December 2008

JIMMY MAC GOT A MENTION THE OTHER DAY in the Ken Bates’ Leeds United programme notes. His comments then appeared in the Mirror a little later. Just in case you should wonder why Bates should mention Jimmy Mac the simple reason is that Ken Bates was chairman of Oldham Athletic in the late sixties and decided that Mac was the man to manage his team. Mac was at Stoke and Bates came to hear that he was interested in going into management and without much ado, he appointed him manager at Oldham.
     Bates was bemoaning the devaluation of England Caps, and in particular the 100+ won by David Beckham; some having been awarded for meaningless Mickey Mouse internationals and others for appearing for just a matter of minutes as a substitute.
     “Forty years ago the great Jimmy McIlroy, the equivalent of Zola in his day, earned 55 international caps but that was when the Home Nations played only three competitive matches a year and was before substitutions were invented.”
     Well done Ken for remembering him. The Bates/McIlroy partnership never really worked out and Jimmy Mac would be the first to say that he was never really cut out for management.

I ACTUALLY WENT TO SEE KEN BATES about a week later. I’d sent him some material from something I’m working on, and I wanted to check that it was accurate. It was all sent weeks earlier and then one day lo and behold I came home to find an ansaphone message from him saying yes he’d be happy to meet.
    So off I trolled to Elland Road to meet him (Leeds had just won 5 – 2 the night before) and we had nearly an hour in his office. Must say there was a buzz up there deep inside the Elland Road commercial nerve centre with what seemed an army of people scurrying round, or on the phones, or beavering away at their desks.
     What I was impressed with was the sheer number of commercial events taking place, and the brochures in reception with details of all events right up until the end of the season.
     The name Bob Lord came up and Bates immediately refuted the claims that he once tried to join the Burnley board.
     But an interesting comment he made was that what Bob Lord suffered from was a lack of entrepreneurial skills. Bob Lord certainly had vision and knew many of the things that football needed and would need in the years to come, not the least of which was an all-year, off-field income that would make spectators redundant. What he didn’t know how to do was raise the capital to fund the projects he envisaged. Lord was pilloried, and still is, for his remarks that what he aimed at was a club that didn’t need spectators. In fact, what he meant by this was the income that they brought. But, his comments, allied to the fact that he would never countenance any supporters’ club of course led more than just a few people to believe that he would have been quite happy to ban supporters altogether and play in an empty ground.
     Ken Bates talked about what he has achieved at Leeds so far in terms of commercial development, and the need to involve fans in the club, and the need to keep them constantly informed. Then, he alluded to the fact that if Lord had been blessed with real entrepreneurial skills as well as the vision he undoubtedly possessed, then the Burnley era of success might have lasted a lot longer than it did.
     Lord had plans for a huge entertainment complex where the current Community Centre and Gym now is. He had plans for a giant new stand twice the size of the current Bob Lord Stand. He bought the strip of land along Harry Potts Way that stretches to the traffic lights, which is now a car park, to develop into a retail centre. All these plans and schemes came to nothing; the vision ended because he did not know how, or want, to raise the money to build them with outside support and finance. Entrepreneurs need confidence, plus other people and institutions to fund their projects, but Bob Lord kept so many people and sources of finance at arms’ length. Every club in the land now knows that a stadium needs to be used 365 days a year. Bob Lord knew it 40 years ago but his plans were held back because of his lack of ability to fund them.

     Bates, who once had a construction company based in Burnley, (his mind today still as sharp as a pin at the age of 77) and had a Burnley season ticket, listed all the industries, banks and businesses and building societies in Burnley in the early 60s that were still thriving. “He should have tapped into them, got them involved in the club, and used them but he didn’t.”
     I left his office with a copy of the new plans for the major redevelopment and retail extensions (with the obligatory hotel) of the giant East Stand at Elland Road. Planning applications are submitted in December. “But where will the money come from,” I asked, “in the current economic climate?”
     He grinned. “I’ve survived four credit crunches,” he answered. “They come and go. We’ll find the money.”  (November 2008)

IN THE QPR PROGRAMME there was a comment I liked in one of the articles. It described Burnley by reason of the win over Chelsea as “currently one of the best teams in the world.”
     I’ll say that again – “currently one of the best teams in the world.” 

A SELECTION OF DEEP THOUGHTS: in which Claret pensioner ponders on matters pertaining to the credit crunch which will have an impact on BFC.
Consider the following - none of which are difficult to figure out:

1.     It is reasonable to assume that Modus might be hit by all the financial doom and gloom;
2.     Therefore it is reasonable to wonder if Brendan Flood will be affected;
3.    It is reasonable to assume that the club is still haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate.
4.     It is reasonable to assume that the proposed building plans and developments are not just on hold, but could possibly not happen for a very long time.
5.     It is reasonable to assume that certain players i.e. Kiraly who does not play a game, are on high wage;
6.     It is reasonable to assume he might be on £7k a week, which makes £350k a year.
7.     It is reasonable to assume that the ground rent that the club pays to Longside Properties is more than we can currently afford.
8.     It is reasonable to assume, nay thrice known, that gates of 11,000/12,000 are totally inadequate.
9.    It is reasonable to assume that the deal with Cary Railhawks aka Clarets doesn’t come cost-free.
10.     It is reasonable to assume that if just two directors simultaneously wanted repayment of their loans, one day, the ripples, repercussions and consequences would be catastrophic;

