Thursday, 14 November 2013

Dick Knight - Mad Men launch transcript

(With apologies for typos and grammatical inconsistencies...)

Alan Sanders: Since a few people knew that I was going to be doing this I've been inundated with congratulatory texts. I just want to read a couple to you that I've received. One comes from Mr Gus Poyet, who said: 'Hi Dick' – this is true – 'unfortunately I cannot be there so I want to wish you all the best for the launch today. I'm sure it will be a fantastic opportunity to reveal your thoughts about those years at Brighton. Big thanks for everything you did for me while I was at Brighton. Regards from Sunderland, Gus Poyet.'

One from local MP Caroline Lucas: 'It came as absolutely no surprise to those who have the privilege of knowing him that Dick's autobiography has already gone to the top of the book charts before even reaching the book shelves. His story will be every bit as compelling and amazing as the man himself.'

One from John Byrne: 'Looking forward to a behind-the-scenes read of how you helped save the Albion. Ps Still waiting for my cheque for all my help with those French players' contracts.'

Ok, so just a few words from me really. It's a great privilege for me to be asked here. It's a sort of double-handed compliment, really, to kick off compering the series, except I will be subbed after the first one because he's getting Paul Samrah to do the other five. But I've known Dick for many years and in fact when I was working in this building at BHASVIC I got to know him with the work he was doing at Brighton and Hove Albion with local colleges and schools.

I got to know him much better over the last few years when he was Chairman of Albion in the Community and also when he and I used to go to away games. Kerry, Dick's wife, used to say to me 'one of you is going to have to drive and Dick gets tired after long journeys, so if you wouldn't mind.' I said 'alright, ok', so it was pretty much my turn every time. But the one thing I would say, and this is no word of a lie, is that every game that I went to without fail, every director's room that I went in, whichever ground it was, people had their hands out to shake Dick's hand and congratulate him for doing the job he did at Brighton, and that's throughout the country.

That in itself is a great accolade to the man he is. Anyway, Dick, tell us about your feelings on Mr Archer.

Dick Knight: Well, I might as well start at the beginning, I guess. As a lot of you know, it took me about 18 months to finally overthrow Bill Archer. But if I can take you back to just after the consortium – my consortium – was announced, which was in May 1996. The consortium actually wasn't a huge consortium. It was just myself, Liam Brady, who unfortunately can't be here tonight and as you know was a legendary player who did a great job in helping involve...he realised, because of what the club was going through after he left, he approached me, and that's a chapter in the book – the phonecall that changed my life, from Liam.

The first person I turned to after that was Bob Pinnock, who's sitting in the second row. Bob was my financial director in my ad agency. I used to come back from New York on Friday night, overnight, and talk to Bob on the terraces at the Goldstone about the big deals that I'd just done in New York while shouting 'in the hole, Sully' or 'get forward, Mark Lawrenson'. So we used to have these strange conversations about the deals that I'd been doing. So Bob became one of my first consortium members – there was me, Liam and Martin Perry joined as our stadium adviser, he worked for Robert McAlpine for quite a long time until I invited him to the club. The first job was really to get to grips with Archer, go head-to-head with him. And I'll read you an extract here.

I came from the advertising business and in building my advertising agency I'd locked horns with tough, sharp New York lawyers – Mary Wells, who's a famous figure in American advertising, lined up seven lawyers when I sold part of my company to her. I dealt with these henchmen pretty well. I'd also sold advertising campaigns with bosses of big companies on numerous occasions. In short, I knew how to deal with people in these kinds of situations. But in all my experience in business I'd never met anyone quite like Bill Archer.

Archer wasn't that clever, because his motives were obvious. He knew what he was up to and he was streetsmart and cocksure. I soon realised I was dealing with someone who had a very clear idea as to how far he could go, and I think he was certain that he could see me off. I was battle-hardened in knowing how to handle tough businesspeople. But I was about to encounter a level of armour plating that I had never had to deal with before. From the start, Archer used every trick he could to avoid meeting with me and the consortium. My target wasn't going to play ball that easily. Archer started as he meant to go on, he would always be a very tricky customer to deal with.

He was, of course, aware of the hardman public profile that his Brighton activities had actually generated for him in the national media. And I think he thrived on it, he relished his growing notoriety and thought it would do his business reputation no harm at all. Certainly, in my dealings with him, however much I and thousands of Albion fans might pray in this situation, he was never going to give up the football club immediately, admit that he'd got it wrong and walk away. He was never going to do that. His ego would never allow it. So throughout the acrimonious, frustrating and endless negotiations that would be needed to prise Archer's hands off the club, he would never let every sticky finger be completely removed all at once. Instead, he embarked on a double-handed game.

First, to mollify the supporters, many of whom are here and remember this, he acknowledged the existence of the consortium and told the world he would meet us – provided we were able to meet certain financial and stadium criteria beforehand. It was a good way of stalling the talks. Second, he intended to get valuable information that way from the consortium, while he privately continued to pursue his only holy grail of a retail development at Toad's Hole Valley with Hove Council. It was a huge retail development with a small football stadium in it. The frustrations mounted. He told supporters that he'd meet the consortium but that we hadn't yet satisfied his conditions. One of these was for us to answer the impossibly vague question, 'how we would deliver the future?' That was it – he wanted to know how we were going to 'deliver the future'.

When we supplied him with relevant information – Bob was working overtime providing this relevant information – he kept changing the goalposts. In fact he changed the goalposts enough to have qualified for the job of groundsman at the Albion, assuming of course that we had a ground, which we didn't at that time. But still we were no closer to examining the books. Finally, after mounting media and fan pressure, and I believe his own curiosity to go head-to-head with these 'upstarts' and 'troublemakers' – myself and the consortium – Archer finally agreed to meet us.

By this time the consortium was reduced by one because Liam had gone to Arsenal. He was offered a wonderful job as head of youth development, we all know that Arsenal was Liam's club, I couldn't stand in his way. So it was just really myself and Bob and Martin Perry as our stadium advisor. We came face-to-face with Archer for the first time on Thursday, August the 22nd 1996 on neutral territory, which was the city offices of lawyers. Martin Perry was there as well. Archer, interestingly, was on his own, and was already waiting for us when we arrived. He obviously felt that he needed no assistance from his friend Greg Stanley, or indeed his chief executive, David Bellotti, to deal with the likes of us.

He obviously knew something about Bellotti we already knew ourselves and had learnt: he didn't need Bellotti there to ruin the situation as far as he was concerned. He'd already described the consortium as 'this half-baked consortium'. Ray Bloom was in attendance at that meeting with Archer, presumably because he was still a director of the club at that time. He took no part in the proceedings.

The meeting took place in a very austere, minimalist city office. It was a cold place. The setting seemed entirely appropriate. The mood was distinctly icy. Archer was every inch the northern Englishman: working class man made good, fairly short, respectable, overweight and supremely confident. It was as if he wanted to show those soft southerners how tough he was. Obviously I knew what he was capable of, but meeting him was different. I saw him as someone who had absolutely no business being involved in Brighton and Hove Albion, and I sensed straight away that I had to be very careful with him. There were basic handshakes, few pleasantries and no small-talking in this meeting. I think both of us were out to impose ourselves on the other. It was very personal. He kept asking me, 'you're not one of those chancers, are you?' He thought I was an opportunist with no money. It was his way of trying to intimidate me.

Perhaps that sort of talk played well in Crewe, where he came from – where he was getting Focus DIY underway, coincidentally – but it didn't cut any ice with me. I replied, 'I wouldn't have come this far if I didn't have the funds to back up my position.’ I'm not in the business of wasting my own and other people's time, or giving the fans false hope. I reminded him that the consortium had already demonstrated its ability to meet his takeover criteria. Now honour your side of the bargain. It certainly wasn't the most friendly meeting I'd ever had. There was no search for compromise – Archer seemed to want to beat me down. There was an underlying tension, but it didn't quite degenerate into a slanging match. And even though Archer had no intention of selling, because he still believed he could force his retail plans through, he still had to ask me one important question: what kind of funds did we have at our disposal to put in the club? He was always trying to find out more information, he wanted to see the colour of our money.

