Ken Davy and the Galpharm Stadium

The 30th April 1994. Huddersfield Town have just played their final game at the decrepit Leeds Road stadium. It is not, however, all doom and gloom for the Yorkshire club. Just over the road is the undeniably impressive 25,000 all-seater McAlpine Stadium. Surely this is the start of a glorious chapter in the club’s history? Wrong. Financial mismanagement, a brush with liquidation, boardroom politics and one man’s ego have jeopardized the club’s very existence and turned the stadium into a white (and blue) elephant.

The stadium was initially set up in a 3-way structure between the football club, Kirklees Council and the rugby league team Huddersfield Giants. The shares were split 40:40:20 with the football club and the council having the greater share of this so-called ‘community stadium’. The stadium had been largely funded by the sale of the old Leeds Road ground, and the council, as reflected in this setup. The stadium was initially fairly successful. Town were promoted in their first full season at the new location and in the summer of 1995 American band R.E.M. visited, performing in front of 70,000 people. Despite this, the fortunes of the football club, and the stadium, were to take a nosedive – starting in 2001.

Local businessman Barry Rubery was just one of a number of modern day entrepreneurs attracted by the lure of trying to take a football club to the ‘Big Time’. As is so often the case, the football club spent way beyond its means attempting to get to the promised land of the Premier League. Town were relegated to the 3rd division in 2001, which only exacerbated the financial problems at the club. Despite the admirable attempts of Lou Macari – and the dreadful efforts of Mick ‘Total Football’ Wadsworth – the club slipped through the relegation trapdoor and into the 4th tier of English football in 2003. At this point Town had debts of up to £17 million. Town plunged into administration and for a time there was a genuine possibility that this proud football club would go out of business. The club would eventually be ‘saved’ by Huddersfield Giants chairman Ken Davy to the relief of Town fans everywhere.

What does this have to do with the stadium? Upon his purchase of the club, Ken Davy transferred Town’s 40% share of the stadium into his own private company ‘Huddersfield Sporting Pride’. Surely he must have paid a hefty amount to get a 40% stake in a modern, 54-acre stadium? Well not exactly – the colossal sum of £2 to be precise. Even the most frugal of Yorkshiremen would see this as a great piece of business for Davy. This company also possessed the shares of Davy’s other team, the Huddersfield Giants, meaning this stadium, supposedly created for the benefit of the community, was now 60% owned by a private organisation. Davy has argued that he did this to protect the club from future liabilities, yet as the club emerged from the troubled backdrop of administration and financial turbulence, the shares have remained privately owned.

Dean Hoyle, the current Town chairman, agreed a deal with Davy to buy the shares back shortly before Christmas 2009. If messageboard talk is to be believed then the deal was rumoured to net Davy £3 million pounds, making him a 150,000% profit on his initial purchase price of £2. Had this deal gone through, I believe Davy would have retained at least some respect among Town fans. At the end of the day Davy is a businessman with no prior attachment to the club. Had he returned the shares at this premium price there would, in my opinion, have been an understanding that Davy had supported the club at a time of great difficulty, made his money back and prevented the community from losing its major sport team. The deal, however, fell through. The council held up the deal before deadline after deadline passed with no progress. Allegedly the reason for the collapse was Davy and his insistence on changing the agreement to further benefit him. Despite netting a cool £3 million from the share transfer, he pushed for further changes including the changing of the so-called ‘set in stone’ rental formula which would lead to the football club paying an even higher proportion of rent on the stadium to the Giants. Whether this is more than messageboard gossip remains to be seen, but Hoyle has promised Town fans that the truth behind the collapse will eventually come out.

It is amidst this backdrop that Town fans have begun a series of protests against the collapse of the deal, ranging from boycotts of the catering outlets to the donning of t-shirts in front of the Sky cameras. Huddersfield Town, and its fans, are the major providers of income to the stadium. Yet they are arguably little more than guests in a stadium that is their rightful home. Without question the stadium needs the full backing of the council, the football club and the rugby club to work effectively. As it stands Ken Davy and his private company hold far too much influence for the property to be an effective community stadium. The halcyon days of R.E.M., Bryan Adams and, (*ahem*) Blue seem a distant memory. The shares issue continues to cast a grim shadow over the football club and the community. What the final outcome of the stadium ownership will be remains to be seen. This trailblazer of a modern stadium, which inspired the Emirates, Wembley and erm, the Reebok, will continue to be a burden, rather than a source of pride, to the community and the football club until this saga comes to its eventual conclusion.

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Valencia scoring a header against Arsenal

Talking Points, Arsenal v Manchester United (22 January 2012)

Was this Arsenal side stronger than the 8-2 one?

This side is as beset by injuries as the 8-2 one, with 11 first team players unavailable for Arsenal. Two center backs, Johann Djourou and Thomas Vermaelen, were playing in the full back positions, with Djourou particularly being exploited during the first half. This lack of conventional right-back essentially allowed Manchester United to break again and again down the left hand side throughout the first half, culminating in Valencia’s goal. Nico Yennaris, despite his lack of first team experience was clearly the right change to make at half time, as, at the very least, he is a conventional right back.

Scapegoats

Arsenal’s most common scapegoat last season, during the time of Almunia, Fabianski et al, was the goalkeeper. Now that Wojciech Szczesny has clearly established himself in that position, with the impeccable save against Nani in the first half an example of his quality, the defence has once again been called into question. Is this just an excuse for lack of quality around the pitch? Simply put, Arsenal may not be good enough when compared to their rivals to mount a serious title challenge. The supposed weakness of the defence can be put into doubt by the performances this season of men such as Koscienly. He looks like a completely different player, and he may be one of the more improved players in the Premier League, year on year.

