Trying to keep the customer satisfied?

Owning and running a football can't be an easy task. As well as your own financial investment, you have the emotional investment from thousands of people who depend on the fortunes of the football club to derive happiness from to contend with.

Keeping those people satisfied can seem a thankless task but a football club that has a short and long-term vision, that makes decisions that benefit those with a vested interest in the well-being of the football club, as well as building a structure on and off the field that's aimed at achieving success is entirely achievable and is not the stuff of fantasy. The physical structures as well as the management and organisational processes need to be harmonious and all integrated as part of an overall strategy to try and achieve success.

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There are plenty of football clubs now in the Premier League where you can look from the outside and get a feel for who has and does not have what could be considered joined up thinking in place. Leicester City and Liverpool are two that spring to mind straight away of football clubs who are geared towards success and all aspects of the football club are pulling in the same direction. Smart investment, coupled with executives and club staff working together and a playing staff and manager who are obtaining results has seen these two clubs this season lead the way and to me, that is no coincidence.

Manchester United is an example to me where the off-field management with regards to footballing decisions is letting down the ability of a core of the on-field talent and their position in the league, albeit currently being in 7th position with 16 points but 18 points already off 1st place. The direction of the club to me at this moment in time is geared towards making money for its owners, with football based decisions seemingly being knee-jerk, short term measures to try and get back to where it wants to be without attempting to grow organically. The equivalent of throwing several things against a wall and seeing what sticks, rather than having a targeted approach.

Having said all that, I then come to West Ham United. I am unaware of anyone who can make a successful argument that the current ownership and off-field management structure of the football club is harmonious, or successfully creating an environment where the football club can achieve.

As fans, we of course have seen it all before - where we lose more games than we win, donate points to relegation fodder and show brief glimpses of turning a corner before walking straight into another brick wall. It's all par for the course of supporting this club but can it all be attributed to our results on the field? To me, our lack of overall success and myriad of blunders and mistakes as a football club is not just down to the players, tactics or the playing staff management.

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Karren Brady continues to pen unprofessional articles for The Sun newspaper and we suffer the reputational harm and damage that leads the football club to attempt to renege on season ticket discounts, attempt to raise disabled season ticket prices by 107% or use club and not personal funds to make a donation to a political party. These examples are the equivalent of an Iain Dowie own goal, a Simone Zaza-sliced attempt at goal or a humbling cup defeat to a lower league club.

You would like to think Mr Dowie did not intentionally score his thumping header against Stockport County and that it was a genuine error. The examples I cite with regards to decisions made by off-field club employees and owners are, however, deliberate and are not made for the overall benefit of the football club's supporters or the reputation of the football club. I could easily go into other examples (like David Sullivan or his family declaring their transfer preferences and passing comment on past or current club employees) but I would be here all day.

It goes without saying, there is plenty of evidence out there you can point to with regards to decisions made off the field that make you really question how the club is being run and whether it is being run to the benefit of the football club, or just a few individuals.

No one I believe could argue that the football club was not in a perilous financial position when David Gold and David Sullivan took over West Ham United's debt in January 2010. The restructuring of that debt over the years into money now being owed to our two majority shareholders and with interest being drawn on loans that are made to the football club raises more than just an eyebrow in some quarters. At this point, I will quote the following directly from Kieran Maguire, noted and respected authority on football finances.

"Whilst Gold and Sullivan correctly can claim that they haven't paid themselves a penny in wages since acquiring the club in 2010, they have lent it money as the previous Icelandic Bank owners went bust. Gold and Sullivan have charged interest at between 4-6% on these loans since then. They claim that this is less than would be charged by commercial banks, and so they are doing the club a favour. Other 'local' owners of Premier League clubs, such as the Coates family at Stoke, Tony Bloom at Brighton and Dean Hoyle at Huddersfield have all lent money interest free."

Gold and Sullivan however have charged the club nearly ?17million in interest charges and have taken out over ?14million of this out in the form of cash since August 2017.

