If “Flynn Out” was the catch phrase in certain circles last week, then “Eklund In” seems to have been the chant which has been promoted in various newspaper and web-site articles this week. At a time when supporters emotions are vulnerable due to events on the field, it’s understandable that speculation that somebody with a famous name is prepared to make an investment in the club should be greeted with enthusiasm in some quarters. However, to say that the approach adopted by Bo Eklund is both unusual and vague is something of an understatement. Certainly his calling for the current board to resign whilst at the same time acknowledging that he doesn’t necessarily have vast sums to invest in the club begs the question as to what is in all of this for the club and it’s supporters. The apparent inconsistencies in Mr Eklund’s statements have been highlighted elsewhere, and both the supporters trust and the current board have made the appropriate guarded noises.
Once again, the prime incentive for a would be owner to buy a ticket for this apparent one way ticket to financial Nirvana is the mythical pot of gold that lies in the land of Morfa. Judy Garland once told us that if we followed the yellow brick road we could fly with the pretty little bluebirds beyond the rainbow. Now certain voices are telling us that if we are ever to fly again with those less than pretty Bluebirds up another road, that we have to inevitably succumb to Nordic charms. The fear is that by so doing we may be following the road to perdition rather than the yellow brick variety. After all, many famous and grotesque fairy stories originated in Scandinavia, often featuring the downfall of those who naively placed their trust in superficially plausible but ultimately harmful individuals.
Just a brief review of events at other football clubs both around the country suggest that we should be careful that our travelling companions are neither men of straw nor hollow like tin. There are numerous examples of clubs whose futures are in doubt due to either financial mismanagement or cynical asset stripping. Over at Fulham the signs are starting to look ominous for a club whose traditional home ground represents one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in Britain. The Al Fayed millions have bankrolled the rise to the Premiership, but many Fulham fans are starting to question whether the Chairman’s intentions were altogether what they seemed. Rumours are rife as to the level of their debt, whilst questions are asked as to whether the ground has been sold. The signs are ominous as rumours circulate that Jean Tigana will not be there as manager next season, and star names talk of leaving in his wake. If Fulham end up in five years time back in the second division with no home ground and crippled by debt then many of their fans will question how worthwhile their recent journey up the league has been.
One mooted course for Fulham has been to groundshare at Stamford Bridge, which bearing in mind it’s proximity makes a certain amount of geographical sense. However, as both Charlton and Wimbledon have found, groundsharing arrangements are always loaded against the tenant, and financial ruin surely lies down that route. The arrangement would surely benefit Chelsea more, who have their own problems, largely caused by the financial strains of the Chelsea Village project. If ever one needed an example to show that off the field activities are not an automatic passport to financial security, this is the one.
Not that there is anything new in off the field activities becoming a strain on the finances of the football activities they were meant to subsidise. During the 1980s Spurs “diversified” with disastrous results, partly due to the losses incurred by the Hummel range of sportswear, and famously were rescued from oblivion by Alan Sugar. The architect of this financial empire, former Chairman Irving Scholar lay low for a few years, was re-invented in a television documentary as a man whose vision had changed football, and later re-emerged on the board at Nottingham Forest. Coincidentally or not, Forest later ran into huge financial difficulties. Now I don’t know the exact role that Mr Scholar may have played in all this, but lets just say that I’m not going to be chasing after him with a request to invest my life savings.
Over in Yorkshire there’s trouble at mill in both York and Leeds, almost summing up the difficulties that clubs of their respective statures face. In the case of the Minstermen they have fallen prey to the temptations of property value to directors whose personal goals appear to have won out over their obligations to the club. Brighton have suffered from the consequences of something similar for a number of years. Meanwhile at Leeds the combination of seemingly unlimited spending with failure to achieve appropriate levels of European success has seen the club engaging in the January sales in a manner that must cause their fans to lose sleep. A far more conservative playing squad seems likely to be the order of the day at Elland Road, whilst plans for a new stadium, which always seemed a questionable project, appear to have been placed on the back burner.
