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My Time At West Ham. By Terry Brown.

Filed: Wednesday, 27th April 2005
By: The Old Mile End

Over recent times there has been a lot of speculation about the future of West Ham United and in particular my personal role in that. Normally, I take a back seat position as far as public statements are concerned in these sort of things – preferring to let it all blow over, like it always does.

However, the latest take over bid speculation appears to have hit a note within certain supporter groups and, being one of those myself, I thought I’d break with tradition and come out and give an opinion or two myself. To help understand my situation, it is best that I tell my West Ham story

The Early Days

My association with West Ham United Football Club goes back a very long time, to when I was a boy growing up in Bethnal Green and Hackney. My only friend was an ardent Tottenham fan, but for me, there was only one team, the boys in claret and blue. It was always an ambition of mine to do well in life and get to the top – and owning a slice of West Ham was my dream – not being much of a footballer I have to admit.

I made my money and place in life running a string of successful holiday parks, totally unrelated to football. So, it came as rather a pleasant surprise for me to be invited to become Chairman of West Ham by the outgoing Mr Len Cearns. A lovely chap Len was. I had met him when he came to stay at one of my caravan parks with his family one summer. After finding out that I was a season ticket holder in the West Stand, Len and I struck up a great friendship that was strengthened by the 5 per cent discount I let him have on his week at Broadstairs.

Len was having a real problem at West Ham at the time of our meeting, with the supporters protesting about the proposed Bond scheme. Not being one to face the public, Len wanted someone with a bit of charisma about them to take on the reins as chairman. He rightfully thought that I’d be ideal for the job and asked me to do it. I told him it would be a great honour for me, but it would mean I’d have to give up my day job running the caravan parks. Len was always a generous man (just ask Johnny Lyall), and he offered me a paid position as chairman. He had no idea of how much to pay (being unpaid as Chairman himself), so I told him the going rate was just over £100,000 per annum and he agreed straight away. There was just one snag though, I needed to buy some shares to keep in with shareholders as well as other board members. Len offered to sell me some of his own family shares – about £100,000 worth to be precise.

There was a problem with the share purchase though, I didn’t have the money and told Len straight. This really stomped him and he got a bit depressed about it, thinking he would have to face the public after all. “What if I loan you the money” Len said, “you can pay me back over ten years or so”. “That’s really generous of you Len”, I replied, “but on that salary it’d take me 20 years. However, if you gave me $200,000 a year, then I could give you back the loan much quicker – in just five years”. Len was well chuffed and we shook hands on the deal there and then – he certainly knew how to negotiate did Chairman Len.

So I took up the position of chairman at my favourite football club. It seemed so strange at first, walking into the offices in the West Stand where no one knew me at all. On my first day the groundsman thought I was the post man and told me to get off the pitch. I soon put him right and made my point – I have never stepped on the pitch again to this very day.

On a day to day basis, there was not really much to do – the assistant manager, Mr. Redknapp, seemed to be running everything at the club so I just let him get on with it. The team manager, Mr. Bonds seemed quite happy just shouting at the players and, other than a precarious league position, all seemed fine.

Mr. Bonds leaves the club

One day, just before the start of the new season, Mr. Redknapp told me that he should be made manager because he needed to earn more money. “But what about Mr. Bonds” I asked him, “I wouldn’t fancy getting on the wrong side of him. I remember what he was like as a player”. “Don’t worry about Bill” said Harry, “when he gets wind of it, he’ll walk out and never come back. He’s got strong honest principles, which is why he’ll never succeed at a club like West Ham”. And Mr. Redknapp was right, Mr. Bonds stormed straight out, and luckily I never had to face him again.

I was so impressed with Mr. Redknapp’s way of handling things, I gave him a free rein over all transfer dealings. The club was surviving nicely in the Premier League and it was a great time. There was no way on earth that we were going to win anything, and no one other than Mr. Carr in the youth team, had any ambition at all about them. It was an idyllic world where virtually everyone at the club from chairman to tea lady could sit back, put their feet up and relax.

