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The Mark Catlin column: Who'd be a football club director?

Mark Catlin is a director with League One club Bury. He starts his new Total Football column by pondering why he even became a football club director in the first place...

Football club directors - Why?

I often think long and hard about this, and if an advert was ever to be placed for Directors at almost all football clubs, then the following credentials would be required before you got the ‘job’!

1) You will need to input money to initially join the board.

2) You will need to input money as and when required to keep the club going during difficult financial times.

3) You will need to work many hours totally for free.

4) You will have to neglect your own personal life and business for the club.

5) You may well be needed to sign personal guarantees for the club as and when asked.

6) You have to be prepared to have supporters question your every decision.

7) You have to be prepared for a fans backlash when things are not going well on the pitch.

8) You have to be prepared for personal abuse when things are going really bad, on and/or off the pitch!

Directors of football clubs, on the whole, tend to be successful businessmen, people that are used to making rational, business decisions, and are pretty level headed, so why do they (we) put ourselves through the stress of being a director, and in many cases blow the fortune that they have spent years building outside of football on a crazy ‘whim’ to achieve football success?

Thankfully, for myself personally, although I ‘signed up’ for all 8 of the above points the day I joined the Bury FC board, I have (so far!) only experienced numbers 1-5, with number 6 coming into play on a few occasions, most notably when players have left us for other clubs.

And if I ever get to number 8 then I am pretty sure that’s the time I would call it a day and look for a new hobby!

Why do it then? Well, I cannot speak on behalf of each and every director, as each of them has his or her own ‘agenda’, however on behalf of myself and many other directors that I meet on my travels, I know that it is for the incredible feeling that you get when things are going well.

Almost all of you reading this article will be football fans, and do you know how it feels when your team wins a game, well multiply this by ten and you arrive somewhere near to what a director feels after a victory.

Horrible feeling

Conversely, do you know how bad you feel after a defeat? Multiply this horrible feeling by ten and you get somewhere near to how bad a director feels.

I have been extremely lucky in my life generally to experience some great times, marriage, birth of my kids, but the day that Bury FC achieved promotion last season, on a gloriously sunny day in Chesterfield, for me ranks as a defining moment in my life. No exaggeration,

I will forever class the players, supporters, and everyone associated with Bury FC that I shared that day with, as part of my family, and even writing about that day just chokes me up all over again. IT MEANS THAT MUCH!

Directors at football clubs are changing, for good or bad, only time will tell. If you go back just a few decades, the majority of teams, even in the top level, had a majority of local players playing for them that supported the club, came through the youth system, and then went on to represent their local town.

Then the bigger clubs started to bring in players from all over the country, then from abroad, with the end result being that many clubs do not now have that many players from England playing for them, let alone local lads.

Replicated in boardrooms

Although slow to catch up, this has been replicated in boardrooms throughout the country. Many boardrooms are now made up of directors not even from England, let alone local businessmen or supporters.

In the past, local successful business people were directors of the local football club, even the big clubs at the time. Little by little, just like the players, this diluted (especially at the bigger clubs) to include people from outside the area, that were attracted by the lure of being the director of a ‘big’ club.

Then as English football become a worldwide product (thanks in no small part to SKY), rich foreign business people became involved taking over many of our biggest clubs, but even this has now fed down to clubs in the ‘lower leagues’.

Football is now a ‘business’ out of reach of many, if not almost all, fans that have done well in life looking to join the board and ‘support’ their local team via the boardroom.

As an example last season on two occasions (home and away) I met David Cardoza the Northampton Chairman, this week he has spoken openly about personally putting in over £7m, yes over £7,000,000, into the club that are currently propping up the football league.

It takes over your life

To any sane person this is crazy, but I can fully understand how it has happened, it just takes over your life, and the figures are incredibly not that crazy in the football world that we now live in.

Bury FC, for example, are playing teams in league one with debts in the high tens of millions, and annual playing budgets as high in one season alone as what David Cardoza has pumped into Northampton over nine years, it’s just incredible really.

Do Directors that are not from the local area really care about the club like a real fan? I cannot speak for ‘foreign’ Directors, but in my own case, as an Englishman from another area joining the board of a club I that have no historical attachment to, I can 100% say yes.

I grew up a West Ham fan. As explained above, perhaps a few decades ago I would be a director of the club that I grew up supporting, but my relative financial success in life is now ‘small fry’ to the tens, if not hundreds of millions required to truly support one of the ‘big’ clubs.

Like any fan that comes from the area, and grew up on the terraces of that club, you cannot take the West Ham out of me, but just like a player, when you pull the shirt on of the club that you are with, even AGAINST the club you grew up supporting, you give 100% for the cause, full stop.

Do I kick every ball?

Back to being a Director, I have watched various West Ham games since joining Bury FC. Do I want them to win, of course I do. Do I kick every ball with the players like I do when watching a Bury game, no!

It’s quite funny really, when I watch a Bury game I am a complete nervous wreck, my nails are gone, I hang on to the chair, and I literally kick out when one of our players are about to take a shot!

So, to answer my own question, yes it is possible to become ingrained into a club even if you are not from that area and never supported it growing up!

We are extremely lucky at Bury FC, we have a small four person board, Brian Fenton our Chairman is ‘born and bred’ Bury fan, a season ticket holder before he joined the board. Jeremy Rothwell looks after our youth system, and all his lads went through it, so a great inside knowledge of our youth set-up.

Margaret Ladkin represents our supporters club, Forever Bury, and is a lifelong ‘Shaker’. And then there is me, a complete outsider, a product of the new generation of football club directors, but I would hope by now that the fans have accepted me as an adopted ‘Shaker’.

They are doing me the favour

I always say to Bury fans that I consider it to be an incredible privilege to represent them, and that’s genuinely how I see it. I am not doing Bury or its fans any favours here, they are doing me the favour in allowing me to live out my fantasy of making a difference, and hopefully a positive difference.

At Bury FC I believe we have a great mix, and I simply form a part of the ingredient that has produced our recent success.

Not every team can achieve success, you cannot have every team promoted, and so it goes that for every promotion there must unfortunately be a relegation. My experience of Directors, on the whole, is a dedicated group of individuals that care passionately about the club they represent.

All I ask of anyone reading this article is that whatever happens to your team have the decency to refrain from putting YOUR Directors through number 8, because they have almost definitely had to go through numbers 1 to 7 in their time as a Director.

And, trust me, rightly or wrongly, they almost all care about the club as much as yourself, and you never know, one day it might very well be you filling out the application form to become the Director of a football club!


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