Are ‘foreign owners’ destroying our English game?

AbramovichQuestions are being asked over the increase in foreign ownership in English football, this comes after the recent sackings of managers at Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forrest. There is the growing fear that the current influx of foreign owners is having a damaging effect on the long standing traditions and values of our English game.

It’s the foreign owners at Blackburn Rovers, the Venky’s Group who best sum up this bold new era of foreign ownership in English football. The outrage has come after the Venky’s Group has sacked their third manager this season alone. The sacking of Appleton after just 67 days and 15 games in charge is unreasonable on top of the previous sacking of Henning Berg who only lasted 57 days at Blackburn; it reaffirms questions over Venky’s ownership of Blackburn Rovers.

Blackburn is currently experiencing the flip coin of foreign ownership compared to Chelsea or Manchester City. The message which is portrayed at Blackburn is that these foreign owners seem relentless, he who buys and he snaps up his asset with minimal knowledge or respect for the values or traditions of the English football club. The Venky’s ownership has left the club open to ridicule, even from its most loyal supporters, and relegation has been delivered as opposed to the success of Premier League football. It raises the question of how a foreign ownership group like Venky’s can have control of Blackburn with such little knowledge of the English game?

The League Manager’s Association Chief Executive, Richard Bevan slated the recent sackings as being ‘embarrassing’; “It is embarrassing for the game that all these sackings are unfair dismissals. The volatility is undermining the profession” That sense of community is a key point for Richard Bevan, who stresses fears of ‘foreign ownership’ in the English game: “Owners in the past lived in the community, so they saw the effect of their actions. Remote owners are at times out of touch with the terraces. Obviously with the global appeal of the Premier League, it will always attract foreign investment. However, the most important aspect of any owner is that they buy into and appreciate the values of a club, including tradition, history, community, supporters, philosophy.”

The Premier League’s opinion on foreign ownership is similar, as chief executive Richard Scudamore saying;

It’s not about their nationality or where they’re from, but how they behave within the regulatory structure.

One former Championship chairman and director could hardly put it any better, when he said:

It is questionable if the owners had ever heard the names of the towns let alone the meaning of their football clubs, before they made their investments. Their treatment of managers, the whole manner of their administration, is of course an absolute disgrace but the biggest scandal of all is that such people are allowed to take over so much of the English game.

The opinion is a frank and honest reflection of the way English football is heading and needs regulating and monitoring in the near future for the sake of the game. English football needs to find a way to control these ‘foreign owners’ who have such financial muscle to control aspects of our English clubs such as Venky’s at Blackburn, who all seem detached from the clubs traditions and values. Football isn’t a game of monopoly. In the perfect world of football, you have a code of morals on ownership. Blackburn and Nottingham Forrest are two clubs who this season represent this argument perfectly. The kind of chaos happening at Blackburn is happening at Forest, where Billy Davis follows Sean O’Driscoll and Alex McLeish as the third manager in over two months at the club. Alex Mcleish was shown the door by the foreign ownership at Nottingham after just forty days in charge as manager. Hiring and firing of managers by ‘foreign owners’ at clubs in the Championship such as Blackburn and Nottingham Forrest is being done at even more of a whim than normal.

Questions need to be asked to why the FA or UEFA haven’t enforced a stricter regime on foreign owners controlling English clubs. Years previous Fifa President Sepp Blatter demanded a stricter regime in an attempt to end profiteering foreign raids on Premier League clubs. Sepp Blatter voiced his fear in 2008 of ‘foreign’ billionaires investing in English clubs, warning that the game is at a crossroads where the richer clubs will only get richer will those without wealthy benefactors will gradually decline in an uneven playing field, not prepared to spend vast sums to gain success;

We have to be alarmed. The economic power of football is immense. You get people turning up with banker’s guarantees who are not interested in football and then they lose interest in the clubs and leave. What happens to the clubs then? There is always a danger that these people will just one day leave. Something is very wrong here and I don’t know how it can be stopped.

Blatter at the time went on to talk about the attractiveness of the English game to billionaire investments and how it’s out of control;

We are now facing investment in football, particularly the Premier league, that is out of control and this is where Uefa will have to do something with the licensing system.

Roman Abramovich started the trend of foreign owners taking over clubs in 2003. How does our game reverse this trend of disconnection between those who own so much of our English game and those who support it? Half of the 44 clubs in the Premier League and Championship now have foreign owners and many supporters are deeply critical of their motives and methods. Blackburn is not the only Championship club controlled by the ruthless foreign ownership. Fans are worried by the dangers that foreign owners are buying clubs like Blackburn or Nottingham Forrest purely to make a financial profit with a lack of respect for the clubs history and tradition. Moves by the FA should be in place to control or regulate foreign ownership of english football clubs better.

There’s no doubt that some of the foreign ownership has advantages for our English game, clubs who have benefited from finical investment and ownership from foreign billionaires at Chelsea and Manchester City wont argue with foreign ownership as both clubs are enjoying their most successful periods for fifty years.

While the financial benefits of foreign ownership are clear for all to see, long term ambitions and clubs historical traditions are put on the back burner. Tom Hicks and George Gillett are perfect examples of how foreign ownership can nearly destroy a club with well celebrated history like Liverpool. With complete disregard for fan opinion, the two Americans made false promises and derisory financial decisions for personal gain, failing to see the thousands of fans who spend their hard earned money to watch the club they love. As result Liverpool suffered on and off the pitch, failing to secure Champions League football and finishing outside the top six in the table.

