Reflections

by | 28 Jul 2020 | 28 comments

I sit here relieved the season is over, relieved we avoided relegation and wishing Jude all the best for his career. My overwhelming feeling is of sadness; sad that our great club cannot offer the young man the level of football he needs to progress, sad that our great club is on the decline and sad that it is so difficult to feel optimistic about next season. I feel despair at the mess the club is in, and the only way I can gain any optimism for next season is to think that with competent directors and/or new owners this can be sorted out, but then more despair when I realise how complex and implausible this is – I need therapy.

My therapist’s first suggestion was to walk away from the thing that is causing your despair, but I explained this is not an option. So, the next suggestion is to understand and analyse what the issues are and find a way forward but be clear, this is not a simple love affair, it is a ménage à trois. There is you, a fan, and the team you love and the owners.

Here is my attempt to understand the issues and look for a way forward. It is a personal view and my opinion based on my perception and interpretation of what I see. Here are my thoughts on the three parties in this ménage à trois.

The fans

We are a diverse bunch; some of us will turn up through thick and thin and many more would want tickets for a cup final. Blues fans are fiercely loyal.  When things are not going well, we stay behind the team and try to pick them up. When we are in full voice, we are the best and loudest in the land.

The fans have many and varied opinions.  In a survey of Blues Trust members, we found discontentment with how the club is run but we were split 50/50 on whether we should hold protests or show dissatisfaction by not buying tickets etc. However, a large majority (over 90%) demanded that our owners in Hong Kong change who and how our club is run.

We have seen some actions that cause the owners to take notice, publicity in the South China Morning post and the very effective 1875 group’s lobbying of the HK stock exchange.

The team of players, manager and coaches

I believe professional footballers, managers and coaches have passion for what they do and would not make it into the professional ranks without the desire to win and succeed. I believe the mental state of players and managers is a major factor in the difference between a good and poor performance. My observation is that we as fans can detect a ‘not trying’ element in a performance but I contend that this is a sub-conscious effect within players that bothers them as much as it does us.  The best way I can describe this effect is to say it’s the opposite of a great manager or a sports psychologist getting the best out of a player.  This effect is brought about through lack of confidence, fear of making mistakes and types of intangible emotions that lower the mental state.  I also contend that things outside the control of a player have the greatest effect on lowering mental state, for example a paper-thin squad, a demotivated manager, interference from non-professionals and fans’ criticism.

Of course, better players will improve a team, but what we have seen in recent performances at Blues does not mean the ones we have are suddenly rubbish. My contention is they are mentally low and the best way to turn this round is to find a quality manager that can motivate, and given the resources bring in good players and move on those he does not require . Then (when it is possible) to have fans cheering them on. It is a very simplified solution that is achievable but reliant on resolving some of the issues discussed below.

The Owners

I believe the owners want success for financial and emotional reasons, and I cannot believe that anyone investing in a club would purposely run it into the ground.  The following tries to understand what is going wrong.

Traditionally the owners of football clubs had a connection and/or love of the club combined with resources that allowed them to indulge their passion.  However as football evolved into big business with the introduction of the premier league, television money, high wages and agent influence it attracted owners that were motivated by the business proposition and, put very bluntly, money has ruined the game.

The result is that generally owners are now more remote from the club they own and a layer of management and governance is required to run the club, sat between the owners and the team and fans. This requires the owners employ competent club management and give them the freedom and resources to achieve the goals they set. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it creates opportunities for things to get confused or go wrong.

So how does this play out at Blues?  My understanding of the ownership structure and involved parties at Blues is heavily reliant on the investigative journalism of Daniel Ivery (almajir.net). I am indebted to and very appreciative of his work.

It is my view that the main issue plaguing Blues is the mess created by lack of clarity and competence around ownership and governance.  I assume the owners (TTA / Dragon Villa / Ever Depot or to bring it down to individuals, Mr Suen and Mr King) would like a successful team, a large happy fanbase and the profit that can come with this. However poor decision making and autocratic management at BCFC Board level, and in particular the CEO, are preventing this.

I think this comes about when people smart in business apply their tried and trusted methods in an environment that is uniquely different from their normal operating environment.  In essence we have suffered from the lack of experience of running a football club.  It is understandable that owners would appoint a trusted individual with proven performance in other areas of their business to the CEO position at Blues.  It is also understandable that employing ‘football people’ outside their immediate cohort is of concern to them, especially as their early dealings with ‘football people’ was with agents that left them with burnt fingers.

