Television Review: How to Buy a Football Club

Posted by on Jul 18, 2011 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Dispatches: How to Buy a Football Club
July 8, 2011 (Channel 4, 8pm)

Tonight’s Channel 4 episode of Dispatches promised much but ultimately proved to be a disappointment, subtitled as it could have been, “How to pretend to buy a football club from some dodgy geezers in a theme pub”.

That’s not to say the whole concept of club ownership in England isn’t rotten to its core of course, but the overwhelming feeling as Bryan Robson abused his role as Global Ambassador for Manchester United was one of weary sadness rather than outrage.

I for one didn’t really take seriously the claims of shady consortium London Nominees Ltd to have the wherewithal to broker deals to buy clubs – 9 in all were mentioned and the business that eventually came “closest” to falling into the hands of the investigative journalists, Sheffield United, remained unprocured at the end of the hour long show (this after their cross city neighbours Wednesday had been discussed as a proposition earlier in the piece).

Of course that may be because Channel 4 and their own almost equally shadowy front man Mr. Gupta were never going to stump up the cash, but as the hour wore on, the programme’s makers became increasingly sidetracked by an attempt to pin something – anything – horrible on Sir Alex Ferguson.

But it’s no surprise that Fergie must be subject to the attentions of the odd hanger on and the programme’s chief villain: businessman and advisor to the Thai FA Joe Sim became steadily and increasingly desperate in his claims to be a mate of the Scotsman. Minutes were devoted to exploring the relationship between the men and fleeting references to Sim’s “friendships” with others within the Aberdonian-Red Devils Complex (plus Kenny Dalglish) – all vigorously denied.

That time might have been better spent analyzing Leicester City owner Vichai Raksriaksorn’s relationship with Sim (if indeed they exist at all in reality) as well as his links to the likes of Peter Lim, the Singaporean who made an attempt to buy Liverpool in 2010, but these were mentioned all too briefly.

What we were left with was the sad tarnishing of a legend in Robson – his reputation already embattled after a spell managing the aforementioned Blades a couple of years back – and yet more certainty that fan ownership is the way forward wherever possible – but Channel 4 should have eschewed the hunt for viewing figures and left the Fergie sub-narrative alone.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. Karl | footysphere
    July 18, 2011

    What worries me as a Sheff Utd fan is that Sim or one one of his cronies was at Bramall Lane taking cosy photos with McCabe's son. Surely they would have discussed a potential sale & even the most rudimentary search on the web would have revealed that Bryan Robson was linked to the London Nominees Football Fund.

    I find it inconceivable given Robson's record of incompetence whilst in charge at Bramall Lane that they would even entertain discussions with a consortium that involved him.

  2. Lanterne Rouge
    July 18, 2011

    Undoubtedly, it's worrying for Blades Karl although a relief too of course. Ian Rands and I discussed McCabe Senior in a recent Conversations post and he no longer seems a force for good. As for Robson…well…

  3. urzz1871
    July 18, 2011

    What this showed most of all for me is how woeful the rules on ownership are – and even worse how there's a snowball's chance in a supernova of them being properly enforced. Maybe the Premier League have got the resources to have a proper compliance and investigations unit, and the FA ought to have – but in the Football League there's just not the money available for such expensive but vital components. So most of the Football League governance is done on trust or self-certification. No wonder we're in such trouble.

  4. Stanley
    July 19, 2011

    Totally agree with your assessment of the programme, LR. It could have been a thorough exposé of carpetbagging in football, but instead the investigators got sidetracked by Ferguson. London Nominees appeared to be a bunch of chancers, but not much more. The only useful thing to come out of it was to show how ineffective FA/FL regulations on ownership are. But we already knew that.

    The journalist's credibility was also undermined somewhat by the apparent surprise that Markus Liebherr had died last year. A pretty poor effort, in my opinion.

  5. Lanterne Rouge
    July 19, 2011

    And Barnsley “Town”?

  6. Lloyd
    July 19, 2011

    Good piece and agree with pretty much everything that's been said.

    It started with grand claims, but fell well short. The scandal that is Fergie, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes et al loaning players out to their mates' clubs was another low point.

    On a serious note, though, Greg Clarke himself laid bare the reasons why an individual / group of people can't have a vested interest in more than one club. He should know by now that the 'Irish' consortium trying to buy Plymouth Argyle is backed by none other than Kevin Heaney, owner of Truro City. Let's hope that he stands firm and sends that joker packing.


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