Ian Todd, founder of the London and Southern England branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association and as knowledgeable about the club as most, raised questions about Ellis Short, the Irish-American who has taken a majority stake in the club, in a comment attached to a recent piece by Pete Sixsmith. Pete offers a few more of his own thoughts……
As usual, Ian Todd, in his response to what I wrote last week regarding the investment from the USA, makes a number of cogent points.
I have conflicting views about anything from the USA. Many years ago I was part of a teacher exchange programme, jointly funded by HM Govt, the US Govt and the Fulbright Foundation. I spent four months living and working in Northern Virginia, just inside the Beltway that separates the Nation’s Capital from the real people who make up the population of this huge country.
It allowed me to experience the overwhelming positives of the USA, while being able to observe the occasionally large negatives about US society and those who inhabit it. Since then, I have visited half a dozen times and have travelled the length and breadth of the country, experiencing its geographical vastness and its political and cultural isolation.
Does any of this make me qualified to pontificate on the arrival of Ellis Short? The fact that I spent two days in his hometown of Independence, Missouri makes me no more an expert on him than someone who spent a weekend at Jury’s in Leeds would be an expert on me.
But there is a move amongst some Americans to take an interest in what happens sportswise outside their shores. The World Series will not be fought out by teams from Japan and Hull in my lifetime and I don’t see Leeds Rhinos playing the Cleveland Browns in the Super Bowl just yet, but “saw-ker” is a growth area for the US and they hate the idea of being rubbish at it at club level.
So, to overcome this, they do what rich Americans are good at – they buy from abroad. No good American artists before 1900 – let’s buy stacks of Vermeer’s, Turners, Leonardo’s etc and put them in world class art galleries. No good composers – let’s create world class orchestras and hire world class European conductors and stick them in places like St Louis.
Of the so called top four, only Chelsea are free from US investment and their chairman is an American with the highly appropriate name of Buck. Other clubs have been picked off by US financiers, consortia and sports nuts, so why should we be any different?
Imagine you are Ellis Short. You enjoy sport, have millions of dollars to play with and you bump into a charming and loquacious Dubliner called Niall Quinn at a race meeting in Ireland. As the Guinness and the Bushmills flow, he paints a picture of a “saw-ker” club that could rise up and challenge the best if only it had a teensy-weensy bit more investment. It has a charismatic manager, a modern stadium that is not mortgaged to the Pound of Flesh Loan Company and a support base that is the envy of all the middle ranking and some of the top clubs in the UK.
You’re sold and the next morning, over a full Irish, the smooth talking Dubliner manages to relieve you of £30m for the manager to spend on players, some of who you have heard of. You are in with a capital I.
So, what to do now? Should you come out into the open and tell everybody how much you love this investment – sorry, club? Maybe you should buy a replica shirt with the manager’s name on the back and swamp the bars in Holmeside with free drinks for the lads. Or maybe you have read your Graham Greene and have realised that what this club needs is a quiet American – so that’s what you do.
I don’t think that it should be compulsory to be frightened of foreign investment. What you have to be frightened of is bad investment and that could come from St Louis or St Albans. We have had two major North East based investors in Tom Cowie (absolute disaster) and Bob Murray (decent bloke, caught out of his depth – but ooooh, those bath taps!). Ellis Short may be less of a public figure than those two, but if someone comes with money, do you chase them away?
For better or worse, the game has altered since Ian, Colin and I started watching the game. Boards are no longer made up of butchers, bakers and laundry owners. Now, it’s property developers, investment bankers and sportswear magnates. The local businessman often bought into the local club so that his name and business would be revered by the forelock touching locals.
Investment bankers are secretive creatures who believe that they should stay in the background and let the people they hire do the talking. If Ellis Short has put his money into the club to assuage the effects of the credit crunch, he’s shrewd and he’s welcome. If he’s put it in to make a lot of money he may not be as smart as we and he thought he was.
Remember the old joke: “What’s the best way to end up with a million pounds out of football?”
– “Start with 10 million.”
Enjoy the carpet ride, Mr Short.