My response was to ask again to see the club's books. As with the purchase and takeover of any business, we couldn't make an offer without having full knowledge of the club's accounts and financial health, or otherwise. After a moment's hesitation Archer agreed to my request. So it did look as if we had, in fact, made some progress in that first meeting with him. Getting Archer's permission for us to at last begin the process of due dilligence. But as Bob said to me a few minutes after leaving that meeting, 'we've got to be careful here, Dick; I don't trust this guy one bit', and it was no coincidence that I was feeling exactly the same myself.

Sure enough, two days after that meeting, Archer – having got a better press, because he'd actually agreed to meet us – that all changed. He announced that we 'hadn't demonstrated to his liking that we had sufficient funds', nor had we 'shown any signs of being able to deliver the future'. No wonder he called it off – it had quickly become a personal duel for him with me. He thought he could see me off by making it difficult for me to proceed. That's why at first he said 'yes you can see the books', and then he stopped.

By putting up all these barriers he thought I would eventually just go away. And he did that all the way down the line. It was really just a case of digging in and having a great deal of determination for the long haul. He was bloody-minded – we had to be bloody-minded right back at him.

That's the end of that sequence, thank you.

AS: Just to change the tack a bit, Dick, about the playing side, because I know you're a great lover of the game anyway: what was it like, for example, dealing with loan players when their commitment might not be as much as those signed. Was there a difference in that at all?

DK: Dealing with loan players was quite strange because you know they're not going to be with the club for any real length of time so you have to deal with them in a slightly different way. One person in particular...if you're bringing in a top player you have to treat him in a different way. One such person who you will all remember was Robbie Savage. This was in October 2008, and we had just beaten Manchester City in the League Cup – an amazing game which was the biggest crowd ever at the Withdean. That chapter is called – and those of you who are really smart will understand why I've written this – is called Kompany and Co Ltd, with a 'K'. And Vincent Kompany played in that game, captain of Man City.

But in that season we beat Man City, the richest club in the world, in the League Cup, and meanwhile we were slipping down the league. Micky Adams said we needed some fresh club. So we found out that Robbie Savage was available on loan, which was fantastic. We needed an injection of vitality. We learnt that Robbie – who Micky knew – might be available on loan from Derby County. He was, of course, a hard-tackling Welsh international midfield player with a reputation for getting up peoples' noses, annoying opponents and their fans, and probably even his own fans. But he was known in football to actually be a great guy to have in your team. Robbie was interested in coming to Brighton and he said he would come down to meet us. So when he told my old friend from Hull, Adam Pearson, who was then the Chairman of Derby County...Robbie said 'I'm thinking of going down to Brighton.' So Adam replied, he said, 'oh God, that means I'm going to have to deal with that Dick Knight. He'll screw me into the ground.' Which I had done with Adam over getting Nicky Forster for £75,000 when they wanted a quarter of a million.

Anyway, he was right because Robbie – who was quite open about this – told me he was on £24,000 a week. I said 'well, I'm not going to pay you anywhere near as much as that.' Anyway, I did this deal with Adam Pearson for less than a tenth of it. They carried on paying him the rest. So Robbie agrees to come, he's very happy, he likes the sound of it. So the deal was done financially, he was coming for a month, but Robbie didn't want us to book his accommodation for him, he had his own PA – that's Robbie for you, quite a character. He didn't want us to sort the accommodation out for him down in Brighton. He said he'd do that himself, so we arranged to meet him in Brighton, and he asked us to meet him, not at our paltry offices or the ground, which we only went to to play at, but at his hotel. So I gathered up Micky Adams and Derek Allan, our secretary who deals with the contracts, and said 'look at the address of this hotel'. And I took one look at the address of this hotel and I recognised it as a boutique hotel which was part of Brighton's gay quarter, which Robbie's PA had inadvertently booked him into. A very attractive, boutique hotel.

We went to meet Robbie at this gay hotel and soon spotted Robbie's white Lamborghini parked outside, not exactly not drawing attention to himself. So we go into the small hotel to find, standing in the bar, Robbie, with his blond locks flowing down, backlit with this stained glass frieze of Marilyn Monroe in that famous pose, her dress billowing out. The barman was eyeing up Robbie with a great deal of interest. So anyway, I thought that I'd better get Robbie out of that situation and get down to business. I'd spoken to him on the phone, introduced myself and introduced him to Micky and Derek, who had the papers. I said 'are you settling in ok here?' He said 'yeah, it's great Dick, it's great.'

Before we had a chance to talk about the contract he said, 'you've got to see my room, it's fantastic.' I said 'ok.' He said 'come on, let's see my room.' So we thought we'd go up to a penthouse suite. It was one of those small hotels in Kemp Town. He opened this door leading downstairs. We followed him. There, as the door opened, I was transformed to Saturday Night Fever. You know those coloured glass panels on the floor? The stairway down to Robbie's suite was coloured glass panels. There was a glitterball as well – it was completely over-the-top. The only thing missing was Robbie in a white suit doing John Travolta-type moves. So he leads us down there and says, 'it's great, isn't it?' So he shows us the jacuzzi, he's got about four rooms, he's loving this place. So I thought I'd better let him into a secret, I said, 'Robbie, I have to tell you, this is a really nice hotel, but it is one of the top gay hotels in Brighton.' He said, 'really? I don't care – it's great, I think it's great.

At this point Derek Allan, who's this dour Lancastrian, said 'bloody hell', as the door opened and we went down into this glitterball scenario lacking only Robbie doing this dance. Robbie was loving it. He said, 'I'll have a jacuzzi later when I'm finished with you guys, I'll go back down to the bar for some drinks.' I said, 'Robbie, watch yourself.' His wife hadn't come down at the time. I said, 'you know Brighton's reputation as the gay capital of the country?' He said, 'yes'. I said, 'well, you're right in the middle of it.' We went back to the bar and started talking about the contract.

I very quickly concluded discussions with him because the regulars were gathering in the bar, all of them eyeing up Robbie. It was an amazing thing. But he stayed there the whole month that he was on loan to us. I tell you, Robbie Savage is a great guy. He's got a great sense of humour and he is a really good guy to have around a football club. He's a very inspiring character. So that's the sort of thing you have to deal with when you're dealing with loan players.

AS: I remember Charlie Oatway telling me when he played under you there was a war council drawn up between Paul Rogers, Richard Carpenter and Paul Watson. They decided that their win bonuses weren't enough and they'd take Dick down for lunch and have a chat with him about it. The result was that not only did they not get their win bonuses but they had to pay for Dick's lunch as well.

Changing the subject slightly, onto the planning inquiry, getting those over the line.

DK: There was one occasion which I think a lot of you will remember. We'd eventually got through two-and-a-half planning inquiries. And on the 28th of October 2005 we thought we had final approval. I received a letter from John Prescott which was giving us approval having been through the two public inquiries. The inspector, who was a different inspector from the first one, completely rejected the recommendations of the first one. Don't ever hear anything bad about John Prescott as far as Albion are concerned – it's only because of him, he reopened the inquiry, otherwise we would not have the Amex. He went against his inspector, which is very unusual for a minister, and it was the fans' campaign that began to make him realise, 'I've got to have this public inquiry open again', which he did.

We went through the second inquiry and then he wrote to me saying that it's approved. It was subject to a 42-day review period, and I, having been through so many problems...we never took anything for granted, Martin and I, with this project, we never took anything for granted. Nevertheless, The Argus immediately put the headline across the front, YES(ISH). So there were pictures of myself, Martin, Norman Cook, Des Lynam and so on, outside Donatello's sipping champagne. And The Argus headline under the photo the next day was Falmer Fizz. And I held a press conference in the restaurant's upstairs suite outside Donatello's, although even then I was cautious, because I'd come to learn that I could never take anything for granted at this planning inquiry.

