Johnny & Al's Chairmen On Television

The basic rule of owners and chairmen is that the less you hear them speak, the more powerful they are. Or does Roman have a voice like a squirrel farting into a whistle?

Last Updated: 06/12/12 at 13:35 Post Comment

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The rarest of beasts on our TV screens is more usually found in the padded seats, eating the smoked salmon canap├ęs, quaffing a decent Sancerre and wearing the sort of luxury wool and mohair overcoat favoured by villains in The Sweeney.

We speak of the men with the money, or at least the ones who have done something clever with debt: the owners and chairmen.

In most of the Football League, the owner of the club is also the chairman and is a self-made man with a slightly younger, somewhat tarty blonde wife who thinks riding in a Jaguar and being able to buy the big 1.5 litre bottles of gin is the peak of social and financial status. This owner has made a couple of million selling wall heaters in Warrington and has decided to buy a lower-league club in order to try and prove something to his long dead father who said he'd never amount to anything. At night, as the groundsman locks the gates, the board room echoes to cries of "can you see me now pappa?"

These sort of chairmen are only seen on the inevitably fawning local news being interviewed by a Partridge type, usually about some sort of charity event for 'the kiddies'. If they talk about football, it's always to give the manager the vote of confidence, shortly before sacking him. You'll also see them on FA Cup days, always dressed in the long camel hair coat, cheeks flushed from a breakfast brandy saying how this game against Barnsley is the biggest in the club's history and will pay the wage bill for five years.

Later, after they leave the club in disgrace, they're arrested for interfering with young people or, at the very least, interfering with tax returns. These chairman are - when it comes to media work - rank amateurs and best appreciated as such.

Others with a higher profile try to use the media more cleverly. Anyone who saw the MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman before their cup game against Proper Wimblydon will have seen a man who was trying to, in some degree, re-write history and project himself and the club as saviours, heroes even, full of warm words for their opponents.

This kind of chairman has probably read Alastair Campbell's books and fancies he can spin the local sports boys to dance to his tune. However, when exposed on a national basis, they look like what they are, wide-eyed provincial starlets.

The media likes to paint the lower-league chairman and owner as a bit of a character - with Wimbledon's Sam Hammam a classic example. It suited everybody to portray these figures in a jovial, madcap way, although they were quietly clearly often ruthless businessmen.

TV coverage seemed reliant on little stunts and skits of the "Oooh, look, here he is making toast for the players" type. Players are never allowed to make their own toast for some reason, though quite why he is even paying for players to eat bread on his dime is never even questioned. But look, he's mucking in despite having that 1983 Jag and a slightly younger wife with thick black eyeliner to distract himself from his on-rushing heart attack.

The sensible chairman sees those who are to quick to jump in front of the cameras and learns. The sensible ones never appear on TV to say or do anything unless the ground has burned down in an accident caused by their son's crack pipe.

The invisible lower-league chairman and owner is a blessing to all, not least because they almost certainly know nothing about football and thus should confine themselves to writing cheques and paying off people from that children's home in the 1970s.

But things change in the top flight. This is The Big Time, baby. The chairman is now probably not the owner. He's just the man who has to explain why the owner has personally bought an ex-cabbage farmer from the Ukraine as the club's new striker and deny that it's all part of an evil-people trafficking scheme and that, no, the manager isn't being undermined by the owner's refusal to make toast for the players etc etc.

When a club is owned by billionaires, the chairman's main role is to hang on to his own job while everyone else gets fired, pretend he is doing something and avoid answering any questions from the press about anything, and certainly never going in front of a TV camera.

At Chelsea Bruce Buck has been in situ for nearly ten years and had seen 89 managers and five gypsy curses come and go. Do you even know what he looks like? No, probably not. Oddly enough, he's the spitting image of Basil Brush. Actually he may not even be real. He may just be a glove puppet that Roman addresses as though he is a real person. Who knows? No-one cares, that's for sure.

Owners of Premier League clubs are a mixture of ego-fuelled loons, asset strippers, megalomaniacs and Very Rich Men With Nothing Else To Do. They never come on the telly to explain anything and if they do it is only in very pre-scripted circumstances so they don't have to reveal the fact they thought the club played in Germany, let alone that Liverpool isn't actually two towns called Liver and Pool.

At this level the owner is always an unimaginably wealthy dude who drives a Maserati carved by Filipina virgins out of pure diamonds. He has a much, much younger and much, much prettier wife, preferably someone involved in underwear modelling at some point before settling down to be a renowned Mata Hari from Kazakhstan. She has a killer's thighs and a passion for collecting anything that costs ten million pounds or more (though not Darren Bent).

Roman Abramovich has set the standard for owners' media relations with a ten-year silence. You can't speak to Roman and he won't speak to you. This is because he has a small squeaky voice which has been likened to a squirrel farting into a whistle. After a childhood being chased through the streets of Eastern Russia by bullies chanting "come back Squirrel Fart-Squeak" he is not psychologically able deal with media probing. But then why should he? He's got bigger things on his mind such as Frank Lampard and a plan to make even more squillions from gas that may or may not involve Frank Lampard.

In actual fact, the mystery of Roman is one of football's more exotic pleasures. In football the truly powerful have no need to speak. Do you hear Khaldoon Al Mubarak on the radio or on TV? Or Ellis Short? No, they have real humans to do that for them. Indeed, the more media-friendly an owner is, the less powerful he really seems to be.

Being incommunicado gives a sense of the men being somehow aloof and superhuman and above the fray, his hands unsullied by the dirty deeds done dirt cheap done in his name. Those who are very public, such as that West Ham mob or Peter Coates at Stoke, seem somehow lesser by virtue of their accessibility. There's a feeling that if they were really powerful, they'd not be on the radio at 9.30pm on a Tuesday night. That's surely for the owner of BogStandard FC, while eating a fish supper from his wife's rip-off Prada handbag in a lay-by outside of Scunthorpe. And good luck to him.

ALSO THIS WEEK: If you didn't catch the ITV4 documentary about Fabrice Muamba it is well worth a look. The story will of course be familiar to anyone reading this, but there's some nice interviews with his wife and the people who saved his life that day. If you are going to have a heart attack, it would seem that a football stadium might well be the place to do it. Even so, the programme really gave the sense of what a miracle it was that he survived - for instance, the presence in the crowd of a cardiologist who was at the ground on his nephew's season ticket.

Anecdote from the heart doc about going to see Muamba in the hospital not long after he woke up.

"Can you tell me your name?"

"Yes, my name is Fabrice Muamba."

"I hear you are quite the footballer."

"I try."

Definitely had something in the eye on watching this bit. Check out 'Sports Life Stories' on the ITV Player: https://www.itv.com/itvplayer/sports-life-stories/series-1/episode-7-fabrice-muamba

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Alan has a new book out. It is called 'Who Moved My Stilton? - The Victorian Guide To Getting Ahead In Business' and you can check it out here

Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here

Follow Alan on Twitter here

or Johnny here

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