Harry Redknapp is one Premier League manager who witnessed foreign ownership at first hand and believes that influx of foreign owners into the Premier League will change the game beyond recognition and will result in matches being played all around the world. Redknapp main concern is that the influx of foreign ownership will destroy the integrity of the English game, particularly with investors and entrepreneurs around the world using their resources to buy a large stake into our domestic game;

You can’t have too many foreign owners coming here wanting to change our game, what will happen is that we’ll play loads of games around the world. They’ll take games to where they want to play them – that will happen.

Then there are owners whose view from afar sees the upper tiers of English football as a gold mine. Portsmouth and Birmingham fell into the hands of ‘greedy’ foreign investors with little-known knowledge of the football clubs who supposedly had past rigorous tests as proper owners of the football clubs but left them both in financial ruin. Portsmouth is a victim of foreign investment and should be an example to English football. The clubs past foreign owners at Fratton Park can only have themselves to blame for the decline of Portsmouth by their ruthless overspending on players and wages which was being splashed out and caused financial meltdown at Fratton Park. Portsmouth is fine example that not all foreign owners who promise to spend millions and bring illustrious success can stick to their word. From wreck less foreign ownership, Portsmouth find themselves in the situation where they could be removed from the Football League if their Supporters Trust do not complete a takeover by the end of this season.

The Football League Chairman, Greg Clarke, has expressed his feelings on the matter in hand, saying we have to be careful to not be prejudiced against foreign owners because they don’t come from England;

We have to be careful what we say and act only on fact, otherwise we’d get sued. If we start being prejudiced against people just because they don’t come from England, it’s a long and slippery slope. We are not against foreign ownership, but we want people to be able to own clubs in a sustainable way that did not demand billions of pounds.

Foreign owners have identified a business, a lucrative one at that within our English game. English football is an enormously attractive stage for foreign investors and clubs like Blackburn, Nottingham Forrest and Portsmouth before that, make for interesting playthings for the super-rich. Seeing a ‘golden opportunity’ to plough money into a project and potentially make even more from it, without any concern or care for the club’s core values and fans. Meanwhile, fans are attracted to the idea of quick-fix success with consideration for the affects of foreign ownership can have on their football club. Foreign owners’ part in the English game has turned football from an entertaining game into a business or a project where the rich get richer and the rest suffer at the hands of it.

The problem with the new wave of foreign owners in English football is not that they are foreign, our English football is now a globalised game, and the Premier League is filled with players who are from all other the world, it would be illogical to deny owners from overseas the chance to take part too. But the foreign owners who invest and take over English clubs seem very disconnected with the clubs fans that pay to watch their football team, the communities in which they operate and the history and traditions of the football club. This is a serious issue which needs regulating by the FA and the Football League before other English clubs are destroyed like Portsmouth, Blackburn and Nottingham Forrest by ruthless foreign ownership.

The Author

James Bayley

I'm a passionate football fan who writes philosophically about the beautiful game.

5 thoughts on “Are ‘foreign owners’ destroying our English game?

  1. Cracking article. Nice to see so many different quotes in here. Yet at the same time, so disappointing. The fact that Sepp Blatter (not exactly the Einstein of football let’s be brutally honest) caught on that something has to be done intervention wise for sides like my beloved Rovers (equally for Portsmouth and many others) who have been affected by sheer neglect on part of the FA. They need to stop twiddling their thumbs and act. They have been presented with so much by Rovers fans to highlight the stench of corruption, yet work incredibly hard to AVOID doing something about it. That is the OPPOSITE of what the FA should be doing. Doesn’t it abbreviate “Football Association” – not doing “Fu** All”?! Maybe they’re pulling the wool over our eyes in relation to the meaning of “F.A.” eh!

  2. Short answer: No, no they’re not. You’ve always had a fair sahre of shady and dodgy owners, and those with a ridiculous sense of self importance and trigger fingers throughout the history of football, it’s just the conditions to buy a club have changed.

    Whereas previously it would be a local businessman or a bored millionaire, the astronomical amounts of money being thrown around football there’s only a very small amount who can afford top level clubs. Or at least claim to afford top level clubs.

    Venkys et al may well have created a basket case where there once was stability, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone. There’s plenty of shambolic and downright devious owners across the history of British football. These ones just happen to be wealthier and more visible.

  3. Thanks Chris, well the point I was making in the article was how football is being dictated by the power of money and rich owners seem to buy what they want and do what they want to the club. Blackburn, Portsmouth and Forrest are fine examples of this and the FA don’t seem too concerned about this. The LMA are very concerned about It though and voiced their opinions. Hopefully something will be done in the near future to prevent foreign owners from buying a club they now little about it’s heritage and history and destroying it like they have done to Blackburn and Portsmouth just to name a few examples. Foreign owners have bought plenty of positives to our English game, the money they have invested has revolutionised the game with Chelsea, City etc and as a globalised game across the world it would be wrong to suggest foreign owners can’t invest in clubs but at the same time stricter policies by the FA are needed IMO.

  4. Great article which is a good read, foreign owners are ruining our english football to extent; Blackburn and Portsmouth represent that but there is the other side of the argument that shows foreign owners have changed the English game in the PL with Chelsea and City, it’s a double edged sword.

  5. Even as a Chelsea fan I think foreign owners are destroying the English game and something needs to be done to stop that. Transfer spending cap would be a start to stop clubs like City spending millions every summer and the FairPlay League introduced next season so it be interesting to see what affect that has on foreign ownership if any. Great article.

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