Filed: Thursday, 14th August 2003
By: East Stand Martin
During half time at the Rushden & Diamonds game, I sat back in my comfortable seat in East Stand Upper to read the latest thoughts of Chairman Brown. I always try to read these statements with an open mind and honestly my natural instinct is always to try and see something positive in what people say.
The problem is that like many others – who were making their feelings quite clear inside and outside the ground - I’ve lost confidence in Mr Brown some considerable time ago.
The more I read through the statement, the more I found myself gasping at the sheer effrontery of what this man says. I’d like to give a few reactions.
The Brown Hole
First of all, the depth of the financial malaise. This is what should be known from now on as the £28 million ‘Brown black hole’ (or should that be ‘Brown hole’? Maybe not). £8 million was always going to be due (although note Brown says that this is due “during the season” and it is not entirely clear when the club has to pay this) and relegation cost us £20 million.
Two immediate reactions. First, this underlines the failure to deal with the managerial situation back in December 2002, when action by Brown could have still turned our fortunes around. It was blatantly obvious that the team was in disarray. Middlesborough’s action to sack Bryan Robson was a perfect parallel situation and the sacking of O’Leary at Leeds revealed what everybody knows – you don’t even have to pay off the contract straight away.
This is a tough but necessary approach to take. But the fact was that Roeder was failing badly. Inaction cost us £20 million and some of the finest talent to have worn the claret and blue. The stakes were high, Mr Brown and you flunked it. Why not admit that?
The second reaction is that Mr Brown is taking a snapshot of the financial position at the end of the season, and a partial one at that. One of the reasons why I think that Mr Brown is way out of his depth is that West Ham United Plc’s accounts actually show consistent losses in the previous three seasons, even when we were in the Premiership. It’s no good trying to present the case in relation to May 2003 and conveniently forgetting how we got into this situation in the first place.
The financial malaise has been consistent and chronic.
Stengthening the squad
There is a statement later on which really made my blood boil. Mr Brown says “Had we stayed in the Premier League we would have made substantial profits and with the wage bill reduced by £8 million per annum, we would have been in a strong position to strengthen the squad.”
Is this the same Mr Brown that apologised to us for not investing in the squad last year? The same Mr Brown that is now saying that he would have invested had we stayed up? Past performance, as they say is no indication of future performance, but forgive me if I say that I really don’t believe that we would have seriously invested in new players. Does Chairman Brown actually think that an unfilled promise to bring in new players had we stayed up will actually make us all feel better.
It’s tantamount to me saying that had I not lost my job last week then I would have gone on holiday. Does that make me feel better? No. Don’t worry, I didn’t lose my job, just in case you’re wondering.
Honesty and openness
Another piece of nonsense then flows in the statement about fans wanting Chairman Brown to be more open with them and “explain to the whole footballing world that we were running out of cash.”
Well, as I remember it you and the Board were quite open with us. You said that “there would only be a need for one or two sales”. Mr Paul Aldridge said that “there would be no fire sale”. You were open alright - openly misleading in the hope that you would get the money you required. You also tried to pull the wool over our eyes in the run-up to the season ticket renewal deadline. You fooled no-one. We hoped you wouldn’t do it. We hoped you would find a better way. But we also know you of old. You have form.
Let’s face it, you’ve been trying to con everybody, although in a totally unconvincing way.
But I have to pose this question: do you really believe that the “whole footballing world” could be conned into paying more for our assets by you not being open about the situation? Do you honestly believe that people out there did not know the reality? It doesn’t take a genius to look at published accounts and do the number crunching. The entire world including the animal kingdom and plants in the forest knew we had to sell. You may think that people are stupid and that you are smarter than everybody else, but you are deluding yourself.
The other thing everybody knew – as you have a great track record in this – is that you were never going to put your hands in your own pocket and invest in the club. I’ll come back to that point shortly.
The reality, as you in fact admit, is that your openness or otherwise had no bearing at all. What actually happened is that you had a massive piece of luck in that an extremely wealthy Russian turned up. The market was totally depressed and the lack of activity must have been causing huge concern to you and your asset-stripping plans. You must have been rejoicing when that bid for Glen Johnson came in as that meant that you could now sell at the level you required. I can picture your excitement now and your palms going sweaty at the thought of the cash-in.
This clearly makes you content as it maintains your control and has kept administration at bay. I do detect a current of smug self-satisfaction there. Maybe you had a nice celebration down in the Isle of Wight last week. A toast to Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Trevor Sinclair and Freddi Kanoute.
