An increasing number of Football League clubs in England are being badly run by their owners. The list is extensive and the fans are long-suffering. Could it have been prevented? Should the FA take more action? We profile each of the six teams and their plight.
Blackpool have plunged from the Premier League to League Two in six years. The owner, Karl Oyston, has stripped the club of its assets, leading to The Tangerines’ fall from grace. The current situation is bleak, but under new manager Gary Bowyer they have at least gone some way to ensuring a third successive relegation is no longer on the cards. Blackpool are now in the play-off mix and could be back in the third tier sooner rather than later. That has not prevented attendances at Bloomfield Road dropping dramatically – from 16,000 to less than 4,000.
Disgruntled fans have wanted the Oyston family to sell for some time, but protests have not led to action. The owner has even tried to sue his own fans. The craziest move by protesters came during Blackpool’s final Championship game, at the end of the 2014/15 season. A large number of fans invaded the pitch and refused to move from the centre circle, causing the game to be abandoned. Less than 11 senior players were signed on at the start of that campaign, just one of the reasons why supporter groups are growing increasingly frustrated. Throwing eggs at the owners’ entrance is the latest ploy and it seems neither side is willing to budge. The protests will no doubt continue under Oyston leaves.
Coventry City were forced to play games more than 30 miles from home – at Northampton Town’s Sixfields stadium, due to a rent dispute. Many supporters travelled to the games but protested outside against owners ‘Sisu’. They have since returned to the Ricoh Arena – a stadium shared with Rugby Union side Wasps, and their first game back in 2014 attracted a crowd of over 27,000. They could be on the move again though, as talks to extend their stay beyond 2018 have broken down. Their training ground is also under threat from housing developers.
The uncertainty surrounding the club affected has their form on the pitch, where relegation is a serious threat, despite only narrowly missing out on the League One play-offs last season. The local newspaper is campaigning for the company to sell the club, with league status, finances and attendances all plummeting. Fans joined together with fellow strugglers Charlton in a recent game by throwing plastic pigs on the pitch to express their anger at money grabbing owners.
Charlton Athletic have tried everything to pressure their owners Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire to sell up. Most of it involves disrupting matches at The Valley, with everything from hauling beach balls on the pitch to using whistles. A few fans have even had their season tickets revoked for criticising the owners on social media.
Players brought in from other teams owned by Duchatelet are not up to standard and have been signed without the manager’s backing. The owners look to be there for the long haul, unlike the six managers they have sacked in two and a half years. Charlton’s slide down the divisions may halt in League One, but the good work of ex-Addick Chris Powell has been well and truly undone. Russell Slade has already received his marching orders this term after just 16 games in charge, but it remains to be seen what Karl Robinson can achieve. He is used to working on a tight budget at MK Dons.
Leeds United’s off-field problems have been well documented, but after years of financial insecurity and broken promises, there is genuine hope that this year will be different. Owner Massimo Cellino was causing controversy before he even took control of the club. He relieved Brian McDermott of his duties, but as the Football League had not approved his purchase, he could not sack the manager and McDermott was reinstated. Cellino himself was suspended from running the club in 2014 after being found guilty of tax invasion.
Cellino is yet to make the headlines this season, allowing Garry Monk to quietly go about his business of shaping The Whites into promotion candidates. And the long suffering fans have always been in good voice and large numbers – that has never wavered. There are currently four separate cases against him being reviewed by the football authorities. His erratic behaviour has included banning Sky Sports from the stadium before a televised game, bringing in unknown and inexperienced managers, and perhaps worst of all, interfering with transfer policy and team selection. Fans have fought back with the ‘Time to Go Massimo’ campaign and he had agreed a deal in principle to sell a majority stake to a fans group, but reneged. The Cellino saga is set to continue.
Blackburn Rovers have been moving in the wrong direction ever since The Venkys took over in late 2010. Sacking Sam Allardyce when the club was in 11th position in the Premier League was one thing, but to replace him with the unknown Steve Kean sealed Rovers’ fate. Under Kean they last one more season in the top flight before they were relegated, and have not really looked like getting promoted since. Promoted from within, Gary Bowyer stabilised Rovers and made the fans the chaos surrounding the club had died down a little.
That was until last season, when Paul Lambert, tasked with taking the club forward following the departure of Bowyer, resigned and was replaced by ex-Burnley manager Owen Coyle. The recent ‘1875’ protest against Wolves received nationwide attention, as fans did not take their seats until the 18th minute and left on the 75th, in tribute to the year the club was formed. The club are in a relegation battle and the apathy of the fans is clear. The 31,000 capacity Ewood Park is a third full– not that the owners are deterred. They seem content to carry on owning the club in over £100 million of debt and have not been seen at a game for over three years.
Hull City are the exception. The Tigers are a Premier League club for now, but embroiled in a relegation battle and have an owner looking to sell. The problems started with Assem Allam trying to change the club’s name from City to Tigers, in order to reach the growing football interest in Asia. The move was met with furious opposition and eventually banned by the FA. Allam kept his promise to put Hull up for sale should the name change fail. That was followed by a plan to scrap season tickets and replace them with a new membership scheme. It didn’t work. Many empty seats can be seen at the KCOM Stadium this season as fans turn their back on the club.
Things got worse in the summer when long standing boss Steve Bruce walked away, despite having just guided the club back to the top flight via the play offs. Mike Phelan has made the step up from coach to manager, but after a honeymoon period start, results have been less than impressive.
Fans across the country are acting in order to keep great clubs alive. These teams have proud histories and supporters should continue fighting to rid the game of bad owners.