Stadium Development

There were a few little problems here and there. Inflation had meant that my salary was not what it used to be so I had to do more negotiating with my old friend Len Cearns and his family. This coincided with the effect of the Taylor report on Upton Park stadium – which had to become all seater. My original idea was to put concrete benches in both the North and South Bank’s, but Newham council didn’t seem to like that. In my conversation with Len Cearns, he told me that his old trick was to use his family building business to build the new stands and immediately I had a wonderful idea. “That’s it” I shrieked in delight. “We can use the Company I own a lot of shares in to build a new South Bank. I arrange to charge you more for the job than it’s worth, and I’ll get a large commission”. “Brilliant” said Len, “You seem to be doing well Terry. I think this job suits you.” “Thanks Len”, I said “sorry about being behind in my loan repayments, but if you increase my salary to £400,000 per year, I’ll pay you the loan back much quicker”. Len was so pleased as he left that day, muttering something about how nice it was to do business this way, unlike having to negotiate with players’ agents and the like.

This scheme of mine worked so well, I had a plan drawn up to replace all the old stands in the same manner and one by one we implemented them over the years – with the exception of the East Stand of course. I made sure that we used a different associated firm of mine, and architect for each stand – that way detection is kept to a minimum. Other than the fact that all three stands built were a mix and match and had no continuity or acoustic atmosphere about them, the whole development went a long way to strengthen my position at the club.

Sadly, Len Cearns passed away, but his nephew Martin took his place and we continued the same type of relationship – which we still enjoy today. Not to be outdone by his legendary predecessor, young Martin was instrumental in ensuring that I become the highest paid chairman in the Premiership – a record that West Ham can rightly be proud of.

Ambition and the Winds of Change

As we neared the new millennium things began to change at Upton Park. The new stands were looking splendent and the team began to regularly finish in the top ten of the Premiership. Mr. Carr had succeeded in bringing together the finest bunch of youth players ever seen at Upton Park at any one time. Mr. Redknapp had brought in some fine overseas players and West Ham were looking at an exciting future. To some, this was possibly the best time ever to have been a West Ham fan. Some sections of the supporters reckoned that it was the time for the Board to invest some money into the team and lay down the foundations to push West Ham into the top five clubs. There were even those in the club that felt this way too.

It was at this time that I began to sense a wind of change running through the club. It was horrifying. It seemed as if everyone suddenly had ambition – and I knew I had to cut it out immediately. If the club started qualifying for Europe every season, my life would have become totally unsettled. West Ham fans would not be able to afford holidays in my caravan parks after spending their earnings travelling to foreign lands each season. The cost of flying the players over to Italy, Spain and the like would have put a strain on club finances – not too mention the hotel bills. Top foreign international players would have wanted to come and play for West Ham – the wage bill would have gone through the roof – putting pressure on my own pay rises that I was getting.

Football clubs must learn to quash ambitions such as these. It is not worth risking a hundred years of existence for the sake of a bit of success. These were my words, and I intended to make them heard.

There were some players at the club who wanted to win things with West Ham. I was so taken aback by this that I told Mr. Redknapp he must have it written into their contracts that if they couldn’t win things at West Ham, then they could go elsewhere to win them. This stifled their ambitions a bit, though most players were actually a bit dumb and couldn’t quite work out the meaning of that last sentence. However, in 1999 there came about a stroke of luck that all successfully high paid under achieving chairman need from time to time.

Cup Tied

Over the years, we had always loaned out young players to lower division clubs to get a bit of experience. In the old days, Mr. Eddie Chapman had seen to it that a water tight contract had been written up to cover all angles such as injuries, compensation etc. But, as time had gone on, we had saved a bit of money in employing club secretaries that could do the same job for less pay. New modern day contracts were written up, and looked very good to me, all done on word processors and very neat.

