W h e n S a tu rd ay C om es * >
MERGERS: No Victory Yet
The fiasco at Fulham and the continuing uncertainty over the future of Wimbledon and Crystal Palace have brought into the open many of the realities of football in the 1980s which are too often kept hidden below the surface. As we go to press, the final outcome of both these situations is still far from clear, but even at this distance the lessons to be learnt are pretty obvious. Some people have more to learn than others.
Although the Football League for once didn’t try to pass the buck, they are far from blameless in the merger affairs. In fact, their whole structure was called into question.
The decisions o f the League Management Committee mainly effect the clubs, obviously. The clubs are run by their Chairman and Directors. The League Management Committee is composed entirely o f Chairmen and Directors. They are defendants, judge and jury. In this case, two members o f the Management Committee, Ken Bates and Ron Noades, had a direct interest in the outcome o f the merger proposals. In Bates’ case his interest was a personal financial one, as well as a professional one, since he owns 20% of Marler’s shares. (His protestations about Marler’s valuation o f Stamford Bridge which pushed their shares up substantially should also be seen in this context — he would stand to gain a lot of money by selling those shares). Noades would be helping to decide on a merger proposition which he himself may even have helped to initiate, and which is scarcely o f minimal significance to his club!
This is at the root of the League’s lack of will in previous dealings with the Bulstrodes o f this world. They all talk the same language, they understand each other. The League already has what sound like fairly watertight rules on ownership o f clubs, e.g. “Except with the prior written consent o f the management committee, no club may, either directly or indirectly, have any power whatsoever to influence the management or administration o f another d ub . ” (Rule 80, Clause 4). David Bulstrode had had no communication whatsoever with the League when the story first broke.
The problem is with the will to enforce the rules. Bulstrode’s influence (owner o f two clubs, in effect, and one other ground) is grossly in breach of the League’s rules, in spirit anyway, even if he can get round them technically. So is Robert Maxwell’s, with his son in charge at Derby. So is Terry “ I wouldn’t mind owning four of five clubs” Ramsden’s. So was Anton Johnson’s before the law (not the League) caught up with him. Even more o f a challenge to their authority is the fact that these people can float their barmy ideas for mergers (don’t forget Thames Valley Royals) with some expectation that the League will actually let them do it! If the League isn’t able to control absolutely the names and grounds of the teams which they allow to take part in their competitions, just what do they control?
One o f the reasons why Fulham are in financial difficulty (apart from the fact that Ernie Clay pocketed a reported £6 Million personally, when Bulstrode bought him out), is the new set o f rules brought in this season which direct more TV, sponsorship and gate money from the small clubs to the larger ones (see issue 2). So when the League talk about their burning desire to save clubs like Fulham, it would be naive in the extreme to take them at face value. They are committed to a policy o f so-called ’natural’ wastage, whereby no club that goes out of business will be replaced in the League. The fact that they were shamed into action on this occasion doesn’t guarantee by any means that the same will apply in the future.
In Fulham’s case, much has been made (particularly by Brian Glanville, who described Ernie Clay as “ a hero o f our times) o f the original decision by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to refuse permission for partial redevelopment at Craven Cottage, which prompted Clay to sell out. While this kind o f scheme now looks to be about the best that Fulham can hope for, the desecration of two sides o f their ground was hardly an attractive option at the time. In the recent furore, the Council have, so far, done the football club proud and should be applauded for their resolve. The previous (Tory) council to some extent created this whole situation by giving Marler outline planning permission to redevelop Stamford Bridge. If the present council had been as pliable, there would now be no future for either Chelsea or Fulham, or QPR for that matter. In Merton, too, the Council have made noises suggesting that their priority is to keep Wimbledon at Plough Lane, although as yet (at the time o f writing) their committment has not been as public. Fortunately in W imbledon’s case there is the added safeguard that the ground is officially designated for recreational purposes only.
The Property Men
Blaming Bulstrode and the rest is pointless. All we can expect from these people is lies deviousness, trickery and financial manipulation. And th a t’s exactly what we got.
The fans’ reaction on the whole, was positive, coherent, peaceful and passionate, and this is what got the press on our side. But where no independent supporters groups existed, (i.e. Q .P .R ., where the Official Supporters Club supported the merger) they had to be quickly set up. The strong organisation o f the Football Supporters Association in London was a great help in co-ordinating these actions, but in addition, supporters have to learn from this that every club needs an independent Supporters Club which has the authority to speak for a majority o f the fans. Fulham were in just such a position, and this helped them to get the lion’s share o f the coverage.
The whole merger business should now be seen not as a victory or a defeat, but as an opportunity for fans in the capital (and elsewhere o f course) to get together and organise, not against each other, but against their common enemies, such as Bulstrode, Clay, Hammam, Noades etc. I t’s now or never.
(continued back page)
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