £1.9m the previous year was tolerable.  If they had stayed in the Premier League, they would have benefitted from increased revenue streams.

Their most recent financial accounts showed a loss of £17.2m and that was when they were still receiving parachute payments from the Premier League, so the current losses are probably around £20m a year.  Their net debt has soared to £104.2m.   The club is now bottom of the Championship with a skeleton squad.

Average league attendances were 25,247 in 2010.   Given Blackburn's population of 105,000 and the challenges of post-industrial decline, it was a tough task to maintain attendances above 20,000 for most of the 1990s and 2000s.   With the current malaise at the club, their early season average attendance was 11,153.

Glen Mullan, the Rovers Trust secretary, suggests that what is needed is fan representation at board level.  We tried that at Charlton and the experiment was eventually abandoned.   The fan directors were not on the executive board and were constrained by the requirements of commercial confidentiality.   When I met one of them, he seemed as much an apologist for the board as a spokesman for fans.

Writing in The Times, their chief football correspondent Oliver Kay discusses the 'Owners and Directors' Test'.   He notes that it 'is a little more rigorous these days but, for example, Massimo Cellino, who has been banned from involvement at Leeds on two occasions, was still able to buy the club and continues to run it on the succession of bizarre whims that have added substantially to the chaos and dysfunction brought by previous regimes.'

Taking up the theme, Glenn Moore writing in The Football League Paper notes the problem of chairmen who 'lack experience of the English game, or patience, or plain common sense.  The Italians running Leeds and Leyton Orient would seem to fall into this category, along with Roland Duchatelet at Charlton.'

He argues that the problem with the owners' and directors' test is that it does not measure whether owners are competent.   Noting that the test is supposed to protect the image and integrity of the EFL, he argues 'Surely the incompetence shown by many owners damages the image and integrity of the League, and the interests of the fans.'

He suggests that there should be a competence test which 'would check basic knowledge of football and its administration, playing and managerial contracts, the transfer market, agents etc.'   However, with his involvement with other clubs before he bought Charlton, Duchatelet would probably be able to pass such a test.

It also overlooks the fact that for some clubs they either have to accept the investment on offer or risk administration or disappearing altogether.   For example, supposing the new Brazilian owner of Morecambe failed the test (and I have no reason to suppose that he will), what would happen to Morecambe?    There are no easy answers.

competence

I find it hard to see how any of the owners listed would have failed a competence test before they bought the clubs. They are all successful business people so why shouldn't they run a club well, hiring people who could manage the club and the team as they would in any other business.

Even where they have unusual business plans such as Roland Duchatelet's plans for a network, this is similar to the network that has benefitted Watford, so it is not a bad plan, just poorly executed.