The revolving door syndrome has permeated lower league football in England. Coventry City, Leeds United, Leyton Orient, Charlton Athletic, Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers, Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest are among the clubs whose owners have been subject to protest.
And rightly so. In my opinion, a spate of owners who think their quick firing managerial solution is the answer to solving every problem is becoming an epidemic. The result of this is teams lacking in identity and suffering on the pitch.
In football, where you place the blame is just as important as how you play the game. Karl Oyston and Francesco Becchetti have blamed the fans for their sides’ struggles. Roland Duchatelet dictated team selection to the former Charlton manager Chris Powell but then sacked him after a poor run of results. And the less said about Massimo Cellino the better.
Lower league clubs’ fanbases go back generations, and it’s difficult not to feel sorry for them. When problems occur within a club, the expectation is that the chief executive or director talks with all parties. So the board, managerial team, players and fans must all work together to solve the issue. After all, without the fans, football simply has no meaning.
Chaotic ownership in the short term is manageable if there are signs that majority shareholders of clubs can learn and move the club forward. But the league table is the ultimate sign of the severe mismanagement plaguing clubs.
Blackpool is an example of one club which has lost its identity. Under Ian Holloway in 2011, they were relegated after losing 3-2 at Old Trafford to then Premier League champions Manchester United. Since then turmoil has followed the seaside club all the way to League Two. Their 2014-15 campaign in the Championship ended with visiting Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka describing the pitch as an insult to supporters.
Players had to wash their own kit because the kit man was only allowed to work on match days, and a pensioner was sued £20,000 by Karl Oyston for a negative Facebook post. At one stage the club registered just eight professionals. 27 players from both the first and youth teams departed. And when the statue of club legend Stan Mortensen was removed, before pressure led to its return, the fans’ dismay was complete.
Further down south Orient is another. In 2014 Barry Hearn sold his major stake in the club to Francesco Becchetti, an Italian businessman. What followed became one of the most toxic relationships in modern day sport between owner and fans.
After spending nearly £12m in Mayfair property, Becchetti escalated the wage bill at Orient to near unsustainable standards with some players earning £9,000 a week. His decision to launch a TV show on prime time Italian TV was questioned when the club sat bottom of League One.
Between 1996 and 2009 the O’s had five managers. In the last three years, they’ve had six. And the befuddling statement released by the club, so difficult to understand that it made morse code look like child’s play, just poured fuel onto an already burning inferno.
Chief Executive Alessandro Angelieri said: “The absence of Mr Becchetti during the last three months has had a more negative impact on the squad.” Eh? The stats say Orient’s form has improved since Becchetti left the country.
In the past, it would have been incomprehensible that clubs like Orient could go into administration and crash out of the Football League. But the crisis caused by poor ownership has put many clubs’ futures in serious doubt.