The way forward

So how does this get fixed? There are two suggestions.

  1. Restructure and strengthen the BCFC club Board level management together with the appointment of a CEO with a proven record of running an English football club.  Ensure the new Board has a remit to redress the secretive/ anonymous leaders issue by deciding on a figurehead for the club (maybe the football manager or the CEO) who has a media presence and proactive in true fan engagement.
  2. The owners ‘sell on’ BCFC to new owners – preferably with local connections and a willingness to involve fans in the ownership. This only resolves the situation if the new owners ‘look after’ the club – to me this means a reversion to a ‘Traditional’ type of owner with a long-term sustainable business plan.

Hoping for or expecting the owners to sell on BCFC in the short term is most unlikely.  The complex and opaque ownership structure, the amount of investment and the parent company having a HK listing, all have adverse effects on agreement of price and a clean deal (i.e. a new owner being sure of what they are buying).

We just do not know whether the owners would like to sell or not.  Presumably they do not like criticism and fans disdain but my guess is this is not a factor high on the agenda when they consider their position. More likely it’s money and debt that would be driving decisions.  The amount wanted for the club by the current owners would likely include repayment of debt (in the region of £100M +) and the value of the HK listing (approximately £40M), whereas the value of the club is probably between £20M and £30M. A situation that makes finding a price acceptable to both parties in a sale very difficult, unless the owners wanted to get out that much, they accept significant losses.

The suggestions of how to fix the situation are out of my control but as chair of Blues Trust, we do have access to expertise that could help owners see a new way forward and I am aware of parties that would want to buy the club if the owners wanted to sell.

I conclude by referring to Blues Trust open letter to the owners which calls for them to strengthen the club management, produce a strategic plan, improve fan engagement, and appoint a football manager for the long term. These are very achievable actions and I wish them the best of luck in making Blues a success.  The Team will always get my undying support and the owners will also get this when they demonstrate the actions above are being implemented.

Cliff Horrocks

Chair – Blues Trust

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28 Comments

  1. Tim Austin

    An excellent, thoughtful and constructive assessment of the shambles in which we find ourselves. Like Cliff, I feel something approaching despair at the state to which TTA have allowed Blues to sink. The first priority HAS to be the appointment of an experienced manager at Championship level and give him authority over transfer dealings – Pep’s position on this was ludicrous. Karanka would be a good start. Then remove Dong and find a new CEO who knows something about English football. That at least would indicate a real change of direction and inspire some hope among supporters – including me, a supporter of 66 years’ standing and season ticket holder who still travels from Surrey to St Andrew’s for as many home games as possible.

    Reply
    • DES

      Cliff, well set out article!
      But I don’t think owners Trust a non Chinese CEO!
      Love your Phrase Manage A Trois, I suggested this as the name of Statue we should have in Kop car Park, Karren, & the two Davids HA HA

      Reply
  2. Sausage n Egg

    Dong is going nowhere unless he is pushed…. He fiddles while Birmingham burns… Foul pestulent little no mark. Nothing will change for the better until then … When fans decide to do something others deride them and the lethargy is like a cancer spreading through the club
    Every aspect of the club is a farce be it from the playing staff … Ticketing… Catering .. Shop… It’s all just shite…. I want our club back!!

    Reply
    • MARKE STEPHENSON

      well said Sausage N eggs!

      Boycott is the only way to be rid of these Idiots

      Reply
    • Jimmy A

      As a season ticket holder my view is that the deterioration started when David’s Gold and Sullivan sold up to Chinese owners. It is all very well wishing for this and that but I really feel we need to take the lead from Liverpool fans who campaigned vigorously against their former owners. We need the current regime to leave, sell up and move on. Their arrogant poor decisions are a disgrace. Sacking Rowett and Monk bizarre Bringing Zola in ,the Spanish experiment and Pep as a lame duck manager all mistakes. It’s like Groundhog Day every season. Every Blues fan needs to make it clear to the owners we are not a plaything for your Hong Kong listing. We are Birmingham City and we deserve much better than what you can offer.

      Reply
    • Les

      you sound as fed up as me mate, i hate to say it but the only way i can see forward is boycott the club and ive been going down since 1963, i feel so depressed on what is happening to our club its heart breaking

      Reply
  3. Mitchell Bray

    Players sadly are not up to the rigours of the Championship.We just hope sufficient recruits will give us a fighting chance to survive yet another season. As regards a new Manager it all depends whether the Board want out. Should they go down this route then expect Spooner and Gardner to carry on. My feeling is that like the fans they are all sponged out with it all.