I knew about the 42-day period. The letter from Prescott was actually 16 pages long and that night I got home, started reading it again. All of a sudden, halfway through, I realised there was a mistake in this letter. It was actually a technical mistake, it wasn't a typo. It was technical mistake, and therefore it was a pretty basic mistake. It said that the entire Falmer site was actually within the Brighton and Hove built-up area of Falmer. A few months prior to that there had been a boundary change and part of the Falmer site had been allocated to Lewes District Council, and nobody from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – Prescott's department – had noticed this. So this error said the whole area was in Brighton and Hove, which it wasn't. I knew – I mean, Martin, and our lawyer, also spotted this error, and therefore we knew that Lewes would as well, they would have lawyers all over this letter.

It wasn't Prescott's fault – he signed the letter given to him by his advisors. And it wasn't a determining factor in his decision in any way. He made his recommendation based on an evaluation of the facts. The fact that the boundary was slightly moved was irrelevant to his decision-making process. But in the meantime we had to put on the most joyous face for our fans, who thought that we were home and dry. As far as they were concerned it was the best possible news, we'd actually got through the planning inquiry. And it was, we'd got over that hurdle – I knew that we wouldn't have any more planning inquiries, that's for sure.

The next day, on the Saturday, we were playing Ipswich Town at home, and I said to the board that we had to do something special to celebrate the end of the public inquiries. I said, 'we've got to do something that no-one has ever done before.' And because of this 'Falmer Fizz', I recommended that we should serve everybody at the game – everybody, not just the people in the boardroom – champagne. All the fans that came to the game would be served champagne, except the children, who would be served a suitable non-alcoholic drink. Bob being Bob – an accountant – said, 'what's it gonna cost?' I said, 'really it doesn't matter what it's gonna cost, it's worth doing it.' I think it actually cost us about £5,000, but it was absolutely worth doing. So we set up these trestle tables outside Withdean at the entrance to the South Stand. We had to have plastic beakers.

Everybody got a glass of champagne – unknown, at a football ground, in history, anywhere in the world, has the whole crowd been served champagne. That's what we do at Brighton, isn't it? Anyway, David Sheepshanks, the Chairman of Ipswich, who I knew very well, who's now the Chair of the FA's St George's Park training ground, he came into the boardroom with one of the other directors. He said to me, 'Dick Knight, what a club you've got, what style.' And he didn't say 'serving champagne', he just said, 'what a club you've got, what style.' There were a lot of laughs in my time as Chairman of the Albion, it wasn't all doom and gloom. That was one of them. Only Brighton and Hove Albion would serve champagne to all of its fans. That was life at Withdean.

AS: Your life before football – can you tell us a bit about that?

DK: Advertising – I think some of you know I've worked in advertising, which is really why the book is called MadMan, because anyone who went...I actually worked in New York in advertising in the 60s, which is the scenario for this well-known TV series called Mad Men, and that was kind of the life I led in the 60s, when I was very young. Why MadMan? Well, anyone who gives up a life of travelling to New York, LA, Milan, Paris, Hong Kong, which is what I did in my job – to swap that to go to places like Accrington and Darlington and Rochdale and Scunthorpe has got to be mad, especially to take over a club that was going out of the league, didn't have a's obvious why the book's called MadMan, isn't it?

In my work in advertising I actually set up my own agency. I'd worked in New York at a big agency, but my agency, we kind of did quite original work. We didn't treat the viewers as morons. We did some interesting stuff for big companies. Some of you may remember we handled an account for Grolsch beer and we hired the special effects expert from the film Poltergeist to reproduce the complete destruction of this house which we shot because this spirit from the film Poltergeist when he went to the fridge in this house at night, opened the fridge door and tried to open a bottle of Grolsch. He couldn't because of the flip-top – that was 'you can't top a Grolsch'. And that was a very famous ad that we did.

We also did the launch of a new business airline that had a brand new fleet of aircraft from a very famous plane manufacturer. We took huge posters which – it was a business airline, in major cities – it showed the side of a plane and said 'it's all business class on this Fokker'. And 'it's a Fokker to get to Paris'. We also worked with some small brands, helping them to get off the ground with some groundbreaking stuff: a cinema commercial which some of you may remember showing some old sepia shots of old couples' photographs, really old, captioned: 'Mr and Mrs Hitler – parents of Adolf'; and another, 'Mr and Mrs Stalin – parents of Joseph'; there were several of those, and the punchline was, 'if only they'd used Jiffy condoms'.

So we did what was shocking and outrageous, and I loved that. But I think the best-known campaign, and the one that was most often mentioned when I wanted to take over the Albion, was the Wonderbra campaign. What happened, we got this account given to us, it was a very small budget. Over 60% of the staff in our agency were women, so the first thing we did was we got all the ladies to wear the Wonderbra and tell us what they thought about it. And they all felt really confident wearing this Wonderbra. So we looked at all the other advertising of bras by all the traditional brands and it was awful – it was either based on the construction of it or it was patronisingly sexist, showing some lady lying in the hay looking like Jane Russell. It was awful, it was terrible.

So we decided to do a campaign with wit, to make a woman the dominant figure in the advertising. The person was controlling the situation. She would be delivering witty lines to the audience, she was in control of the situation 100%. So we were gonna have this lady saying some interesting things, always with wit. Someone came up with 'say goodbye to your feet' – think about that one – but the one we went for initially was 'hello boys'. Simply, straight-on, 'hello boys'. And we needed someone very special, a model, a lady who'd never been in ads before. We were gonna put these ads on these big posters in one or two cities in the UK. Very few posters, we had to make a very big impact. We wanted to make what I call 'fender benders' – trapping people, making them bump into the car in front of them because they were intrigued by the poster.

We concentrated our search on central and Eastern Europe, where my company had some offices. And so in Munich, Budapest, Prague and Warsaw they had these sort of photographic talent contests for unknown ladies. And in the end we brought half a dozen of them to our offices in London, overlooking the Regent's Park Canal. We had this open plan style office, lots of glass everywhere. Most of our meetings were always at the quiet offices, up and down the country, overseas, wherever. The meetings were always at the clients' offices. All of a sudden, in the week that we were having these photo tests with the ladies from Eastern Europe, all the clients wanted to have the meetings at our office, which they did, of course, while the Wonderbra tests were going on.

Eva Herzigova, from Prague, was the obvious choice. The camera loved her and she looked fantastic, but it wasn't a glam shoot. It was about real women, their personalities coming through. Eva is a bright character and has a devilish smile – she was completely in charge of the situation. She had a looked that said 'I'm in charge' as she whispered 'hello boys'. It was English advertising at its best. As soon as the campaign launched we had a huge number of protests from the moral majority in America, thinking that it was sexist. But then the lady that ran the account went all around the world on daytime television demonstrating that it wasn't sexist at all.

We got this huge amount of worldwide publicity for this campaign for a few posters that ran in London, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham. So it was quite an interesting campaign. But that was the one that I'm afraid was my most outstanding one.

AS: As far as famous people in football are concerned, can you give us a couple of examples of anyone you met in the football industry?

DK: Yes, I did meet some very interesting people in the course of my time in football, but this one that I'm going to tell you about actually was before I became Chairman of the Albion. Because I used to go to the Goldstone with Bob and we used to talk about the game...and around the time in the late 60s, early 70s, long before I became involved in the Albion as a Chairman, I began to become very aware of hooliganism rearing its ugly head in football. I was actually at a game at West Ham, when the first ever public hooliganism took place. The boy that ran on the pitch and attacked the referee was all over the front pages the next day. He was an Everton fan annoyed about a penalty decision. So I began thinking that football needed to engage with people rather than actually allow this to happen.

Because I had some contacts in the media, I came up with this idea of Men of the Match – people would be engaged in the game, because everyone at the game talks about the players, don't they? So the idea would be that five people had to choose the best five players of the game in the correct order against a panel of judges. I managed to arrange a meeting with Alan Hardaker, who was the number one man in British football at the time, he was the Chairman of the Football League and the Premier League.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, that thing happened with all the clubs in the country – I launched this competition from...I was still working in an ad agency, and all the clubs supported it. I had letters from people like Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, all the top players, managers, clubs supported it. I was working my way up in advertising and didn't wanna really have a career in football competitions. So I let this thing just drift a way for a while, but in 1972 was one of the first times there was a television game live. Those of you old enough know that there was no live television in the early 1970s, just the occasional game. It was the 1972 Euros, and there was going to be a game against Germany at the old Wembley. I thought this was a perfect time to revive my competition. I had to take ads in the national press, I called in a few favours in Fleet Street and put my ads in the press, and I also had a big prize. In the league competition it was £1,000 a week, which is about £25,000 in today's money. But this special match, on television, I had a £5,000 first prize, which was a lot of money. And I felt I had to get some really big-name judges to be the people who judged the games. So people felt they were making their judgements against the very best.