A variety of clubs and a variety of ills, the common thread being that with the wrong people in charge a club can very quickly end up in trouble. All of which must inevitably lead to certain questions being asked of friend Bo. Rather than him presenting ultimatums to the existing board, surely it is for him to exhibit that he can do a better job than they are presently doing, both in terms of making and attracting investment, and of managing the club soundly on a sustainable basis. At present he has done little substantial to persuade fans that he can do either. Criticisms of the existing regime may be easy to make, particularly when the team lies bottom of the table. However, constructive practical suggestions for improvement have been rather more conspicuous by their absence. If Bo wants to win hearts and minds he may wish to start telling us how much money he and his consortium have to invest. What experience do they have of running a professional sports club and stadium management?
At present we seem to have little beyond some rather general statements, most of which concern the Morfa project. The most obvious question is as to why a fifty-something Swede with no apparent connection to the area would “fall in love” with the club. Little has happened on the field in recent years to prompt such devotion, unless one is some sort of addictive depressive. Most of us who genuinely love the club do so because of local or family connections. This is a “love” that seems a long way from supreme, and invites a certain scepticism from the genuine hard core fan.
Bo states that he feels sorry for the fans who travelled to York, but offers no clue as to how he would or could influence events on the pitch in the short term.. Realistically, any takeover would take some weeks to complete, by which time the transfer window would be closed. In any event, even if he immediately made funds available for transfer, would anybody of genuine superior quality to the players we have signed recently want to come to a team rooted to the bottom of the league? Give or take the odd addition of a further third division scrapper we are realistically going to have to go with what we have.
Further, he tells us that that he will involve his once famous sister in the promotion of the club, along with promises to also bring Catherine Zeta Jones into the fold. Personally, I’ve worked and socialised in London for too long to be anything but distinctly underwhelmed by people who appear to rely for their own credibility on the fame of relatives or friends. This may impress News of the World reporters but I’m sure that the majority of Swans fans are not impressionable “thickies” who will be impressed because somebody’s sister went out with Rod Stewart many moons ago. It’s also rather vague as to how such promotion will actually help the club. Is Bo hoping that hundreds of rather sad middle aged men from West Wales will be tempted to visit the Vetch every fortnight, hopeful of a glimpse of a 1970s actress? Prove me wrong if you can, but I rather suspect that few younger supporters could even tell you who Britt Eklund is. As to CZJ, I’m sure she’s quite capable of making up her own mind as to whether she wishes to be involved with the club, and one suspects she would have done so by now if she was genuinely interested.
We are told by Wayne Davies in “North Bank Natter” that he was invited to the meeting with the Council because Eklund wanted a “fan” to be present. Now without in any way dissing Wayne’s dedication as a Swans fan, might it not have been more credible to have invited either a representative of the Trust, or somebody such as, for example, Phil Sumbler who has been a mouthpiece for fans for a number of years. The choice of somebody who is neither elected representative, nor a well known commentator on events at the club seems a strange PR move to say the least. It may be unfair but one doesn’t get the impression that the consortium are as professional in the PR stakes as one might hope for in a new owner. Further, the lack of consultation with the Trust hints at a lack of intent of future good relations in that direction and question marks arise as to the future of the “fan on the board”. Please let there be no return to the arrogant PR style and lack of communication of the pre-trust days.
All in all we don’t have enough information to know whether Bo Ekland is a credible player in the future of the club. The last thing this club needs is a Michael Knighton or Mark Goldberg, both of whose ambitions were wholly disproportionate to the financial reality of their situations. If Mr Ekland wants to win over the fans then he needs to adopt a much more open and professional PR stance. Personally, it will take a lot to convince me that the best way forward is not to follow the leads given by teams such as Brighton and Charlton for rebirth via organic growth. However, I’m prepared to be persuaded if the arguments are well made and supported by hard cash and a credible business plan. To date we’ve seen nothing to suggest they are.
What we must avoid at all costs is to arrive at the end of the yellow brick road and find that the man we thought was a wizard merely turned out to be a sad illusion. Until he answers a few searching questions then Mr Eklund can’t really complain if he is seen as a brother grim, whose personal fame will rest purely on his ability to conjure up tales of fantasy.