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Bored with the board: what makes the perfect chairman?

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Jack Ross | 15:03 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011

If a football fan is enduring a disappointing display from their beloved team there are surely occasions when they allow themselves to escape from the suffering.

At these moments, supporters may dream of what they would do if they were in a chairman's shoes or if they were the owners and in control of their club's destiny.

I am sure in the midst of these thoughts everyone would have their ideal choice of manager and list of preferred signings to add to the team. However, if their fantasy was to become a reality just how difficult and indeed how necessary is it for football chairman and owners not to interfere in matters of signing policy, team selection and choice of tactics?

To begin with I must be honest and say that if I was in a position where I had the means to secure ownership of a football club I would find it hard not to be regularly offering my opinion to my manager on those matters listed above.

Having had playing experience I would feel that my opinion was worth listening to, and yet for this same reason I would realise how important it would be for me to resist the urge to interfere and consequently allow the manager and players to do their jobs.

Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov

Ever dreamed of owning your own club like Vladimir Romanov at Hearts?

This would seem to suggest that perhaps clubs would benefit from a chairman who has played the game at a professional level.

But history shows that such an arrangement can have mixed results with the rise and rise of Wigan under the stewardship of Dave Whelan being incredible, while Francis Lee endured disappointing results in charge of the boardroom of Manchester City.

Jim McLean at Dundee United was a rare Scottish example of a former player taking ownership of a prominent senior club.

And the varying fortunes of the examples given only highlight that there would be no guarantee of success if the future brought a player-turns-chairman scenario.

If we accept that there is no pre requisite for success in terms of a chairman's playing experience, are there other factors that are important in securing good relations with a manger and players and subsequent success for the club?

In my own experience, those chairmen who are most respected are those who are able to distance themselves in the appropriate manner but who are also capable of making the players aware of how much they are supporting them in their quest for success.

For example, I have experienced some owners who like to be in and around the dressing room and training ground and others who players would struggle to recognise such is their detachment.

With regards to the former I think there is a fine line to be drawn between being involved and impinging on match day preparations.

Of course there may be a view that if you invest and own a club you should be able to have as much access as you desire but I know that players and coaches do not appreciate this as they rightly believe that pre match is a vital time for mental and physical preparation and any distractions are unwelcome.

Therefore it seems that opinion from the playing side of the game is that the ideal chairman is one who enjoys good relations with his staff but knows the boundaries that separate him from those he has put his trust in to produce on the field.

Are there such types in Scottish football? Of course there is, and many who deserve credit for the time, energy and money they have invested in their respective clubs.

However, there are always exceptions and in my career I have witnessed those who are happy to roll up to the glamour games at Ibrox and Parkhead but are conspicuous by their absence as you visit the league's lesser lights.

Similarly, players become wary of those who make their presence felt in the aftermath of victory but who disappear in the disappointment of defeat.

Furthermore, there are even the very occasional chairmen who do have a say in team selection and who perhaps even influence tactical changes during a match.

It may be that this is the future, that those with sufficient wealth to buy a club will think they should make all the decisions.

Remember that dream of owning a club; surely that would be the nightmare scenario.


  • Comment number 1.


  • Comment number 2.

    Ideal chairman would probably not be Chainrai of Portsmouth.

    He has admitted he is a "reluctant owner" and is just after money. He intends to make money from the club regardless of the fact we've been in administration under him, the club equity continues to decrease, and future prospects are as bleak as ever.

  • Comment number 3.

    It seems to me that the more money an owner puts in the more they are likely to want to have a say in how it's spent. Which is understandable.

    An alternative view of someone like Romanov at Hearts or some of the owners of the bigger English clubs is that if they are getting involved then that at least means they are interested and motivated to make the club successful.

    So it could be argued that that is better than other rich owners like say Tom Farmer, who doesn't even like football, or Stewart Milne - people who have plenty of cash but are not willing to spend it to try to make their clubs successful. While those clubs might be more secure on the face of it, it's not a strategy likely to take the club forward long-term. In Hibs case, financial prudence almost, and could still, led to relegation.

    The ideal owner is obviously someone very rich and motivated, but also very quiet and willing to take a back seat. Wishful thinking.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm not sure the perfect Chairman exists, Jack!

    Fans are asking more & more of their clubs powerbrokers these days & I'm not sure many of the demands are reasonable ones. Roman Abramovich's entry into football has upped expectations amongst supporters.

    If they have a local businessman with the clubs best interests at heart, fans tend to criticise because there isn't a blank cheque book available for foreign signings. If there are foreign owners with an alleged blank cheque book, there are complaints they don't have the clubs best interests at heart!

    Stewart Gilmour at St. Mirren & Sir Tom Farmer (with Rod Petrie) at Hibs have worked miracles for their clubs in a business sense; both relatively debt-free with tremendous stadiums & quality training grounds, whilst investing heavily in youth players or players discarded by other clubs, both of whom could be sold for a profit. Do the fans see them as successful? Not all of them, no, because they are both at the wrong end of the table.