So I thought about the people who'd been helpful to my league scheme and I called Alan Hardaker – Joe Mercer, who was the manager of Manchester City when they'd just won the league, and Bill Shankly, the legendary Bill Shankly. They'd both been very supportive of this competition when it had been running earlier. So I called up Hardacre, asking if he could give me their numbers and asking him to phone them, which he did, asking them if they were prepared to be the judges, which they were. So I got Shankly's number and I got Joe Mercer's number. I called up Bill Shankly on his private number and his wife Nessie answered the phone – he never, ever answered the phone. She said, 'oh yes, Bill's expecting your call.' So I get put through to the great Bill Shankly. He said, in that sharp Scottish voice, 'hello there, Dick, we're playing in London on Saturday (Liverpool). So come and see me on Friday evening at the Russell Square Hotel at 7pm. The lounge will be full of reporters, so go to the concierge and ask for Mr Scott, and they'll direct you up to my room.'

Liverpool were always a big story when they were in town and so he was absolutely right about the reporters – there were about 20 of them in the hotel reception, most of whom I recognised from my bylines. I said, 'Dick Knight, to see Mr Scott'. He said, 'yes sir, go to the sixth floor, room 615.' So I went up there, knocked on the door of Shankly's suite. 'Hang on, hang on.' The door opened, there's Bill Shankly standing there, right? 'Come in, young man, come in.' So I go in and he's got this suite. And he said, 'what would you like to drink?' So I thought he was offering me a gin and tonic and something, but it was only orange juice or lemonade, that was it – he wasn't offering me anything else.

So he knew about the general idea of this competition. He wanted me to talk him through it. He had to pick the best players in order. He was very enthusiastic. 'It's a great idea,' he said, 'I'm honoured for you to ask me, a Scot, to make a judgement on England players.' So I told him he was so supportive of the competition when it was running in the league a few years ago. He said, 'it's alright, you'll get a huge response.' I said, 'well don't forget, there's Joe Mercer as well, who's also a judge.' 'Ah yes, Joe, a good man,' he said. 'Played for Everton, never mind, never mind.' So we talked about football and I mentioned that I liked West Ham, which I talk about in my book. And I liked Trevor Brooking. West Ham were Liverpool's opponents the following day. He said, 'why do you like Trevor Brooking?' I explained that I liked their way of playing and I liked his style of passing. He said, 'yes, but Brooking, he's not tough enough,' so that was his view.

We talked football for about an hour, and eventually I needed to go to the toilet. He said, 'it's off in the other room, you go through the bedroom and it's there.' So I went into the bedroom and then I couldn't believe what I saw. Laid out on the bed were Bill Shankly's pyjamas, and they were rather special pyjamas because they were in red silk, just like the playing strip at Liverpool, with the club crest. And obviously I'm just looking at this and thinking, 'I don't believe this, I'm the only person who knows from this apart from Nessie.' Obviously I was...'you ok in there?' he said. 'You ok?' I said 'I'm just looking at your pyjamas.' He said, 'Great.' He lifted them up and there on the back was number 4, which was his playing number when he played. In those days the name never went on the back. He said, 'don't you ever tell anybody.' I said, 'Bill, I swear I'll never tell anyone as long as you live.' Which I never did, this is the first time this story's ever come out.

But Bill Shankly, what a great guy. And I kept that secret for a long time. He won't mind me bringing it out now in my book, but what happened...Germany won that game, there were about 25,000 entries and Bill Shankly had a very interesting selection, so there was only one winner in the end. Shankly and Joe Mercer were great, legendary football guys, both of them wonderful people.

Question (from the audience): What would you regard as your most bizarre incidents of the 'war years'?

DK: The mediation process was fascinating because David Davies, of the FA, instigated that. In those days I used to chain-smoke. We were there one night – these mediations went on into the early hours – and we were there one rainy, wintry night, pouring with rain. And I opened the window of this smoke-filled room to let some air in. I heard this rustling in the trees. All of a sudden there was more rustling, and then this thump as someone hit the ground. And it turned out to be poor old Andy Naylor. The talks were completely confidential, so poor Andy was trying to do his job and find something that he could report. He had his ear pressed to the window and I opened it, and he fell. That was Andy, my old sparring partner.

There were many bizarre things we went through. It was a lesson that we taught a lot of other people very quickly, that fans could fight back. I remember going to Wrexham once, when they were having problems with their Chairman, and the wit that comes out from football fans is brilliant. These things are natural, that people will have this humour in football. I mean Skint, for example, is a wonderful example of that. When I persuaded them to not only sponsor the shirt but also to take the word 'Records' off, so that we were exactly what we said on the shirt. And then of course we played Barnet once, who were sponsored by Loaded. Before the games start the teams line up next to each other and they're all growling, trying to give themselves a bit of confidence and intimidate the other team. When we started wearing Skint on our shirt the other players would start laughing.

It was brilliant because we put a smile on faces. One of my first objectives was to do that, to give people their mojo back about the Albion. They needed to feel good about the Albion, not this huge depressive pit that we were in. So those were the sort of things that we did. They were all part of the battle to put the club back on the right track.

Q: Who was the most consistent player that you've seen at the Albion?

DK: When I was Chairman?

Q: Throughout your watching career.

DK: I think Mark Lawrenson was the best. He was consistently excellent and he's a pretty obvious choice, to be honest. He went on to great things, but I remember – going right back to when he first came to the Albion – he played for Preston North End in the year before we signed him at the Goldstone. We were near the top of the league and Preston came and defended brilliantly. There was this young guy playing at centre-half whose name was Mark Lawrenson. And I said to my son, 'he's brilliant, this guy, we need to sign him – he's so much better than anyone else.' Alan Mullery signed him at the end of that season with Gary Williams at left-back, who was also at Preston.

We'd got Lawrenson, and he used to rampage forward with the ball. I used to tell my advertising friends in London that we'd got a player down at Brighton who was as good as Franz Beckenbauer in the fact that he can take the ball, win the ball, read it, go forward. Brian Horton told me, years later – Brian was a fair goalscoring midfielder, as you know – but when Lawrenson went forward he used to shout out to Horton, 'cover for me, skip, go back and cover for me, 'cos I'm going forward.' That's what was happening on the field of play. But he was absolutely outstanding, Mark Lawrenson. He would have walked into the England team if he hadn't chosen to play for Ireland before, because his grandparents were Irish.

But in more recent years, I think Liam Bridcutt is a wonderful player who is an example of a young player at a top Premier League club today who's never gonna get a chance at that Premier League club. And he has proved himself, he is definitely good enough to play in the Premier League, and he will do, I'm certain of it.

My great-nephew, Michael Standing, was an example of a player who went to a top Premier League club, Aston Villa, but because of the position he played in, midfield playmaker, found it very hard to break through. His best mate, Gareth Barry, went to Aston Villa and has recently passed 500 games in the Premier League, as well as playing 60 or 70 times. And there's a chapter in that book about how I managed to get £1 million for Gareth Barry when he'd never played in our reserve team, let alone our first team. That was one of the best deals I ever did, but not the best.

Q: What was the best deal then, Dick?

DK: Read the book.

Q: With all due respect to Adam Virgo and the legend that he is, how did you manage to fleece Celtic for £1 million?

DK: We were on holiday in Cyprus and I kept getting taken away by these phonecalls coming in from Celtic. I was spending all my time on the phone. Their chief executive came on the phone. I thought I'd ended it because I thought Adam was worth £200,000, max, really.

