Tag Archives: Dundee United

Debt Free – Is The Badge Enough?

17 Nov

On paper what Stewart Milne has achieved as Chairman of Aberdeen Football Club is miraculous. 
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He took over a club languishing with a debt of both ambition and finance trying to compete with the Big Lads down the road.  Chris Donald the legendary Richard’s son simply had ran out of ideas on how to maintain the club let alone make it a success. He joined the board in1994 becoming Chairman in 1998.
I mention Dick (Richard) Donald as he along with the long forgotten Chris Anderson were instrumental with a certain Sir Alex Ferguson in heralding the most successful period in the Dandy Dons history. The haul of cups in a twenty four thousand all seated stadia was achieved by hard graft and more importantly no debt. That’s right no debt in a All Seated, mostly covered (all but for two corners) bringing in League titles, Scottish Cups and of course a European Cup Winners Cup in 1983. Beating the Galaticos of Real Madrid in Gothenburg with no debt. I would doubt that Dick and Chris even had a overdraft facility at the bank. If it was not for a similar although not quite as successful Dundee United then it would be easy to say this Aberdeen team and club were the last of the old school scottish clubs bringing sucess on a shoestring with nothing more than Savvy, sweat and skill.

The wild days of the late seventies to mid eighties. Before the football revolution of Satelite Television money. When the top league in Europe was Serie A. Heady days indeed.

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Alex Ferguson and Dick Donald in front of benches of the beach end. This would be demolished and replaced by a all seated stand named after the former chairman. http://www.afcheritage.org

Back then life in Aberdeen was simple, play league games, win more than you lose and you know a maximum capacity of twenty four thousand seemed not enough to satisfy the Crowds that regularly filled Union Street as a open top bus paraded a trophy. The supply and demand for tickets to the next big match on the conveyer belt at Pittodrie was such that a loyalty scheme for tickets had to be employed. Go to two out of three selected games get a token at each game. Two out of three tokens enables you to buy a ticket to the big game. Genius from the Donald/Anderson board marginalise the glory hunter and simultaneously increase the home gate to otherwise less desirable games. Did I mention genius because that was exactly what that scheme was. Not only did it reward loyalty it increased revenue. It singularly meant that few fans could complain that they did not deserve a ticket to the glamour games.

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Union Street Open top bus trophy parade (www.bbc.co.uk)

This from a tight well run ship by the sands. No debt and securely ran to budget, with a customer base that was generally happy. All this safe in knowledge that demand for tickets outstripped supply yet ticketless fans did not turn on the club.

The club’s assets in 1984. A team with a minimum of Four Scottish internationals, sometimes suplimented by two or three peripheral in scottish squad. A good splattering of Under 21s in and around the first team and playing staff. Scotland’s first All Seated all covered twenty four thousand capacity stadium situated on prime coastal land including a reasonable sized carpark across Pittrodrie Street and of course no debt. It would not be unusual knowing the way this club was ran then if a profit was not made in more than a few years. A profit to reinvest or save for rainy days and contingencies. A perfectly solid proposition and business model of a Brasso scented football club on it’s way to lifting the League title.

Ten years later the club was in turmoil. Dick Donald had passed as had Chris Anderson and the club was facing a spiraling debt and lack of investment. As other clubs had invested and became winners Aberdeen had not quite invested wisely became nearly men.

The invention of Sky TV and increased monies had exposed Aberdeen’s board as lacking the ready cash to spend. The Taylor report had inforced massive improvements in the stadia and the addition of the Richard Donald Stand had stretched the finiances of the club past breaking even with profits in good years to a club living at the wrong end of it’s newly found overdraft. This added to a fan base that was struggling to come to terms with the lack of success in comparitive terms. There was a sizable chunk of this fan base who expected to win the league every August even though it had been NINE years since the League trophy had left Aberdeen for what could soon be described as it’s perminant home in Glasgow.

A unwilling partner was introduced Stewart Milne. He was almost press ganged onto the board of the Club he had no real links to the club previously had also shown no interest in ever being Mr Aberdeen FC. Almost as if he did not want the poisoned chalis that enhabits the Beach End. A BIG enough section of Dandy Dons where less than welcoming about the Builder from Alford’ inclusion on the board. After four years on the board there was still a chunk of unhappiness when he became chair. The main concern seemed to be ownership of Pittodrie. It is prime land well within reach of the City Centre. The real prospect of Stewart Milne Homes where Fergie won HOME Games worried a lot of Reds. It was not uncommon for Mr Milne to be haranged and harrassed in the street by disgruntled Dons.