Anyway, one day, just after we had reached the semi final of the League Cup, Mr. Redknapp burst into my office with the news that Manny Omiyimni was cup tied when coming on as sub in the quarter final. “What, all three of them?” I asked. But Mr. Redknapp was not listening, he was too concerned that we would be thrown out of the cup for it. Of course, we weren’t thrown out, but I made sure that we did not make any fuss at all and fully agreed to Doug Ellis’s request for the game to be replayed. Some people wanted the secretaries blood. I was only too pleased that no one seemed to blaming myself and was able to put out a press release stating that the club would take the right action. This seemed to brush the matter under the carpet and I was able to let the secretary stay on in his job until the summer before letting him go, thereby avoiding any chance of an unfair dismissal claim against us.

This incident seemed to take the wind out of Mr. Redknapp’s sails a bit and quelled his ambitions for a while. Mr. Sinclair, of the players, was none too impressed and had made his feelings public. We needed to get rid of these type of players and an opportunity to do so presented itself late in 2000.

The Sale of Rio Ferdinand

The problem with having all those players who wanted to win things at West Ham, was that if they didn’t win things, they got upset. The supporters might start blaming the Board, and possibly even me as chairman. Those halcyon days of going nowhere seemed ages ago at this time, and something was needed to take the ambition out of everyone at the club. The whole mood needed to change. All this talk of the finest youth team in England only brought about expectations. Luckily, Leeds United wanted Rio Ferdinand, and here was the chance to stop all ambition at the club for once and for all.

Leeds had made some previous enquiries about Rio and a move was on the cards. Rio had ambition and wanted to reach the top of his profession – something he could never achieve at West Ham. Leeds’ chairman, Mr. Ridsdale came to London to negotiate a deal. Just beforehand, Mr. Redknapp came to see me and said he could get a great result from a deal that would include a commission for both of us. I knew Harry was famous for wheeling and dealing and he showed me exactly how. He was a master at work.

“What we do” he said, “is bump up Rio’s price by one million. They’ve already offered £17m, but we’ll tell them it’s 18. Ridsdale likes a bung, so we’ll state £18 million, including a £500,000 sweetener for him, plus £250 grand for both you and me. “But doesn’t that mean they nedd an extra million?” I asked. “No”, said Harry, “they’re borrowing the money, so it’s not theirs, it’s the banks”. “Brilliant” I said. “That’s the way it’s done”, he said, “How else do you think we could have got Gary Charles away from Portugal?” Mr. Redknapp so reminded me of my own dealings with the Cearns family.

Anyway, Mr. Redknapp lined it all up and told me all I had to do was accept the offer. He introduced Mr. Ridsdale to me and left us to it. I was so impressed by Mr. Ridsdale, who was a professional chairman earning more money than myself. Now the way to play chairmen like these is to keep out of it and never show your own hand for fear of getting into a discussion about exactly what you do day in, day out. Mr. Ridsdale wore a lovely Giorgio Armani suit, a silk shirt and a flshy gold watch. He really looked the part of a Big Five Premiership chairman. I sat there in my tweed jacket, BHS trousers and suede desert boots, Bic Biro at the ready. He totally impressed me with his talk and knowledge.

“ Rio Ferdinand is the best central defender in Europe” he began.

“ Leeds United are one of England’s biggest clubs and want to be the best. To do this, we need Rio. We’ll offer you £18 million”. “Done” I said.

He went on. “We don’t have £18 million. We need to borrow it. We can give you £12 million now, and a further £6 million in a years time”. “Done”, I said.

“ We need the other £6 million right now to buy Robbie Keane from Italy”, Mr. Ridsdale continued. I said, “Not a problem. We were interested in him too, but seeing as you haven’t got the six million for us right now, we’ll just have to wait a year and see if any else is available then”. “Lovely” he said. “It’s a deal”.

And that was it – the quickest quarter of a million I ever made.

The trouble with Harry

Shortly after Rio Ferdinand’s departure, I noticed a change in Mr. Redknapp. Although he had been instrumental in doing the Rio deal, he seemed to be a bit edgy. Eventually he confessed to me that he was a bit worried about all the bungs he had organised being made public. He reckoned it was an addiction and he just couldn’t help it. He thought that one last big bung might be the thing to break his addiction. So I immediately offered him £300,000 there and then and he accepted without a second thought.