But we were in a unique position because Gordon Strachan, who'd taken a sabbatical from football, kept coming to Withdean that season. Adam was our best player, he'd got nine goals, he kept us in the Championship. And I knew that Gordon liked Adam. And I was able to take advantage of the fact that he'd gone to Celtic as manager and Adam was going to be his first signing. So Celtic didn't wanna upset their new manager So I just kept holding out – I said, 'I'm not selling him, I'm not selling him, I'm going back on the beach.' And their chief executive got up to £600,000 or £850,000 and I said no, it's not enough. So he said, 'you know, Dick, we're deadly serious about this. Dermot Desmond is going to get involved.' He's the owner of Celtic and a very serious businessman. I said, 'well, fine, but I'm not gonna sell him.' That's how I got it up to £1.5 million, because Dermot came on the phone saying 'Dick, I hear you're having a good holiday.' I said, 'Dermot, don't waste my time and yours. Cut to the quick.' And in the'll read it in the book, because it's there in the book.

We finished up as friends, which takes some doing when you've taken £1.5 million. And it was all cash, and it was all upfront with no conditions. I said, 'this is not conditional on you winning the European Champions League and Adam scoring a hat-trick. I want one-and-a-half million, and I want it in cash, and the only concession I'm going to give you is that you give us a million now and a half-million at Christmas.' This was in July. And that's what we got.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Fans' Forum transcript

Panel: Tony Bloom, Oscar Garcia, Paul Barber, Nathan Jones

Q: Welcome Oscar, welcome back Nathan. My question is for Tony: the club has said that we wish to play at the highest possible level, which presumably means promotion to the Premier League. I was wondering, however, what your view or the board's view would be of the minimum acceptable finish for this coming season in the league?

TB: Thank you very much for that opening question. I've got to be a little bit careful - Oscar's just here on my left so I don't want to put him under too much pressure before the season even starts. It's always a difficult one. We aim to get to the Premiership, it's a very competitive division as we know and every season, at the start of the season, we have to try and have a squad we think is capable of promotion. I certainly think this season we have that. You can get a couple of injuries or a few bad games and be just outside the play-offs; we could get a bit of luck and finish in the top two. But I think if we finish in the top six we've got to be happy. If we're in the play-offs again hopefully we'll get a bit of luck. But it's very difficult to say, I mean outside the play-offs we're not going to be happy but at the end of the day we try and be competitive so that we have a reasonable chance of promotion every season within the Championship.

Q: How does the Amex Stadium rank in the many that you have been to as a player and coach?

OG: It's much better than most of the stadiums, more new, that I have played in in Spain. I have played in bigger stadiums but now it's my house, it's an amazing stadium and hopefully I can stay here for a long time every year in front of you, every game helping the team to win many game. This is my target, my objective now.

Q: Is there any chance of any new faces before Leeds?

TB: We've just re-signed David - we're delighted with that - and we've just signed Kemy Agustien, so we're really happy with the business we've done this week. There won't be anything more before Saturday you won't be surprised to hear, but certainly between now and the end of August we'll be looking for a couple of new faces.

Q: The club's financial year ended on the 30th of June. Do you have any initial views on how the club performed last year? Have we managed to reduce the losses or even turn in a profit and how are we looking to improve the situation this year?

PB: We're working very hard on that. It's been difficult, as you know, to get across some of the messages that we've had. We're losing around £8 or £9 million a year - that's not gonna change in the immediate term. We've got a lot of work to do to bring down our costs, we've been working very hard during the summer to do that. Unfortunately that's meant that we've lost some jobs here at the Amex, which is always a very disappointing thing to have to do for any business. We're also working very hard to become more efficient. With efficiencies, with cost reductions, we'll start to reduce those losses, but just as importantly we've got to grow our revenues, and that means we've got to fill the stadium, we've got to ensure that 1901 is as successful as it possibly can be, we've got to bring in new sponsorship deals, we've actually got to work much harder to bring in the money. You can't do these things in isolation: you need to boost revenues, you need to bring down costs, and the more we can do that the better our Financial Fair Play result, the better our opportunity to invest on the football pitch. Then you can create a virtuous circle because the more successful we are out there, the easier it is to run the business over on this side and the easier it is then to invest in the players. So there's still a lot of work to do, you're not going to see results in the short-term. It's going to be a long-term process and we've got to keep working at it.

Q: Are there any figures you can reveal?

PB: Not at this stage but we've said several times that the losses for the last year are gonna be pretty much in line with - maybe a little bit more than - the previous year. We've had to do some restructuring and take some costs in order to actually bring down our costs in the longer term. That's quite normal for a business that goes through a restructuring process, but this isn't easy you know. This isn't an easy business to run at the best of times and when you move from a stadium like Withdean to the Amex it's a massive transformation, it's enormous. You can't imagine the difference in the football club from the way it was to the way it is. You can't imagine how difficult it is to try and estimate the way we need to run the football club from that kind of transition. And therefore it's not surprising that over the first couple of years here we went to extremes to make sure that everything worked for you, the supporters, and it did, it's been phenomenal. But now we've been settled in for two years we need to start re-engineering, bringing down those costs, becoming more efficient, and the better we can get at doing that the easier it is to run the football club and be successful on the pitch. But it takes time, it's not a quick fix. We have to be patient, we have to work together. There will be times when you think 'crikey, why are you doing that? What's all that about? Why are you punishing us, the fans, by charging us more for this or taking away that?' But all of it has some method to the madness, all of it is part of a plan to get us to a better financial place as quickly as we can, but with the added pressure now of Financial Fair Play. I know all you lot think I'm boring about that but it's here, it's not going away and we are one of the clubs that have embraced it quickly because we wanna get ahead of the game. And there might be others that are still playing with it, that think it's gonna go away, there might be others out there that don't take it too seriously. But we are taking it seriously because we don't think it's gonna go away. We think that will give us a competitive advantage in the long term. So you're gonna have to bear with us and we'll keep communicating, we'll keep explaining, we'll keep answering your questions. We'll keep taking some blows from time to time because you have a right to have your say. But we think we're doing it for the right reasons and we hope you'll see the benefit.

Q: On that front Tony, last year in terms of home attendances Albion were number one. You must be delighted with that?

TB: It was amazing to see with the extra capacity, up to 30,000, to get close to capacity on so many games at the end of the season was just great for Brighton fans across the county, particularly those ones, like me, who remember the old days at the Goldstone when we were getting those sort of crowds. Back to the original question on the losses, it's impossible to be in the Championship and be competitive without any parachute payments and not make a loss, so the sooner we get to the Premiership the much better the position we are in. That's the key - we want to be competitive on the pitch and that, unfortunately, means whatever we do - however good our revenues and costs - we wanna be competitive with our players. And so it's inevitable that we will be making losses in this division. But hopefully if we do get to the Premiership then that's a totally different ball game, and a lot more now even than last season, because the difference is just getting greater and greater between the two divisions from a financial point of view.

Q: Tony, there have been suggestions that there are changes being made in the way that player transfers are being managed with the new management team this year. Can you give us any indication as to whether that's the case and how things are working out? Who does call the shots and make the final decision on who gets bought and sold?

TB: The structure of how we do player negotiations hasn't changed at all since I became Chairman. So it's myself, David Burke - Head of Football Operations - and Oscar, the Head Coach. We work between us. David does the work, he does all the preparation, he's on top of all the scouting. Oscar will look at the players when they get to a shortlist. He will decide at the end of the day who he wants to bring in, and then David will be doing most of the negotiations. I'm there to authorise everything, to make sure everything is as we need it to be within the budget.

Q: Coming in from Worthing this evening on the train, passing by the new academy site - what a fantastic site that looks, just immense - bearing in mind the problems that we've had in the last couple of seasons, and I'm sorry to be putting shivers up Oscar's spine but the state of the training pitches has been a problem - are we likely to see any of the pitches ready during this season so that we can at least train on them?

TB: Oscar would love to have it available but the new training pitches and all the facilities and everything for the academy will be ready for pre-season in 2014. Unfortunately it won't be ready before that.