Fast forward twenty years. Aberdeen after clever financing by Aberdeen Asset Management, Stewart Milne and cash injection by William and Elaine Donald (WM Donald Builders) Aberdeen sit debt free. The league cup sits proudly in the trophy room a average of sixteen thousand fans fill seventy five percent of Pittodrie. A buzz not seen in thirty years has returned to the reds and sitting atop is Stewart Milne the unwilling and some would say unwanted saviour of Aberdeen football club.

No one could deny him a smug look on his face. He has achieved the very targets he set out twenty years ago. He has stabalised the business brought on field success and the feel good factor back. He has also beautifully extricated himself from the major shareholder position that seemed to sit so uncomfortably within his port folio. Oh and as predicted he owns Pittodrie and associated land which he intends to build flats on.

The plan to move into a lend lease type agreement with Aberdeen City Council and build a stadia to replace Pittodrie. This is the same council who refused planning permission as recently as 2 years ago to the building of a stadia on the southern edge of Aberdeen. So at best you could describe Aberdeen City Council as a unreliable Partner. A worry is regardless of the independant wealth of the shareholders, whenever the shareholding of any business is spread across partners any future investment will usually involves transfer of or dilution of shares and involve agreement across a three sided share holding. Throw in a unstable Political Council (as every Council is by design and nature) and you have a overly complex stakeholder situation.

Effectuvely it has took twenty years for Stewart Milne to get a parcel of land and to pass the problem on.

The problem is this when your business has no collateral(just image rights) you are immediately exposed to liabilties and risk. No one foresaw the Taylor Report because few had predicted the horrible events in the mid eighties at Valley Parade and Hillsbourgh. Even though Pittodrie was “ALL SEATED” millions of pounds HAD to be spent on the stadia to replace benches with seats to bring the stadia up to code. How this was finianced along with the Richard Donald Stand that replaced the Beach End was loans secured on the land at the golf course end of Pittodrie Street.

So everyone is happy Fans have the shiney silverwear and dvds. The business is set fair for a good future. Stewart Milne has his land. Aberdeen Asset Management have shares and the Donalds achieve an ambition of owning their home town club. The Council have a new partner and stake in a stadia. For a one club city it’s a community partnership of cosiness. Lovely everyone is happy. No clouds on this horizon.

Using a public/private model not dissimilar to what is happening at Falkirk and Livingston. The perfect justification for a frachiase style municipal pride with a dirty great big bit of civic infrastructure.

This raises some questions though and they involve being naturally pessimistic. The Community Club model works obviously in the Forth and Almond Valleys but is that really the ambition of one of the top five clubs in Scotland. All due respect to Falkirk and Livingston clubs without the recent history of titles or even 30% of the fans of Aberdeen. Is that really the default ambitions of Aberdeen FC? Surely the Dons are a division above Falkirk etc. Because once you strip the decoration away your left with the exact model of Falkirk. Also if you are relying on any additional investment or safety net funding to be sourced from only two sources (existing board members or finding external investment diluting shares) with little more than a emblem as security then you really are backing yourself into a corner. The unpredictable nature of football club finiance leaves a exposure to unexpected bills and the ilk. Will it be enough for the Dons fans to be “THE BIGGEST COMMUNITY CLUB IN SCOTLAND“? Especially when as most expect the three amigos currently in the Championship make their return to the Premiership and begin to frighten silverwear again.

If you are reliant on fickle fans for income, the variables of prize money, media deals and sponsorship for the maintenance and improvement of your playing staff at the same tims as running a no debt shop you are totally at the mercy of injuries, suspensions, dodgey referee decisions, famine and pestilence. Simply because to RELY on continued success in any sport is inherently dangerous. To trust winning on the field breads sucess off it fails to see the other side of that coin. Losing on the field leads to failure off it.

Of course you set up a selling club ideal like Hamilton Accies once again a punt of many variables. The fact is a not unpredictable bad year for injuries etc in hand with lack of youth players that year is leads to a reduction of income. Any reduced income to balance the books means no investment in youth system or and selling a player or two with no replacement. This annoys fans who vote with their feet and don’t buy tickets. The perfect spiral.