Even After Last Season, Man Utd are not stronger

The ‘big signings’ of the summer have disappeared, Young lost in the ether, De Gea displaced as Ferguson’s first choice keeper. Even after last year’s victory with an apparently sub-par side, Man Utd have not improved significantly, allowing rivals to catch up, or alternatively in the case of Manchester City, become the stronger side. Wayne Rooney seems to have spent this season learning how to become a more effective screaming machine as his form continually tails off, despite FIFA’s insistence. Both of Manchester United’s goals can be attributed somewhat to weaknesses in the Arsenal side, such as Arshavin’s lax defending, rather than clear strength in this Manchester United side.

Something has to be done about atmospheres

The response to Valencia’s goal inside the stadium was not palpable. Fans mock the Emirates for being particularly quiet, but away fans can create an atmosphere anywhere. Nothing doing from the Manchester United fans. Even though the aesthetic of the Emirates  looks wonderful on television (“what a fantastic shot that is” post-match referring not to on pitch action, but a helicopter view of the stadium), it is clearly not conducive to an altogether entertaining and unique match-day experience. The game still remained in the balance as the side of the stadium the cameras face emptied almost completely.

Will Oxlade-Chamberlain be another Theo Walcott?

The example of Oxlade-Chamberlain shows how important positional awareness is. Much like his Arsenal counterpart, Oxlade-Chamberlain has bags of pace, but this matters not if you’re never where your team mates expect you to be. He came into the game much better after 25 minutes, possibly due to his team mates becoming more aware of his runs. He must be considered the first choice back-up to Gervinho as the African Cup of Nations roll on, especially after his substitution appeared to be the turning point that led to the opposition going ahead. Fans are now completely aware of Arshavin’s inadequacy, even if Wenger might not be.

The Curious Logic of Ken Bates

42. To the average hitchhiker, this is the answer. To Leeds United fans, it may turn out to be the same. Mere days after Leeds United announced the sale of captain Jonny Howson, Ken Bates used his slot in the programme notes to reveal part of the logic behind the club’s finances. Bates, facing up to accusations that he has been in charge of a regime that has underspent at Elland Road, announced that this year, Simon Grayson was permitted to overspend on his budget by an entire £2 million, therefore leading to him suggesting that logically, he was most certainly backing the manager. This led to a total spending of £11.5 million on the playing side of Leeds United.

Enough, you might suggest, at a cursory glance. The issue comes, however, when the rest of Leeds United’s murky finances are considered. At the club, turnover in 09/10 was £27 million, which, given the lack of financial success of the various ventures Bates has attempted to institute around the club (Yorkshire Radio, Howard’s Restaurant, the Hotel in the future), was essentially exclusively the responsibility of fans purchasing the division’s most expensive tickets, merchandise and the country’s most expensive programme. To these fans, the most important aspect of Leeds United is success on the pitch.

This is where that number becomes important. Of that £27 million of hard earned money ploughed into the club by the fans, a mere 42% is spent on altering what occurs on the pitch. The rest disappears into the previously mentioned various ventures, and £5 million falls into a column called ‘other’. Obviously at a club such as Leeds, with the history of unsustainably ‘living the dream’, it could be considered reasonable to curbing spending on the playing side of matters.

However, the logic simply doesn’t work. In League One and League Two, as announced at the beginning of this season, a wage cap of 60% of turnover is set to be instituted. This is what the Football League regards a sustainable level of wage to turnover, and is worthy of praise. Bates himself backs the new system. Leeds United, however, spend 42% not just on wages, but the acquisition of players as well. At the most extreme end of the hypothetical scale, therefore, Leeds United can only possibly at most spend 18% less than the conservative estimate for a sustainable football club. When the minimal transfer outlay of the club is also included, it becomes obvious that Leeds are spending well below their potential on players.

This leads to what Leeds fans are becoming increasingly riled about, the departure on an annual basis of the club’s best players. Jonny Howson was, until a few days ago, the club’s 23-year old homegrown captain. In the years prior to this one, Leeds have already allowed players such as Max Gradel, Bradley Johnson and Jermaine Beckford to leave the club due to ongoing contractual disputes. In Bradley Johnson’s case, there were suggestions he left in order to allow improvements to the club’s squad, but given his current position in a team 9th in the Premier League, this does not seem logical.

The outcome that most Leeds fans fear is the continued drain of talent away from the club, without improvements taking place in the squad. Rumours already abound that Robert Snodgrass has ended negotiations as the club refuse to give him parity with the best-paid players, despite the fact that often Leeds only look a threat when he is involved. Aiden White, a young left back who came through the academy, looks on the verge of leaving as his contract slowly runs out, and wages offered apparently don’t come close to reaching the level expected by a first-team player at a Championship club.

Ken Bates will continually attempt to use his bizarre set of logic to bamboozle sets of Leeds fans into his fold, but the reality is that by anyone else’s measures, Leeds United fans are having 58% of their funds diverted away from anything they care about, into a mysterious black hole that is to the interest of only one, bearded, man.

(NB: The figures refer to two different seasons. Bates’s estimates regarding turnover last season are around £30m, and whilst they may fall this season, it is unlikely they will drop below the League One turnover levels used in the article).

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Are you interested in further issues in the footballing world caused by problematic owners? Read James Thornton’s article on the shares issue surrounding events at Huddersfield Town. For the newest article by Amitai Winehouse, read his thoughts the leaders of ‘Team England’.