Q: Just going back to improving the revenues possibilities - this is presumably to Tony and Paul - would Brighton perhaps be interested at all in having the Safe Standing scheme introduced at the Amex? I think it's an increase almost of double the number of people that can go in when it's in place. If you have the lower sections of the ground as a Safe Standing area, obviously that would then be able to improve the numbers. I appreciate that to get the funding for the stadium in the first place we went through the Football Association - I can't remember the name of the scheme, but it said you weren't allowed to have funding. There might be a pilot going on I believe, so in the future would that be something that Brighton would possibly be interested in? It might help the atmosphere as well?

PB: Again, Martin [Perry] is feeling a bit queasy over there. First of all the current legislation doesn't allow it. At this level we have to provide an all-seater stadium. The second issue is that the stadium we've got here is built to be an all-seater, so all the concourses, all of the exits, all of the ways in and out of the stadium are built for people to be seated and moving through that section from a seated position. So it doesn't necessarily follow that we can automatically convert our stadium for Safe Standing. If we could it doesn't automatically convert that we'd get extra capacity, and if we could it doesn't automatically convert that we would actually make more money. So there's a number of issues there, but the biggest one - nope, it's true - the biggest one at the moment is that the current legislation doesn't allow it. So the only thing that you might have heard recently is the Football League agreed in principle that if a club wishes to develop a new stadium or redevelop an old one then none of the other clubs would be objecting to that club trialling Safe Standing if the legislation allowed it. But that's quite a big step from where we are now. Our view here has always been that this is one of the most beautiful stadiums, I think, in the world. And every seat in this stadium provides a great view. We don't have any areas in the stadium where anyone - whether they're big, small, fat, thin, male, female, able-bodied, disabled - is excluded from that. We want to try and keep it that way if we can. But we also understand that there's great atmosphere developed when some people stand and we know that some people prefer to stand. We've never been totally against it, I've never been totally against it, Tony's never been totally against it, we've got an open mind. But we have to work with the current legislation.

Q: When it comes to the actual ticketing website, people go on there. And I know people who have gone on there and all people have got different preferences, budgets, where they want to sit. They've gone on there to get lower-priced tickets and they're just not available sometimes, they're just higher price. I know the club release to keep the stewarding down, but there should always be a minimum of low-priced tickets on there as well for the real fans that can't afford to come along and that want to sit in them areas. Why are they just not on the website and they're forced to sit somewhere else at more expensive prices?

PB: Well let's just kill that. We don't hold back tickets just because we want to sell the higher-priced first. There are a number of late releases of tickets and very often they are tickets that are released back to us from sponsors, from guests and from a range of other sources and we will release those as we have them. For cup games it is different. We have reduced the capacity of the stadium so we can keep our stewarding costs down - that's sensible and in a Financial Fair Play environment that's necessary, to be honest. But we always try and make sure that we have seats available in every block in every stand for as long as they're available. If they're not showing as available it's because there's a reason for that and they've been pre-allocated or they're being set aside for league sponsors, league guests, a whole bunch of reasons. But there's no strict policy of actually withholding cheap seats in favour of more expensive seats. We will try and sell TV side first, where we can, because if we're on a live TV game that's what the TV companies and the League would prefer us to do. But overall we try and fill as many areas of the ground as we can. From my point of view I'd just simply rather have the whole stadium full every time. And we've got a number of new initiatives, whether it's with the kids, schools, disadvantaged groups, Albion in the Community, where we're trying to get as many new people into the stadium as we can. And if they're from groups that can't afford it or can't pay the higher prices we will try and keep those sections free so that we can fill them with those people. So it's a combination of different things that we have out there. But it is an absolute myth that we hold back cheap tickets in favour of higher priced tickets - that just isn't true.

Q: The club has really been at the forefront of community work with Albion in the Community. I know we won lots of awards in previous years and done some fantastic work. Are we going to continue the level of support for AITC and are we going to grow it in fact to expand the project? I know in this day and age with money tight it can be difficult to support these sort of projects but do we have an assurance that AITC will continue in its present form and be allowed to grow as well?

PB: First of all AITC has done some fantastic work, it has for many years. Unfortunately over the last year or so AITC has lost money so we have had to look at the areas that we work in. We wanna focus more on Brighton, Hove, Sussex as a whole. We don't want to expand the reach of the scheme to do more international work, we don't think that's appropriate for the club and we can't have our charitable arm losing money, that's just ridiculous. So we are focusing more on the activities that are more local to us, the communities that really serve this club and support this club, and we think that we should be supporting those communities. So what you'll see over the next with Michael Edwards as the Chief Executive is much more of a focus on Sussex. That means trimming back some of the more international activities that AITC started to get involved in. But in terms of commitment it's a massive part of what we do, it's a very, very important part of our brand and long may that continue.

Q: Oscar, we've enjoyed watching the friendlies and seeing so many of the Development Squad players out on the pitch doing a good job, particularly Solly March of course on Tuesday. From your own experience of working with development people how keen are you to get the DS out onto the pitch in proper, competitive league matches?

OG: I like to work with young players because they have open minds, they want to work hard. But everything has a process. If they have enough quality to play I will be pleased to give them minutes. I don't care which game if I think they can help us to win games. You said Solly March - he's 18 years old, we cannot put much pressure to him, he has to play maybe with the DS after one game with us. But I want as many young players practicing with us. They will improve a lot, I like to work with young players because when I was a young player I improved a lot when I start to practice with the first team.

Q: This is for Tony I guess, and for Oscar. Could you reveal how many season tickets we have sold this season? How is Oscar feeling about managing in front of that many fans?

PB: It's over 23,000 season tickets - the highest ever.

OG: Ok, last season, in Tel Aviv, most of the games we had 20,000 people in the stadium. I like English football, I like English fans. I am very happy and pleased to be here, proud to be the Head Coach of this club, and I hope and I wish that everything will be ok for everybody. I want that you will be happy. I want all the fans to enjoy how we will play. Of course I want to win as many games as possible but always playing for you, playing for the fans, because you are the heart of the club, you are the heart of the football, because football without fans is nothing.

Q: You talk about Maccabi Tel Aviv. How do things compare in Israel to the Championship in the UK? What are they like?

OG: About football?

Q: Yeah.

OG: I think this league, the Championship, has more level than Israeli league. But the Israeli league has many good players and three or four teams that can compete in this league. And also I am very happy to have been a coach there, a big team. They didn't win a league from ten years ago. For them it was very important to win the league and now they are playing the preliminary games of the Champions League. It's very important for the Israeli people and all the fans of Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Q: First of all I'd like to congratulate Tony Bloom for bringing in someone who's a dead ringer for Stuart Storer, who scored a fantastic goal for us against Doncaster which helped to keep us in the league. For Oscar, are you looking to bring in any more Spanish connections, given your background?

OG: We are looking for good players, I don't care their nationality. I want to work with English players because they love this team, they know what this team. But for sure we are looking for good players - I don't care if they are Spanish or English or Welsh. But only good players.

Q: The new fixture list shows a lot more weekend fixtures this year. Does this impact in a positive way on matchday sales and what is the differential when it comes to midweek fixtures?

PB: That's a really good question. Actually, last season our best night for matches was Friday. That was our best night in terms of season ticket holder attendance, which is always a good measure. The second-highest was obviously Saturday. Saturday's still a popular day for football fans and that's fantastic. But obviously midweek games are difficult - we've got a lot of people that work in London, a lot of people that have got kids running backwards and forwards to school across Sussex and other commitments and all other stuff. So Tuesday night games to really help us, Friday night games are fantastic. I'd be delighted if all of them were on Friday night to be honest, looking at the figures. You guys seem to drink a lot more on Friday. I don't know why that would be, maybe the two days to recover helps. But overall the fixture list obviously will change the more games get announced. But Friday night, Saturday, they're the two best days.

Q: I hope we get a couple more new signings before the start of the season. I know we're looking a bit light up front with the injury to Hoskins and I think CMS is going to be out for a period of time still. I just wonder if Oscar could tell me in what areas does he think, if any, we need to strengthen?