Then you have a reliance on a ever changing Council who at any time can decide or be forced by others to pull out of any comercial deal they have with any partner. A Election and in order to save a school a stadia gets sold. Don’t even think you have to have a lobbiest in the Town House because a vote in Holyrood or Westminster or Strasburg and the House of Cards of a Stadia built on a foundation of sand is washed away.

Dundee United are on their way to debt free as are Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian but these clubs have the safety net the gaurenteed security of owning land the catch all of last resort. A quick look at the old firm where fans have actively protested to ensure that parcels of land (including the stadia) remains within the portfolio of the club. The security of the land is one thing the value of the history and sentiment is another. There is a massive difference in the levels of security between being a Owner/occupier and a tennant! The importance of this was shown at Chester, Wrexham and Portsmouth. More recently Coventry City have had protracted issues simply being able to afford to rent what was designed to be their home.

God forbid similar situation in Scotland. A under funded under pressure local council having to choose between leasing land and facilities to a Football club or selling land (with no real sentimental or historical value) to fund old aged pensioners care.

So Aberdeen Debt free for first time in years? Yes but at a cost of almost every asset.

A partial cause to celebrate? Cautiously, no one has a crystal ball but fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Because the basic look of this brave new dawn is the Dons
OWE NOTHING
but
OWN NOTHING
more than a badge.

As for the new major shareholders, what exactly have they bought? A business that is little more than a badge? A company with assets? A trading name or a vanity project?

Retaining image rights and a transiant variable playing staff could well be enough in the future but you wouldn’t bank on it.

ALL IMAGES SUBJECT TO OWN COPYRIGHT AS LABELLED

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Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word

1 Aug

Sorry is indeed the hardest word and in this litigeous world sorry seems to be a legal admission of liability.

This simple modern truth could well be the reason for the lack of appologies sent to Rangers Football Club.   The posse that found Rangers Guilty in their Kangaroo Courts in 2012 have been remarkably silent in the weeks since the UTTT found no real wrongdoing in Rangers FC use of Employment Benefit trusts. 

The real reasons for lack of words from Scottish Football are simple.  Rangers 1898 Ltd the former owners of Rangers Football Club are now debt free thanks to Ticketus, the RFFF and the soon to be defrosted accounts.  The money in the currently frozen accounts will pay the PAYE bill left by discredited Craig Whyte.  In fact I was recently told that Rangers 1898 Ltd will be one of the few companies that could emerge from liquidation proceedings and will simply be wound up similar to Celtic oldco (kelly’s and Whytes), Aberdeen oldco ( Donald Family), Dundee United oldco (Jim Mclean), Hibernian oldco (Tom Farmer) and St Mirren Oldco (Paton family).

You see the treatment of Rangers has raised so many questions that it would take a thousand articles to cover.  Saldly what’s done can not be undone but for the shareholders of Rangers 1898 Ltd compensation is surely justified. 

I still expect a raft of court cases.  From fraud to defamation via malicious prosecution. Remember Rabgers 1898 shareholders own no football asset, they sold it to the current owners of Rangers. So without breaking the rules of association this group of victims of fraud and defamation have free reign to sue SFA, SPL(including the ten club members individually), supporters groups (including individual spokespersons), media groups (including individual ‘Journalists’), web sites (including social media) and of course any individual who at anytine has published a lie that has hurt the finiancial wellbeing of the Club (Including Phil Threenames, Angela Haggerty, Greame Speirs). The fact that some of the above names continue to speak in terms of hate and ignorance even AFTER the latest judgements means that by association Rangers Football Club current owners have a real watching brief and can argue that current statements filled with hate and lies directly hurts Rangers International and Rangers Football Club in the here and now. Members of the current Rangers Board have been quick to engage lawyers to seek recompense from fans groups spokesmen, so it would be interesting to see if the same happens to others from outwith the blue umbrella.