That eyebrow is not lowered when reading the amounts involved. I once read online a description of Mr Gold and Mr Sullivan with regards to their personal wealth of being asset rich and cash poor. It does beg the question then how Mr Sullivan had up to ?25million sitting around that he could pledge to a former prospective buyer of Bolton Wanderers. Anyway, Mr Gold offered an explanation as to why he and his co-Chair charged a previously higher (now lower) rate of interest on their loans in an interview from 2017:

"When we came into the club, the club had some very caustic debts where they were paying interest at 10% and not only were they paying a high rate of interest but they were caustic in the sense what could happen there is if the club couldn't meet the repayments or the interest they could foreclose and put the club in administration. If the debt is out debt, we are not going to foreclose so we are a safer lender because we are only ever going to take our repayments and don't forget if you go back to the original (loan) these debts, the interest on these debts were at a very high rate.

"The reason was, people didn't want to lend money to West Ham United football club 10 years ago so the interest rates were very high. We replaced those high-interest rates with a lower interest rate so the minute we put the money in and paid off those debts, West Ham were paying 10% now West Ham United football club, our football club is now only paying interest at 6%."

Without being privy to any loan arrangements or potential loan arrangements from 2010, I cannot comment but I will ask - why do you need to take 6% interest on loans made to the club for that to only be lowered to between 4% and 4.25% after pressure from the football club's fans? This point about pressure on the ownership and leadership structure of West Ham United into climbdowns or reversing course is not new.

An issue people have had for a long while with the football club's strategy towards any number of issues under this current ownership is the belligerence and hard-headedness employees of the football club display. Any sort of divergence from the core message is not tolerated and this policy comes from those at the top who are charged with running the football club on behalf of the owners. Any about turn, reversal or climb down is only down to embarrassment caused, if the legalities are questions or if there is something or someone else to blame, never with humility and hands held up and offers to discuss a way forward.

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I perfectly understand that running a business is not a democracy but the refusal to acknowledge when mistakes are made and the attempts to deflect and pass off errors onto others is not any sort of leadership I would want to work for or consider myself as the way I would want my club to be run. How can it try and succeed when it spends half its time seemingly at war with its own fan base?

Any issue or conflict is mostly through choice and not an unavoidable consequence of circumstance and al this conflict could easily be avoided if the football club just listened. Any structures put in place however are not there to hear any independent voice or thought from outside of the club for fear that they might not toe the company line and might give an opinion that they might not like.

Instead, those who are already compromised financially or through granted patronage and favoured media sources are utilised to spin, plant stories and create polls on all manner of club business and willingly undertake the business of the club hierarchy to curry favour, to the detriment of the fan base. You cannot in my opinion pledge to represent all or attempt a dialog if you choose to ignore, sideline, belittle or refuse to acknowledge a difference and the structure currently put in place by the football club, its management and those who do their bidding falls on this point.

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This article was originally going to be about West Ham United's transfer dealings through the years of David Sullivan and David Gold's majority ownership. I looked at and had collated all the ins and outs and then started to type about club ownership and this took on a life of its own. There is so much more that can be touched on when it comes to our owners and the people they employee to carry out their bidding. I can only relate my experiences of where I have worked and the people I have worked under and the most harmonious teams were those where everyone bought in from staff, to stakeholders and clients.

There have been other times where relationships have broken down and the whole thing becomes a mudslinging match and commercial departments and legal teams have a field day. Sometimes, the intrinsic nature of someone cannot be helped and is an unknown factor in any decision-making process. However, if the default position is to be abrasive and refuse to compromise on anything, you cannot then wonder why the system you have implemented is doomed to failure and takes a lot longer then you anticipated to achieve your desired result. Long and short of it, if things stay the way they are at West Ham United, with the same people running things the way they always have, they could easily face another situation where people more actively protest them.

About turn time? Not likely, unfortunately. We will see how this plays out for the rest of this season, but the signs are not positive.

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