    Reply
    • Paul Bradley

      I have never ever felt so dismayed with Blues as I do at the moment.

      Been going home and away for donkeys years and l just feel bereft of hope in the near future with Blues.

      As with previous comments unless at minimum there is a CEO and Manager experienced at running and managing a club at championship level put in place we are doomed to League 1.

      What an utter shambles for a great club that should be established in the Prem let alone competing at the arse end of the championship.

      Oh for some inspiration!!!!

      Reply
  4. William Dunn

    I saw my first game in 1960 and have seen all the ups and downs since then but I have never been so pessimistic about a coming season.

    I live in hope that at last the owners realise how bad things have become and act to put in place some effective management. They will pay a truly disastrous financial cost if they do not.

    That is my logical analysis but the owners seem to act in such an illogical manner it may be a forlorn hope.

    Reply
  5. pamela allsopp

    I hope you have shared the access to the expertise you have mentioned, which could help the club move forward. It is indeed a sad state of affairs. I am in my 63rd. year of support, but I can honestly say my enthusiasm is at an all time low. To continually go backwards year after year without acknowledging or correcting mistakes is unacceptable. I sincerely hope a new CEO can be found before it is too late. Dong is clearly out of his depth. The ladies team has been decimated, and it seems he is hell bent on doing the same with the mens’ team. ACTION NEEDS TO HAPPEN NOW.

    Reply
    • Cliff Horrocks

      Women’s team demise is a direct result of Dong’s decisions in sacking Tim Andrews (women’s CEO) and making a team management appointment against the advice of everyone else at the club

      Reply
    • Michael Knowles

      Thank you Cliff. Once again a thoughtful piece from someone who cares.
      I continue to maintain that a meeting with Dong is vital now.
      The Blues Trust must be seen to be proactive and positive. The owners have an agenda and to understand that, would be helpful for everyone concerned.
      If Dong is assured that a meeting will be constructive, then why should he refuse?
      Attacking his car will not deal with the present situation, even though I see the fans frustration.
      I never forget that it is their money as owners. However, we all have every right as supporters to request communication and continue to provide assistance.
      The time is now before we enter the next season.

      Reply
      • Cliff Horrocks

        it needs two sides to agree to have a meeting, Blues trust will continue to pursue this

        Reply
        • Michael Knowles

          I wondered what Dong was saying about a meeting please ?

          Reply
          • Cliff Horrocks

            We regularly ask for meetings to progress structured dialogue to confidentially discuss the more sensitive issues, it is true that the covid situation has prevented this happening over last few months. We will see if we can make progress now restrictions are being lifted.

  6. pamela allsopp

    I trust you have called on the access to expertise you mention Cliff.
    I have been supporting for 63 years, but I feel the club is now at an all time low, and think we all feel the same. The CEO is clearly out of his depth and the lack of acknowledging mistakes and just carrying on making yet more is totally unacceptable. The time for action , HAS TO BE NOW.

    Reply
  7. Stephen

    In any other business the CEO would have been replaced due to poor performance, money has been spent but unfortunately by the wrong people to the wrong personnel. A simple reshuffle with stability at management area with the right people holding the purse would be a push in yhr right direction.

    Reply
  8. Rita Taylor

    I’m puzzled as to why TTA et al ever thought they would make money by buying into BCFC. What made them think it could ever be a ‘massive’ club? Who pulled the wool over their eyes. Someone should put them right, persuade them to sell to someone who understands what football clubs mean to their fans. I’ve been a Blues fan since 1956 and have never felt so disheartened by it all.

    Reply
  9. Robert wiley

    Excellent take on current situation and even better solutions.I fear until we get new owners who love the club and as you say install a proven CEO I can’t see meaningful change.I can’t believe even these owners risking their own investment by poor management of the club.you would think they would want premier league football to get a return on the investments,completely baffled

    Reply
  10. Rob

    When the club was finally wrestled out of the hands of Carson Yueng to Mr Suen under his guise of TTA it was reported that “Paul Suen is a turnaround expert”. We all believed that this meant he would sort the club out and then sell it on. Not turn it around to face towards League One!

    They bought us on the cheap, took a punt (Casino Style) on getting us into the Premier League by giving Harry Redknapp £20M for players and then a quick sell on at a nice tidy profit but instead it all went wrong. Now they are left holding a busted flush.