Craig Whyte will be chased to the gates of hell by many including Ticketus.  How this shyster was allowed onto the same building as stakeholders of any company is a crime. I have heard many reasons “Rangers were owned by a Crook (Murray) and sold to a Crook (Whyte)” seems to fit the common misguided view. Well that is only half true there is no doubt now that Rangers were sold to a crook. The landscape for this was in no small point due to HMRC demanding monies that now not one but TWO Independant tribunals have thrown out the inflated demands of the HMRC. As a small aside David Cameron and Gideon Osborn have recently forced through a change in the law. Now if HMRC demand money and you think it’s wrong the rules are now Pay up then appeal. How different things could of been had this rule been inforce. How the enforced sale to Mr Whyte occured is another thing.  Sir David Murray received one pound sterling so in spite of everything you could hardly say that the Metal Merchant made a killing.  So who did benefit? The Bank Loydds/TSB/HBOS walked away with £38 million for a loan paid in full via Craig Whyte and his mortgaging of season ticket sales to Ticketus.  So just how much pressure was placed on Sir David Murray by the Bank’s representative on what turned out to be the penultimate Rangers 1898 Ltd board. The same banking group had a reasonable working relationship with the SFA and now defunct SPL, was any pressure placed on these organisations to ignore any concerns regarding Craig Whyte being a fit and proper person to have his hand in the tiller of a Sporting Institution like Rangers Football Club. It seems either this or the SPL SFA failed in their duty of care to protect all of our Scottish Clubs from falling onto the hands of Drug Dealers Fraudsters Con men or general Shysters. So for sure without doubt the SFA SPL FAILED in any test. Do I hear sorry from Regan, Doncaster and co? No!

Lets now look at the “Screaming Masses”

Stephen Thompson, Stewart Milne, Rod Petrie, David Southern, Peter Lawell, Neil Lennon, Stewart Gilmour and other Board memebers of clubs MUST now be revisiting their published comments and hoping that no one reads them out in court.

Sorry is hard to say but lessons learned mean that actions speak louder than words. First chink in the sorry we did that but we learned is the postponment of St Mirren v Aberdeen because Aberdeen have a couple of qualifying rounds in Europa League. How Rangers would of appriciated such common sense in Manchester UEFA Cup FINAL! Not a sorry but the different action means admission of wrong by default.

You see that’s the point we all know we won’t get a Sorry from any of the shouting clans but we all know that they won’t repeat their “hardline” again. That’s as good as a sorry as we will get. What we will get though is enforced comments as Judges order smart mouths to pay up and say sorry.

Celtic and other Participants

31 Oct

Its Halloween and as I watch fancy dressed trick or treaters traverse our streets I think what other occasions or events are enhanced by fancy dress.

I have a mate who a couple of years ago entered the London Marathon.  He trained hard and certainly contributed to the spectacle but to be fair I never really thought he would win.  Even though he confidently predicted a good performance and indeed talked a good race he did not win the event.  This is how I think the inaugural SPFL Premiership is for a number of clubs.  I think that most fans will agree Celtic will win the Premiership.  Sadly it’s not a question of if but when. This will mean that despite challenges from the other towns and cities the top league prize will remain in Glasgow for a thirtieth year.  With the absence of Rangers the big league trophy (probably being designed by Neil Doncaster as we speak) will don green and white ribbons and be paraded around the East End of Glasgow come May.  There will be twists and turns for second place but as Ron Dennis of McLaren F1 says “second is just first of the losers.”

It is in this notion that lies the problem recently Aberdeen hosted Dundee United “The New Firm”  a feisty tasty clash it looked like on paper too before the game the hype and hope was intense.  Thirty years ago a guaranteed sell out between European Cup Winners Cup Holders and League Champions.  A battle between Ferguson and McLean.  A pitch littered with Scottish Internationals and household names.  A few weeks ago barely half full Pittodrie witnessed Derek McInnes Aberdeen beat Jackie McNamara’s United one nil.  When this game was for cups and titles you could not get a ticket for love or money now it’s for  at best second place in a devalued league you get your choice of seats.  This is not to deride the eleven thousand Aberdeen Fans or the twelve hundred United fans who braved a misty damp cold October day, no they stand by their teams some would say stand free admirably.  For even this many to want to follow teams with no realistic hope of winning a league is to be applauded.  The Question is though what are the hopes and ambitions of clubs in the SPFL Premiership?

  1. Not get relegated
  2. Finish in top 6
  3. Do well in a cup
  4. Don’t accrue debt
  5. Hope none of our fans (customers) notice so we can continue this charade of competitiveness next season.