As always, I had 100 per cent trust in Mr. Redknapp and didn’t flinch when he went out and bought three classy reserve players with the excess Rio money. Two of them were from Liverpool and one from Blackburn’s reserves. I thought that, on balance, they all made sense at the time and were typical West Ham buys. Both Harry, and his son (who was the agent in all the deals) told me there were no wrong doings in the transfer deals and that was good enough for me.

However, Harry never settled and the teams form suffered too. Eventually, we just avoided relegation and many supporters were disgruntled with things. When I asked Harry about this, he spat the dummy, stormed off and resigned his position. The other chap who sometimes frequented the training ground, went with him. I subsequently discovered his name was Mr. Lampard and his son was playing in the team at that time. So, we went into the summer without a manager.

The appointment of Mr. Roeder

There was no panic to replace Mr. Redknapp however. After all, there’s no football in the Summer and no one needs a manager. Anyway, this was a great economical saving and one I would thoroughly recommend to others.

We did have a couple of applicants in Mr. Curbishley and Mr. McLaren, but both of these had far too big ambitions for West Ham. A couple of years with either of those two and we’d be in all sorts of debt as we qualify and travel to Europe every season.

One week I bumped into young Mr. Roeder and his family at one of my caravan parks. He was coaching one of the youth teams at the time and had taken the opportunity to get a nice staff discount at the Broadstairs park. We discussed the managers position and he said he wanted it. I asked him if he was ambitious, “Yes” he said “ever so. The last two clubs that I managed were both relegated. My ambition is to keep West Ham in the Premier League”. I asked him, “What if you spent ten years at the club and we finished mid table every year and never won a thing?”. “Fantastic”, he said, “If I ever achieved that in my life time, I would consider myself a great success”. I was so impressed with this talk, I gave him the job there and then.

I saved the club a fortune on salary and recruitment costs and got a manager who would never disagree with me or the Board. Terrific business.

Our Turn to be Relegated

Learning a little from the experience of Mr. Redknapp, I took an active role in the running of the club. Mr. Roeder had to ask me for everything. It was my intention to do this for a couple of years until the rookie found his feet. After a bit of early teething trouble, we managed to finish the first season under Mr. Roeder in the top ten. There was never any fear of us winning anything and it seemed a bed of roses. At the end of the season there was the World Cup which was great because it gave everyone at West Ham the chance to totally switch off from the club right up until pre season training in July.

Shortly after this commenced, Mr. Roeder requested a budget for transfers. I told him there was none and he seemed quite pleased at this and even said so to the press. A nice fellow, I thought.

The season started off badly though, and got worse and worse as time went on. The trouble seemed to be the players themselves, who all thought they knew better than Mr. Roeder (which they did in reality I suppose). The main trouble maker was the Italian player, Mr. Di Canio, who had never been under control since Mr. Redknapp’s departure. As the season dragged on into February, relegation became a certainty. There was plenty of unrest amongst the players and the supporters which was the cue for myself to retreat to the board room and let Mr. Roeder handle the team affairs and take all the flack.

It was in the board room one day when I realised what the problem was. It came to me like a divine vision. It was so obvious, I wondered why I never saw it at the beginning. The answer was so simple – it was our turn for relegation. Having realised this, I felt so happier – like a man who knew his destiny. I needed to share this with all concerned and so I wrote and told all the supporters in my annual report shortly after we were eventually relegated. I am quite sure that a level headed statement like that goes a long way to calm ruffled feathers. The supporters seemed to listen because they quietened down and have never made the same noise at the ground again.

Mr. Roeder’s Departure

Even though it had been our turn for relegation, we almost avoided it, taking it to the last day of the season. This was great for our fans – to go out with a bang. Unfortunately Mr. Roeder was taken ill and the nice Mr. Brooking stood in admirably.