     So: add all this together and we have a club either verging on being in the youknowwhat, or are actually already deep in the youknwowwhat; therefore if an offer of £3m - £4m came along for McCann it would presumably be accepted, barring miracles. The heart says keep our players, find a couple of loans, go for the big prize, bet the ranch… the head says that way disaster also lies.
     I WONDERED ABOUT ALL THIS BEFORE THE BURNLEY EXPRESS REPORT OF NOVEMBER 24th. It presented Chairman Barry Kilby as being upbeat and positive despite a £1.8million loss shown on the balance sheet for the latest financial year until 12th of June 2008. But this figure is misleading. The actual operating loss was a worrying £6.7million but player sales brought this down to £1.8m. This was described as “manageable” by the chairman. Wages and salaries are now at £8.8million, an increase of £2.4million.

   The problem is that another operating loss of nearly £7m without player sales to counter it (or a damned good Cup run), means the prospect of insolvency may loom ever larger without more director loans.
     The time might come however when they will be unable to provide them. Some of them have little left to give, some of them have given enough already, some have probably accepted that what they have put in so far is ‘dead’ money.

     There is a nice little Bob Lord story about his final months at the club when it really was in danger of folding, the gates were so low, the finances were so bad and the losses so alarming. A creditor (one of many) banged on his door one day only to be met by Albert Maddox. The creditor demanded to see Bob Lord and wanted settlement of his bills. Albert stood there initially not too sure how to respond or quite what to do, but then a loud whisper floated down the corridor.

     Your correspondent hopes that things will not become as bad as that again, albeit with the names changed.  

               Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy support,
               Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
                Give us this day our daily bread,
                And please dear Lord,
                Let us beat Arsenal,
                And get Man U in the Carling semis.

THE VIEW FROM CLOUD NINE feels pretty good and I don’t want to come down yet. My prayer obviously worked, we DID beat Arsenal. Or was it Mrs T’s Burnley top which, when on every occasion she has worn it this season, we have won. This is a staggering record… and I’m talking big numbers here… and a big top… at least seven or eight games. Anyway, even though the Carling Cup prize money is niggardly we now have two more TV pay days, and there should be another big home crowd for the SEMI final. Let me say that again – the SEMI FINAL.  
     I went out and bought five newspapers the next day after Arsenal, an by the way, wasn’t Wenger thoroughly ungracious? He was clearly stunned to have lost.  The newspapers all basically say the same but I don’t care; they look great in the album. I hear that more than a few people were kept away by frozen roads. Even on gritted main roads it was a two hour drive from Leeds

     How do you get the images of such a night across to people who weren’t there or to strangers in a pub, or a pal on the end of a phone? For starters there is a special magic about night games under the floodlights when everything is that much sharper and brighter. Add to that a packed house, plus expectations, plus apprehension, plus the growing disbelief as we scored one, kept them out, scored again in the second half, and then almost coasted home. Our three kids, Paterson, McDonald and McCann, outshone their kids; it’s as simple as that. All through the game the noise was awesome, the shouts, chants, and songs never-ending. I know that it’s easy to say but I felt all day that we would win and there was the added attraction of three big fat juicy sausages on mash and gravy at the Kettledrum before the game. These kids must lose a game sometime, I thought as I munched contentedly as the place slowly filled with more football fans, and at the end of the day, that’s all they are, kids. Sure they play lovely tippy-tappy football, delicate and intricate as lace embroidery. The patterns they weave are delightful but where was the end product? We too wove patterns but our patterns had that extra grit and conviction, extra strength and determination. We had that little bit of extra power, looked more solid, notwithstanding the one-on-ones against Jensen who at the moment I think is Superman in disguise. Jensen was man of the match but what about Alexander and his faultless display. McDonald was a giant, Blake guile and cunning, Eagles, our very own Bambi, in the thick of everything. Paterson had them chasing shadows. McCann’s surges from front to back must terrify retreating defenders.

     If I have just one grumble, and that is perhaps too strong a word, it is that Ade was brought on. I know he got the Chelsea goal and we shall love him forever, but that Arsenal back four was poor and here was a chance for little Macdonald to come on and give them the run-around. Ade’s day is over now (I know, I know, yes he scored the Chelsea goal). But I think little Mac would have given them a torrid time. But that is only a minor crit. I am still on cloud nine, and the view is magnificent.

          Boardroom celebrations allegedly went on until 5 in the morning. Who can blame them with financial salvation (ish) within sight, (and genuine elation?)   The last time the board stayed up until that time in the morning was very early in season 83/84 and a shocked board, stunned at the way things were already going haywire with John Bond, debated whether to sack him or not, following a home game that was embarrassingly lost. They decided not to – and the rest is history as they say. And, as history is all about one thing following another, had they sacked him that night, the whole subsequent story of the club would have been changed. Everything since, would have been different, and we wouldn’t be in dreamland at the moment having beaten Arsenal to progress to the semis.

     Chairman Barry Kilby celebrates his tenth year as chairman this month. No one deserves to experience success as much as he. Ten years as a football club chairman cannot be good for the health.

(Claret Pensioner December 7th 2008)