OG: I am like all the managers - I want to improve every day the team. Obviously we have not many players in some positions but I don't want to tell you which positions because we have maybe one player there and it's not good for him, I want to respect everybody. For sure I want to improve the team, the squad, like all the managers. The club are trying to find the correct players but we have time until the end of August to join some players.

Q: Bearing in mind the Financial Fair Play rules and the club is looking to maximise their revenues, does it have any plans in the future to sign up with a kit brand more established and more desireable than Errea? He suggests Adidas or Umbro.

PB: He does, ok, thank you for that. Well first of all Errea have been fantastic supporters of the club over a long period of time. Obviously in our world, the football world, lower level teams sometimes struggle to secure kit manufacturing teams. I think it's really important to respect that Errea did support us when we were at a lower level and they did support us through some difficult times. This is the first time I've worked with them and they've been terrific. We have been tendering the kit manufacturing process, we did need to lift the value of the deal to us so we did go out to the market, we did have a tender process. Errea were part of that tender. They didn't win, I can tell you that much, I can't tell you who did win but we will have a new kit manufacturer for next season.

Q: At the end of last season we were told travel costs would go up to £50. Some of the buses to the outskirts were in poor condition. You've announced new procedures with Seagulls Travel which may have upset a few people. Would it be possible to look at this issue again? It would certainly save on carbon footprint.

PB: First of all, we're sorry for the way the communication about the changes to the Park and Ride buses came about. It wasn't our design - unfortunately the bus company jumped the gun on the discussions that we were having. Also, these things ideally would be in a sequence - you would have these discussions before the season ticket process starts, you'd then sell your season tickets on the back of the decision that you've made. But unfortunately sometimes the world isn't perfect and these discussions sometimes can be complex, sometimes they can take more time than you think. Season ticket sales don't wait so if you get to a point where you haven't concluded discussions on the transport and you have to sell season tickets, you have to sell season tickets because Tony and David need to know what money we've got coming in for the transfer window. So we will never hold up ticket sales, it's a very, very important part of our budget. So that went. We then concluded the discussion with the bus companies. We couldn't reach an agreement with Brighton and Hove Buses on those routes. They weren't good ones - they got more complaints last year than any other routes that we run to the stadium on a matchday so we had to improve them. The only way we could improve them was to take them out of regular service and put in a new service, which unfortunately is more expensive. We're not in a position to subsidise the travel any more than we already are so we've had to ask fans on that route for a contribution. That's something that we wouldn't do unless we felt that the service was going to be better and if we felt that we couldn't have actually helped with ourselves. We are still subsidising it but we can't subsidise it to the full amount. In terms of the overall travel plan, it's constantly under review. We've got people that are looking all the time at what works, what doesn't work, talking to the train companies, talking to the bus companies, seeing if we can actually improve things getting in and out of the car parks, I know that can be an issue. But again, at a football ground anywhere in the country, for anyone that comes in by car or leaves by train or has to get a bus is always going to be subject to some delay. I mean any of you who've been to Old Trafford in the last few years, believe me, if the game finishes at ten to five you'll be lucky to get out of Old Trafford by seven o'clock if you're in a car. It really is very, very difficult to move 20-30,000 people out of a stadium in a very short order regardless of the transport. For me, having worked in football a long time, the transport plan here and the accessibility of this stadium is phenomenal. I've never seen anything work quite as well as this does. And I know there are problems from time to time and I know every so often there are a few issues and queues are longer than they should be and buses break down and trains are overcrowded but believe me, it's good. And I think any of you that have travelled around the country to some of the other grounds will know that 30,000 people, in and out of a stadium like this in the way that we do it, is pretty special. And I think that Martin and Steve and the guys that put that transport plan together deserve a lot of credit for it, but it's never going to be perfect. We'll always listen to your ideas - if you've got ideas, if you've got ways you think we can improve it, please just email us, we'll always listen to those and if we can make them work we will.

Q: Following on from the transport theme, the train station at Falmer is quite a short platform - are there any discussions on the way with Southern Rail or Network Rail about extending the platform and what are the plans, if any?

PB: We already have extended it to some degree. You may not have noticed that, I think it's because the capacity of the stadium has expanded. You probably don't notice the number of extra people on the platform but we have done that, and again there's always discussions with the rail companies about how to make that service even better, whether it's longer trains or longer platforms or whatever. As always with these things, train companies don't move that fast. Discussions with's a bit like the Boxing Day issue last year: we didn't have the transport we needed to put on a Boxing Day game. So unfortunately we had to move that game. In order to get that transport up and running on Boxing Day the Football League have been kind to us and effectively we've not got a Boxing Day game this year which gives us time because that fixture's very special to us. Anyone who's a football fan loves football on a Boxing Day - I mean, what else do you do on a Boxing Day? We need that game desperately. I mean, can you imagine the whole day spent with your family? It would be a disaster, wouldn't it? So believe me, we want that Boxing Day game as much as you do and the transport is part of that and therefore the discussions with the transport companies have taken place and we should be ok for next year for sure. But bear with us for transport because it's a lot harder than you think and I'd much rather run a football club every day than deal with the transport companies, that's for sure.

Q: It's a question for Tony, maybe for Oscar as well. This summer we saw Bournemouth get a lot of publicity when they had Real Madrid visit for a friendly. Obviously I know it cost them a lot of money. From a revenue point of view is that something we would consider, maybe Barcelona with Oscar here?

TB: They paid a lot of money to Madrid for that game and they charged the fans, I think it was about £60. And they did sell out, but I don't think our fans would be happy to pay that amount for pre-season against Madrid. Not only that, the club would have lost money for sure because, from what I heard, they had to pay something like a million Euros to Madrid to host that game. For me, I don't think it's worthwhile. We got Chelsea last season which was a big coup, we didn't lose money on that game. Yeah, we did charge more than we normally would do for a pre-season friendly, but for the Champions League winners I think most fans were happy to pay that. So if we can get them where we don't lose money - we get a Barcelona or a Madrid and break even - we would do it all day long, but that's really difficult because they're high demand. Oscar, Barcelona?

OG: Barcelona, if they want, we can go there to play them.

Q: I've got a footballing question for Nathan, actually. Delighted you're at the club mate, I must admit. Just a quick one: how are you gelling with the team at the moment? Is the chemistry good? Do you see a big future for this club in this team at the moment?

NJ: Definitely. The club's unrecognisable from when I was here the first time, it's fantastic. This is what Micky Adams told me was going to happen in 2000. But no, the team's training really well, it's an exciting time. It's a new sort of beginning, they've all gelled. With what Oscar's wanting to do we've put in the new training regime and everything and they've responded really well. Oscar has his own ideas and mine are pretty similar to Oscar's really, that's how we've gelled quite quickly. Training's gone really, really well. We've had pre-season, come to the end of pre-season, we're ready for the challenge at Leeds and we're looking forward to a real challenging season this year.

Q: Question for Oscar: obviously you've got Leeds first game but with Newport coming up, different managers have different opinions on how they value the cups. So firstly how do you see the cup game compared to the Championship game and secondly you said about playing the Development Squad players - do you think that's more of a better opportunity to perhaps rest some first team players and bring them in?

OG: Ok, before Newport, we have only played one game, and most of the players they have not to rest. We will choose our best first 11 to win every game. We'll have to think about all of these things, of course, but I cannot tell you the cup...the players that will play in the league will be different than the players we play in the cup. In each game we'll have to see how many players we will have, how many players are fit to play, which one maybe he needs rest or not. But I'm not thinking to change all the team when we play cup and when we play league. I want that all the players deserve to play every game and then it will be difficult for us but it's our job to find, to choose the best 11.

Q: Just going back to the logistics of the transport, both Paul and Tony - is it possible that Brighton could invest in their own rolling stock? We can have a transport system from Brighton to Lewes continually rolling during the period of the game that isn't reliant on the actual Southern Rail timetable. Cos we haven't got any choice but to go with what the timetable is. We've got commuters etc at the weekends, during the week, then you've got your leisure travellers at the weekend, and it's a mixture of football supporters and people who are not necessarily wanting to get involved with all that. I don't know whether it's a possibility but it's just a thought.