When the season was over, and relegation assured, many people thought that the right thing to do was to terminate Mr. Roeder’s position. It seemed the humane thing to do as well. However, what people did not realise was that this was the costly option. As I have said before, there is no need for a football club to have a manager in the Summer, so it was pointless terminating Mr. Roeder and recruiting someone new. We would have to pay wages and have someone sitting there doing nothing – and anyway, I already had the monopoly on that at the club.

Also, more importantly, it was costing the club nothing to keep Mr. Roeder on. He had taken out health and hospital insurance and was able to live quite comfortably on zero pay. However, this ran out after a week back in the new season, so it made sense to terminate then. Mr. Roeder was most agreeable to this and made no fuss on leaving, or on being asked to return his tracksuits.

Mr. Pardew’s Arrival

With the nice Mr. Brooking in control of team affairs, and doing it for free, there was no real need to hastily appoint a replacement manager. It wasn’t as if there was a glut of candidates for the post anyway. Management recruitment had moved on since our last appointment. I had learnt much from David Brent’s managerial techniques of BBC’s “The Office”. I followed his good advice on how to avoid employing unlucky people by throwing half of the CV's in the bin without even reading them. There are rumours that both Iain Dowie and Bryan Robson applied for the job – but I never saw any such applications.

Instead we publicly opted for Mr. Pardew, who was already employed at Reading at that time. Mr. Pardew was very discrete in not mentioning us by name. In total contrast his chairman, Mr. Madjeski, was very open about it and let everyone know of the goings on. So much so, that Mr. Madjeski told everyone that Reading were going to take us to court for an illegal approach. Now, not being one to make a fuss, I immediately contacted Mr. Madjeski and agreed to all his demands. I always find that this totally diffuses any confrontation.

The Present

Well, as you know, we are currently in our second season outside the Premiership. The club has survived relegation admirably. In fact, truth be known, we have made a whopping big profit from the sale of all our quality players. From my own point of view it is not so bad. There are plenty of little clubs who are equally small minded as our own. I feel quite at home at some of these smaller venues meeting with chairman who know equally little about running a top club as I do. I always felt uncomfortable at places like Old Trafford and Highbury. These clubs must be so unsettled because they always seem to be chasing success and are never satisfied when they get it – which is all the time.

A lot has been said about the players that the club sold before and after relegation – especially those who were from the youth team. Many of those have gone on to win club honours and international recognition with their new clubs. I have often been criticised for providing the platform for these players to go off from. These players are obviously Premiership quality. If we had those players today we would not be where we are – in the Championship. But West Ham are currently a Championship side, and we wouldn’t be a Championship side with those players – therefore we were right to let them go.

We are looked on as a big club in this league, and always fancied to do well. This is not a problem, because it allows us to under achieve big time. The league’s inferiority complex allows us to have a zero pre season transfer budget – which is great for the bank and the accountants.

Just to put everyone’s fears at rest, we have already publicly stated that we can survive for many years in this division. We think that this was said once before by West Ham’s directors and it’s good to see a tradition being followed.

There is much media talk currently about a proposed take over bid for the club. I have always made it known that if ever I thought an offer right for the club, I would be willing to listen. Any potential bidder reading this will be aware by now of my negotiating style and I welcome all serious offers.

The Future

Anyone familiar with my annual statements to shareholders and supporters would know by now that I never have anything to say about the future. I stand firmly by my record in this regard. All I can say for sure is to repeat that I will be here until any acceptable offer is made for my shares, or for as long as I have the support of the major shareholding families. And that is what West Ham is, and always has been – a family. Every summer, at my Broadstairs caravan park, the Browns, Cearns and Warner families can be seen dipping their feet into the swimming pool and thoroughly enjoying their discounted holiday package – in total relaxation before the new football season begins. As far as I am concerned, that is the future.

Terry Brown, April 2005.

Disclaimer: This satirical “tongue in cheek” piece is entirely fictitous and merely represents the imagination of the author. Any resemblance to real life events or real life persons is purely coincidental.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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