Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhat Dispatches told us - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough What Dispatches told us - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

What Dispatches told us

One of the failings of sport journalism, it has often been said, is its unwillingness to call to account the powers in football. This is for a number of reasons not relevant right here right now. Which is why investigations into sport (from sport journalists or otherwise) are so important as it presents concrete evidence of wrongdoing. This is what Channel 4’s Dispatches programme set out to do on Monday night.

The investigation revolved around a ‘Football Fund’ called London Nominees which was based in Thailand and was fronted by Bryan Robson, manager of the Thai national team at the time of recording.

The reporters posed as a Chinese and Indian consortium looking to take over a lower league club, take that club to the Premier League and then sell on for a big profit. The initial investment would be £15 million (with an additional £10 million to be paid later) to London Nominees who would provide expert advice and contacts within the English game through Robson and a man by the name of Joe Sim.

SIm claimed to have a close relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson who would lend players to the club the Fund would buy to help the club rocket through the leagues, thus making the turnaround time between buying and selling considerably shorter. Sim also has contacts with the current owners of Leicester City, Cardiff City and former Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra

As it transpired, London Nominees would not put in any of their own cash but were more and advisory company. Crucially, they advised that the ‘Chinese/Indian consortium) could take over more than one English league club if they wanted to; an idea also supported by Sim.

Overall, to this viewer, London Nominees appeared to view the reporters as very naïve and were exaggerating the ease with which quick money could be made out of football. For example, they stated that it would take “two to three years” to get a club from League One to the Premier League; possible but nothing in football is as set in stone as that. Furthermore, their “expertise” included singling out Sheffield Wednesday as a good club to invest in due to its huge fanbase and current league standing; an insight any football fan could tell you and not charge £25 million for.

London Nominees appeared to be a company designed to take money off naïve investors with their ‘expertise’ persuading investors how simple it is to make a quick pound in football, whilst keeping its nose out of the whole business as much as possible. Robson was keen to stress that under no circumstances should potential investors attempt to asset strip a chosen club (of its stadium etc). Not due to the club folding and the effect it has on the local community of that club but as it would not go down well “against his name”.

The programme highlighted the real problem of financial governance and regulation in football. London Nominees way of getting round the issue of not being able to own two league clubs was simple; create two special vehicle companies and loan money into each one from the fund. From this, it becomes difficult to track down where the money is coming from. As Greg Dyke, Football League Chairman put it; “it’s not difficult to track down the owners of a football club but tracking down the owners of the owners and so on” is next to impossible. When you throw in offshore ownership and the resultant lack of tax and ownership records, the job becomes more impossible still.

As Dyke observed “a loose alliance of 72 league clubs that mostly lose money cannot pursue the sources of investment.” There is simply too much money involved and too many avenues to chase down for organisations such as the FA or the Football League to make a real impression on due to financial and time restrictions. Government regulation may be the answer but where do you draw the line on government intervention into business? Sport is a different matter but as Robson said himself; “Football isn’t a sport anymore. It is a business.”

Furthermore, when potentially dodgy investors come a-knocking, it is not in the interests of football club owners to run background checks. As most clubs do not make profits, owners who can get out of the cycle by selling to new foreign owners (who think or have been told) that they can make a profit, it is in the interest of the club’s owner to sell up as soon as possible.

The most depressing thing of the whole hour-long programme? A throwaway line from Sim speaking of the need to get a PR company in after a take over as “the fan is a headache”. No business would dare say that about their customers but in football, that’s about par for the course; we are here to be exploited and let it slide.

You can follow the Layman on Twitter at!/Dan_Whiteway

You can watch the Dispatches investigation here

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