    What a nightmare for them, what a nightmare for the club and what a nightmare for us fans.

    I don’t agree that a new CEO and Manager will sort this out. Even excellence in both positions would just manage the inevitable train crash. We are debt ridden, asset poor (since the stadium has gone) and the only way out of this will be administration and hopefully new, improved, owners. The sooner the better I say.

    Reply
    • Neil Homer

      I agree. I think this has to get worse – maybe a lot worse – before it gets better. And next time there have to be viable local investors that want to secure ownership.

      Reply
    • RK31KRO

      Excellent read and hits home on many levels.

      However like many other people and comments, where I think most people agree that it’s a $***$how, its not clear on the way out of it.

      It doesn’t seem like there will be immediate changes from the top down.. I. E. Change of personal in running the club or any intention to sell.. Therefore unfortunately I think we need to look at what we can do to persuade them to change their mind.

      Reply
    • Gazal

      Its a culture problem. The Chinese are very different in the way they think and act. They view things both on a personal and business level vert differently to us. We don’t understand them and they don’t understand us. I am of the opinion that people running a football club need to understand the culture of the people and just how passionate we are about the clubs we love and support. I believe the owners and people running the club are not capable of understanding or respecting this and will not back down and bow to knowledge and experience and instead demand respect be conveyed to them as employers and superiors. It ain’t going to work is it?

      Reply
  11. Wallyb

    Any prospective Manager reading this letter would run a mile from our club. TTA will not respond to being told what to do – culturally unacceptable to them. There does not seem to be any communication channels to or through the CEO. Presumably he knows what TTA wants and until we know that we are peeing into the wind. I hate to say relegation and going into Administration would be a better fate than the zombie existence we continually have to live with.

    Reply
  12. Mitchell Bray

    Cliff,sorry to come in on this a second time,but Gazal’s comments are spot on. It is a cultural thing. Whilst doing my regular articles for Vital Birmingham I have tried many times to delve very deeply into the actual mindset of our owners and of course why they take the continual Kamikaze actions that they do. Result being one of incredulity. Culture when East meets West simply is what it is-doesn’t work and never will especially to the likes of BCFC.

    Reply
    • Robert Raithby

      It is my belief that unless Birmingham City Football Club supporters can get to the reality of the club’s current very poor situation, then there is little chance of any progress. For example, for me it is inaccurate to blame current owners for something that goes back further than their tenure. It is illogical. I think the reason the true cause(s) are not found or understood maybe that the issues are unpalatable to the majority of fans. I do not have the full answers, only strong suspicions. What I do have is a method of analysis and effective planning for success. I have offered this many times and have been passed by many times. I will keep trying as long as I have the health to do so. At 72i would offer one, my time begins running out. I would offer one thought here that for me is blindingly obvious. If you can get your head into a truly independent football fans mentality for a minute and look at all significant football clubs in England, and the imagine yourself as an investor with sufficient capital, out of let’s say 92 clubs, where would you rate our club. For me we sit alongside the most unpopular clubs. If that is true, thatcsituation whilst not being a way forward gives a ‘problem for action’ statement that would be a possible subject for a skillful business development project, that might just bear good fruit.

      Reply
  13. david wade

    Thank you for writing this special note of your private thoughts about the current dire situation. I think that it is a very well written piece that sums up what a lot of us think. I too have been sad, but also felt a great deal of anger and that is usually not the way I am. I had it all worked out after the Swansea game. Complacency, lacking in leadership at every level, Owners, CEO, Head Coach and Team Captain. Only Lee Camp, Lucas Jutkiewicz and Jude Bellingham have come out of the 9 games without criticism. Would it be possible to have the Blues Trust letter and this article translated and sent to Messrs King and Suen. They are our only current hope. If this CEO appoints Mr Karanka they will fall out within a few weeks. My other thought, is that Karanka is the Portugese Tony Pulis. He would introduce a style of play based on grinding out results. It is certainly not what I want. Whilst such a style may gain promotion it would also guarantee an immediate relegation. It may be that only going into administration will enable the ownership of the club to change hands and we would not own the ground. Time for another lie down in a darkened room.

    Reply
  14. Les

    I worry very much for the future of the club when the owners say they want to promote through the youth system. If the attitude of don’t worry you are getting over run just keep passing square seemed to be the attitude from the touchline in the last four games. This by the manager of the under23’s we will never produce players like some of the more astutely run clubs

    Reply

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