Mick’s excellent piece earlier this week about footballing finances and Norwich City came along at just the right time for me. Not so much because of its relevance but because it came along after I’d read a piece in Saturday’s i by the owner of Bristol City on the exact same subject.
Stephen Lansdown is a very wealthy man indeed.
He started his first business in his bedroom in 1981.
In 2009 he sold that business for a fee that was estimated to be £280m.
Never mind seven or even eight figure numbers. That’s a nine figure sum.
He raised a further £48m later that year by selling some shares in the company that he’d retained, putting nearly all of that money towards financing the redevelopment of Bristol City’s Ashton Gate ground.
But he’s not short of a few quid should the boiler need replacing or he and his wife fancy a nice weekend break in the Yorkshire Dales. Not a fancy hotel you understand but still a more upmarket B&B.
Because, even though available funds have been somewhat stretched by his tendency to community largesse, his overall net worth was still reckoned, in September of last year, to be around £1.3 billion.
The world is not enough. The man can have whatever he likes, whenever he likes. Or so it would seem.
Yet, for all that, he hasn’t done a Manchester City or even a Chelsea down Bristol way.
On the contrary.
But his club was able to afford to lure Gary O’Neill away from us in the summer. And if you didn’t know how they managed it then, you sure as hell do now.
But, for all that, for all his amazing and completely unfeasible wealth, his football club is ran in the correct manner.
They could, for example, have put a contract worth £100,000 a week down in front of Jonathan Kodija earlier this summer. And he may well have signed it.
Yet, when Aston Villa made an offer of £12m for Kodija’s signature shortly before the transfer window closed, the club considered it good business and took the money.
That sum, incidentally, is a little less than 1% of Lansdown’s current net worth. Just to remind you how wealthy he is.
He also owns Bristol RFC and the Bristol Flyers basketball club. So you might not be blamed for wondering if Dan Carter might be turning up as the new coach for the rugby club anytime soon along with a marquee player signing or two as well – David Pocock perhaps, or Michael Hooper?
Then there would be the prospect of LeBron James arriving at the basketball clubs 750 capacity arena in Stoke Gifford. Well why not, Lansdown could afford it, he could afford James there, Carter, Pocock and Hooper at his rugby club plus, if he really wanted, a few ex-England internationals (for starters) at his football club.
Not a problem.
But that’s not the way he is choosing to go about things.
The obvious question that you, I, and, as it turned out, i journalist, Huge Godwin wanted to ask Lansdown was why, or indeed when, he intended to just follow the oligarch lead and buy success – in this case, for his rugby club by also, by definition, for the football club as well?
His answer was refreshing and welcome:
“I could afford to do it… (but) that’s not the right way to do it… it doesn’t work. You have to build a team, a unit that feeds off each other. We will develop our academy players… the club must be seen as a pathway for a local player to get to the top”.
Those words could just as easily apply to the owners of our football club and their philosophy.
That looking to buy success isn’t necessarily right or the best thing to do – even when you can afford to do it.
That the priority is to build a team, a culture and dare I say it… a club and a community.
A club that focuses on its Academy and is looking to get those players to the top of their profession – as we may just be seeing with the progress of the Murphy twins this season.
I don’t really know too much about Stephen Lansdown other than what I have read and researched about him here. Neither do, or have, Bristol City ever made a mark on my footballing life other than when they were alongside us in English football’s top flight from 1976 to 1980.
Our record against them during that time incidentally was, out of eight league games played, five wins, two defeats and one draw.
The game at Ashton Gate on April 26, 1980 looks as if it might have been a bit of a feisty affair. The Robins needed to win to have any chance of avoiding relegation but we came out on top by 3 goals to 2 in a game that saw Justin Fashanu head-butt David Rodgers but escape censure.
You didn’t mess with Fash.
It would seem that under the benevolent ownership of Lansdowne Bristol City are set on regaining the top flight status that they lost in 1980.
The manager that went down with them at the end of the 1979/80 season was Alan Dicks.
Since then they’ve made an additional 21 managerial appointments, some of whom will be very recognisable names in the present game – Roy Hodgson, Tony Pulis and Steve Coppell to name but three.
I rather suspect that for much of the time between Dicks’ dismissal and the arrival of Lansdown to the club, the thoughts and aspirations of their fans was more about survival than getting back into the elite of English football.
Yet, slowly, very slowly in fact and steadily, they are not far off doing so. It may not be this season; it might not even be next season. But they’ll get there.
And they’ll get there, as Lansdown has stressed, by doing things in what he believes is the right way.
And that’s not by trying to be Roman Abramovich. But being true to himself and the methods that made him such a success in today’s business world.
I’ll get to the point now.
Had we, indeed, if we, one day in the future were to find ourselves in the hands of an owner or investor like Stephen Lansdown, then how would you like him or her to go about their business at Norwich City?
What would be right for us?
Spending countless tens of millions of pounds on players with the aim of getting the club back to the Premier League as soon as possible and at whatever cost? (And by that I don’t just mean the financial cost).
Or by investing in the club, the whole club and nothing but the club? The Academy, the stadium, the training ground and facilities and, taking that as a whole, the clubs place in the community. The holistic approach in other words.
And saying that it may happen. It might happen this year, next year or in five years time. But it will happen. And when it does, we will be ready.
As Lansdown is at Bristol.