Lets take this one by one I think and am agreed with widely that Hearts are going down automatically.  The deductions just make it impossible now I feel for The Jam Tarts to survive in SPFL Premiership.  Also I feel that given current circumstances that Kilmarnock are not a team you would bet on staying up.  There is just too much uncertainty going on at every level at Rugby Park for me to believe they could survive.   So that’s relegation taken care of for ten teams.

Finish in top six?  This can only be because in doing so you have a 40% chance of hosting Celtic (Maybe for a title party) with all the additional income their fans and TV bring.

Do well in a cup?  Allows Chairmen and Managers to cling on to some Brasso and looks good in next years team photos.

Don’t accrue debt? look at Hearts and for 75% of the SPFL premiership the question is not accrue debt its service the current debt.

Number 6 needs no explanation.

So you see from my view Celtic will win the SPFL Premiership Hearts will go down to a Championship that is looking incredibly tasty next season already.  Kilmarnock will join them.  Sad to say the rest of the League is nothing more than also ran’s and fancy dress charity merchants.  Looking to beat personal bests raise money for just causes (Usually banks they own money too).  Pick a club out with Celtic Hearts and Killie and all you really see is participants,  and like my mate who participated in the London Marathon they too are desperately hoping the guy in the divers suit does not overtake them.  For the record my mate finished in over six hours and was not happy when I suggested did that include the time he sat down for a pub lunch mid way through.

Silence Is Golden

26 Jun

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Have you noticed?
I will give you a clue have you heard it?
Has your media been filled with it?
The answer is of course a resounding NO!

What am I talking about? You ask and your right too. So let me explain.

Heart of Midlothian are in administration. With every second that passes they are heading for liquidation at the speed of light. With around twenty-seven million pounds of debt the Jambos are going down but I am concentrating on as Coldplay would say the speed of sound.

The last Top Division Club to enter Administration and seek a Company Volunteer Agreement was Rangers in February 2012. Then you heard, it we all did. The words coming from almost every other SPL club. “Financial doping” “cheats” “sporting integrity” “no help, no special treatment” Mark Daly investigating, Alex Thompson firing and as quickly withdrawing distasteful remarks. You couldn’t drive past Ibrox without seeing at least three media vans. The phones red hot in every media department of SFA, SPL and clubs. Everyman and his dog googling Employment Benefit Trusts, Company Volunteer Agreements. The SFA and SPL websites getting increased tragic traffic as the minutia of the rule books were read and re read. Phantom web sites being quoted and re quoted. Supporters groups leaders phone numbers suddenly appearing on media guys family and freinds phone bills. Wild bile filled statements emerging from people barely qualified as human beings yet alone representatives of the majority of football fans in any given area.

That’s what you haven’t heard. The cacophony the chattering classes. Leaks of confidential documents, as yet no one is quite sure how much trouble Hearts are in. The deafening silence from the authorities is noticeable. Unless Neil Doncaster and co are currently bouncing about in the mosh pits of The Boss, Robbie and Bon Jovi then to be quiet honest they couldn’t be less fit for purpose. At a time when leadership is required the beeks are on their holidays. Crisis the only crisis Messers Doncaster and Regan seem aware of this summer is the tour dates for newly reformed China Crisis!

As for Dundee United, Aberdeen, Hibs, Celtic, Motherwell and Inverness Caledonian Thistle have they lost their voices. Did last year’s shouting hurt their delegate vocal chords?
Where is sporting integrity now? How many clubs are engaging their fans in focus groups to decide the party line on Hearts.

None.

That’s how much Hearts matter to the SPL.

It could be I am wrong though. I think its not quite as clear cut as that. I am minded more than ever that the SPL is too busy looking at its own individual accounts. I have a strange feeling that BDO are getting a lot of silent calls. If BDO dialed 1471 they could have a direct line to a lot of SPL chairman’s desks.

In 2013 the media don’t seem interested in inflating the figures of debt at Tynecastle finding often innocent men guilty.

Is this evidence of a agenda still in use from last year?

Or as Tesco and Asda hover over a piece of land off Gorgie Road, is the medias silence and inactivity a sign of regret as they slowly realise that the over reaction last year hurt them as much as anyone else.