    Give me Farmer & Petrie over Romanov any day!!

  • Comment number 5.

    @ 2:

    I think it's criminal the situation that Portsmouth find themselves in now, especially when you see the heights Milan Mandaric took you to before he sold to Sacha Gaydamak. I wish you all the best in getting back on an even keel, but I don't envy whoever has the task of achieving that.

    Do you not feel that, if it wasn't for Balram Chainrai protecting his assets, the club could have disappeared forever? Or would you have preferred to "do a Wimbledon" than go through the disappointment & uncertainty you currently are?

    @ Jack:

    So, is this going to be your next career move? Are you going to buy Manchester United? :o)

  • Comment number 6.

    I think it's worth giving a mention to those clubs who are owned by their supporters also. The supporter ownership model that clubs like AFC Wimbledon and FC United implement I think is the way forward.

    When it comes to chairmen/manager interaction my feeling is that the manager should be allowed to get on with it. At the end of the day that manager would most likely of been appointed by the chairman themselves anyway and if they are offered the job then they should be left to make their own mark on the team.

  • Comment number 7.

    was at boston united vs telford on saturday. telford are owned by a supporters trust and their board members were sat behind me in the home end. while they were wearing suits and ties, they also cheered on their team and looked delighted that they managed a victory. they certainly enjoyed it as much as any of their other supporters. certainly a board who always cheer on their team are the sort you need, not people who have no interest in the game what so ever.
    the influx of foreign owners to me is a questionable one. at leicester we are now owned by a thai company and they say they want to invest in the club and want to be back in the premier league. but what are the real motivations of these people?

  • Comment number 8.

    Interesting to read the Football League chief Greg Clarke say that the majority of football league clubs were badly run & could be facing oblivion in the near future.

    Maybe Chairmen like Rod Petrie & Stewart Gilmour are about to be appreciated after all?

  • Comment number 9.

    Thank you as always for your comments.

    The points made regarding foreign ownership are interesting as it far more common south of the border than here in Scotland.

    The dilemma for fans is these situations is does large short term investment become more attractive than long term stability and a club which feels as if it still belongs to the community and the average fan?

  • Comment number 10.

    I think you might be getting to the heart of something here Jack. There is no doubt that within every fan there is a Chairman waiting to burst out. I think Brian Clough said something along the following lines about one of his Chairmen, 'He's a great Chairman. He knows nothing about football - and knows that he knows nothing about football.'

    Most fans, me included, and club directors form their opinion on players based on 90 minutes every Saturday or every second Saturday (augmented by some TV coverage, usually highlights). Yet footballers spend the vast majority of their working week on the training pitch. This is where they learn their trade. How many club chairmen visit their training ground every week to watch training? Not many. Certainly not enough of them to allow a valid comment on any player. Directors and players inhabit totally different worlds. The distance between the boardroom and the changing room is not the length of a corridor, it is a gulf. Directors are involved in football mainly because they can afford to be involved. Player's are involved because they need to be involved. It is their livelihood.

    In your blog you mentioned Jim McLean as an example of player-turned-manager-turned-chairman. I think Jim was a better-than-average player, an outstanding manager and a hare-brained chairman. He benefitted greatly from being a manager at United under a board who were supportive of their manager but not inclined to interfere in the areas of responsibility of the manager. I think Fergie enjoyed a similar arrangement at Pittodrie. I don't I ever saw Messrs Donald or Grant give interviews of any kind or venture an opinion on any player or on any match performance.

    Unfortunately, when Jim McLean became chairman of United I don't think he extended all of the freedoms previously granted to him to his own managers. Of course, he also did positive things during his period in charge. An awful lot of money was spent upgrading Tannadice. It's now an all-seated stadium and unrecognisable from what is was before. This was Jim McLean's achievement. I believe that if he had restricted himself to this task only then results on the pitch during the mid to late 90's and later may have been different for United.

    In summary then I think the perfect chairman is an individual who, if not an ex-pro, firstly recognises his own limited knowledge of the game, takes advice on his managerial appointment, seeks an immediate rapport and confidence with his appointee, agrees areas of co-operation and operational parameters re transfer policy, budgets, etc, then sits back and lets the manager do his thing, uttering only the occasional statement of support from time to time. If an ex-pro, then he will know the game and the people in the game. He can appoint his own man based on his own judgement and be confident that transfers and budget issues can be sorted out between the pair of them. But on team selection and tactics he must stay so far away as to be almost invisible. He must dodge every microphone and all interviews knowing rhat the slightest inintentional comment could well be construed by the press to undermine his manager. Some task.

    On something completely different. Sorry you've had to hang up yer boots Jack. Never mind. You can come back in 3 years if you still fancy it and get a trialist spot at Dens. We'll doubtless be fighting relegation to the 3rd division by then. More seriously, best of luck to wherever you decide your future lies.


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