While we’re on the subject of administration, there are those of us that would have supported that. The prime reason I supported it is that I have lost confidence in you and I reckon a professional administrator could actually do a better job than you. We all know that there is an advantage in administration. If there isn’t, then perhaps you could explain to us why the Football League has been making moves to outlaw it.
What you really fear from administration is your loss of control and the very real prospect that somebody would come in and take over the club. You are driven by self-interest. You think that you are bigger than the club.
I am amazed that you brush administration aside with the point that the administrator may have sold the ground and seen it redeveloped. What kind of a red herring is this? Do you honestly believe that an administrator would have risked a large number of season ticket refunds? That move would have been seen quite simply as untenable and impractical. There would be a massive fan (customer) revolt. We’re hardly sitting on prime real estate and perhaps you could point us towards another example of a club in administration that has gone off into a ground share in similar circumstances. It’s a scare tactic.
I’m now going to return to your chronic failure or inability to invest in the club. There is an interesting point in your statement when you say that “No small business in the world” could sustain a loss of £20 million. This speaks volumes as it shows your lack of ambition and your mentality. You see West Ham United as a small business and you want to run it like a small business on a cash flow basis. Rather than investing yourself, your approach has in fact been parasitical – you have paid yourself an inflated fat cat salary consistently even when the club has been losing money.
I hear what you say about administration being bad news for our suppliers. These are people that you have employed. You owe them something. You should account for your bad management of the club. I think you should stand those debts yourself.
The value of our brand
But the biggest laugh I had was when you talked about the value of our brand and that we need to be mindful of that in our relations with the local community. You have been responsible for huge damage to that brand. You have led us down into the Nationwide. You have sold off possibly some of the most talented home grown youngsters.
You and you alone are the brand wrecker. Just do some market research if you don’t believe me. Ask a sympathetic non West Ham fan and they express sorrow at the decline of a great club. Ask a non-sympathetic West Ham fan and they will tell you how we are a feeder club and a laughing stock. Ask any West Ham fan and they will point the finger at you. Read the media – I’m sure you do – where are the Brown supporters? I don’t see any.
And now ... the good news according to Brown
Let’s look at your good news points:
1. We are in a sound financial position and our banks are happy – you are the architect of the parlous financial position in the first place. The banks are probably the only people that are happy about what has happened. You’ve been asset-stripping;
2. We can still afford a £17 million wage bill, better than £3 – 4 million that some Nationwide teams can only afford. WE ARE NOT A NATIONWIDE TEAM; WE ARE A PREMIERSHIP TEAM;
3. We do not need to sell Jermain or other players – forgive me, but I don’t trust any statements you make about not selling players;
4. We will be bringing in new players in the near future. Players as good as we had previously? Players that will stay rather than be on loan? Your track record does not fill me with confidence on that one;
5. We have not reduced expenditure on the Academy – well, no, after all where would you get the next crop of talent for sale if you didn’t maintain the Academy?
6. We have not sought to defer player salaries – glad to hear it, but the good news aspect of that somewhat escapes me;
7. We will get 25% of any sell on of Cole and Johnson – just how comforting is that – if it ever happens? I just hope that you are long gone by then.
The definition of a supporter
I have probably gone on longer than I should have done, but I want to end on the Brown definition of a supporter (taken from the Oxford English Dictionary as it appears that some help was required in assiting the Chairman's understanding what a supporter is).
This part of the statement has got to be one of the most patronising passages I have ever read. This is tantamount to Brown telling us the fans how we should be behaving despite the appalling situation in which the club has been left.
Let’s get one thing straight. There is a difference between supporting West Ham United Football Club and supporting Chairman Brown. The analogy is this. Many of us supported our troops in the Gulf but did not support those that sent them there in the first place. “Lions led by donkeys” is the classical description of First World War soldiers and their generals.
We are supporting the club. We have turned out in large numbers to buy season tickets. I and a third-full stadium did it again tonight and we’ll be there again in greater numbers on Saturday. Don’t tell us that we don’t know how to back our team, but understand this – we don’t support you and your failed regime. You are not the team. You are not the club. You are the wrecker of our team. We want you out and we will ultimately be successful in achieving that objective as ultimately it is in the interests of the club.
To quote some advice given by politician to a lame duck former Prime Minister of this country, “In God’s name, go”.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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