PB: I've been asked if we're going to take catering in-house but not trains before. The problem is the rail companies in this country, or the rail network in this country, is so complicated now. The track's owned by somebody, the stock's owned by someone else, the platforms are operated by different people. It's not something I think we could realistically look at to be honest, and I think I'd rather work with the rail companies as far as possible to improve what we've got and keep focused on football teams and ticket sales.

Q: Just wanted to ask Paul, in the interests of boosting revenue, I just wonder why catering's outsourced's generally a bit of a farce, people want to spend money and they can't because they're standing in a queue. I think the club must look at that and think 'we're just throwing money in the bin here.' Why is it outsourced and why do you employ such muppets to do it?

PB: Let me tackle the second one first. Football stadium catering is a very, very hard thing to do. Sodexo Prestige, who've just come in, are the second-largest caterers in the world, operate Royal Ascot, operate some of the biggest stadiums in the world. They've been here five minutes - give them a chance. You are operating effectively one of the biggest shops, if you like, 30,000 people coming through your door in three hours. The biggest Sainsbury's in the UK can't cope with that. The biggest restaurant in the UK can't cope with that. And they've got just 25 times a year in which to get that operation right, which means that the labour you employ in a football club for stadium catering is usually casual. It's usually only employed to do that particular job, so you get a lot of university kids. Those kids come in usually towards the back end of August, early September. So during this period you have even more casuals, even more of them are not actually used to working in stadium environments, working different tills, different products. These aren't excuses, they're just facts that every football club has to work with. You then get massive influxes of people at the same time who usually want to be served in really quick order so that they can get another one as quickly as possible. All of these are challenges for football clubs everywhere and I've never worked with a catering firm that's first of all got it right from the word go - at any stadium in any season. At Tottenham, back in 2001 when I was with the FA and we had England-Holland there, Tottenham decided on their first game of that season to have new caterers, new security, new car park attendants - it was an absolute disaster from start to finish. And within a month those caterers got it under control, got it working, got the systems right. I've got no doubt that the same will happen here again. It didn't work last year, we got into a difficult spot with Azure - the standards weren't good enough, the quality wasn't good enough, the pricing wasn't right, the service levels weren't right, the management attitude wasn't right, and we took a big decision and we fired them. We then brought in emergency caterers who did a great job for us. We then had a competitive tender and unfortunately the emergency caterers lost out. Why don't we do it ourselves? Well first of all we're not in the catering business. Secondly, we do get paid quite a large sum of money, guaranteed to us for our catering business. And we need to focus on all of the things within the football club that are more football-related. Catering is not what we do, it's not a core business for us. It's core to supporters and it's core to the match experience. So I'd much rather us focus our time and our energy managing our caterers on behalf of our supporters to give them the best possible service. And I can do that slightly away from doing it myself, because believe me it's a massively complex operation and these guys do it for a living and we don't. And I don't know many football clubs in the world that do it themselves of any size. It really is very, very difficult. And most football clubs would rather have the money guaranteed to them and then work with their caterer to make sure the service is right, and that's what we have to do. And if it's not right we have to get it right. If it's too highly priced we need to make sure that it's at the right level that people can afford.

Q: [Something about the catering staff and idiocy]

PB: It's not idiotic because you've got young people as casual staff. You can do as much training as you want during the summer but there is absolutely for no substitute for getting in front of 30,000 people. And again going back to my past life, I can remember when the FA had McDonald's as a sponsor and I was given the chance to go out and work at Piccadilly Circus McDonald's. I was given two days' training at McDonald's head office in East Finchley and I thought I'd cracked it. There was never a better milkshake pourer than me, believe me. I get into Piccadilly Circus, 300-400 people an hour coming through the door, and everything you've learned suddenly goes to jelly. You start thinking of completely different things and your service levels slow down. Within a few days, however, you start to get into it. We don't have that luxury - for us, a few days is four or five games, which is a quarter of the way into the season. So it's a very, very different process and we can't afford - no football club can afford - to go out and hire professional catering casuals. They just don't exist. So most of the people are people of university age, my son's age, very many people in this room's son's and daughter's ages, and all over the country you'll find that football stadiums are employing those people. As the season goes on it'll get better, it'll get quicker, we'll take more money, as it did last year. We got virtually zero complaints by the end of last season about concourse catering in terms of service levels. Of course there are queues, but when you've got a 15-minute half-time period and 20,000 people want a beer it's gonna be busy. So we've just gotta be patient, we've got to give these guys a chance, work with them and get their training levels up. Based on the stadium figures for last year we weren't muppets - we were selling 20,000 pints per game, Old Trafford doesn't sell 20,000 pints per game, Wembley doesn't sell 20,000 pints per game. So there's nothing wrong with the process, nothing wrong with the staff. And most of the staff back here by September are the same staff that you had here at the back end of last season. But they're kids that are operating over here and over there, and they're not back here yet.

Q: What plans do you have for the East Brasserie? We enjoy using the facilities, are you looking to open it pre-match?

PB: Yep, we're looking at that as well.

Q: Question for Oscar: under the previous manager we very rarely saw two wingers on the pitch at the same time. We very rarely saw two strikers. Is that something we're going to see this year, in Oscar's teams?

OG: What we try to do is to win the games and sometimes we will need two strikers, but initially I prefer to play with one striker and two wingers. But I don't think it's the only way to play. It's the way I like to play but sometimes maybe you need something more, for example if the other team has a player, then maybe you will have to add another striker to push the other team. It depends on the game.

Q: Another one for Oscar: what do you think your biggest challenge will be over the next month?

OG: Like every month - to win as many games as possible.

Q: This is a question for Tony: I think there's been an elephant in the room, and whilst I want to look forward and everybody has, I don't think I can leave this meeting without at least touching on this. Losing to Crystal Palace in the play-offs was obviously very upsetting for everybody and I'm sure the board, but to find your manager - with all due respect to Oscar here - has been suspended for breach of contract is a double blow and I just wondered whether Tony is in a position to explain something to us all here about what happened?

TB: I had a great relationship with Gus for three years. So it's just very, very disappointing the way things finished. It got triggered by a phone call that he made to me four days before the first league game against Crystal Palace at home in March, when he phoned me up and he made it clear to me that he wanted to leave at the end of the season. And he didn't want to discuss it at all, and he said that if he could leave, if it would be allowable for him to leave the next day that would be fine. So this was hugely shocking to me and it was something I had to manage between then and the end of the season. Obviously the key was the players and the team and our promotion push, I didn't want anything to get in the way of that. And then lots of things happened between then and the end of the season which I don't want to discuss, but I just want to look forward now because we've got Oscar here, we've got a great coaching team with Nathan and others and I'm looking forward to the season ahead.

Q: To all the panel: is there a particular game that you're looking forward to this season, and if so, why?

PB: I think this season's just going to be so open again. So for me, the last game of the season that sees us into the play-offs will be great.

TB: Not one particular game, but if we do get promoted that will be the game for me.

OG: He took my answer. For me, all the games that we play here, they are the most important, the most special. Every game that we play in front of you is my special game.

Q: How much have you been able to look at other Championship teams? Has it been difficult because you've been here for such a short space of time?

OG: Yes, I am very busy. I have to go now to watch more games about Leeds. But I have a big staff, they are helping me a lot. I will try to do as best as we can. I have no doubts that every month, every week we'll know more things about the league, about the teams. But first of all I want to improve my players, to improve my teams, and after we will see. First of all I want the players to know me better, I want to know them much better. They have an idea now how we want to play and this is the way. It is difficult to build something in one day but we will have enough time to build a good team.

Q: What does Oscar Garcia do to relax when he eventually gets away from football?

OG: I never relax. When I arrive home I want to see our games, I want to watch games on television and there is a special room for me and another room for my wife and my daughter.

Q: Have you had a chance to look around Brighton and Sussex?

OG: Not at all.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Charlie Oatway interview

Did this one for The Seagull Love Review in November 2009, just after Gus was appointed. Thought I'd put it on here for posterity. Charlie was always one of my favourite interviewees...

How was your first training session with Gus?
It was an eye-opener, obviously. I’ve been involved with the reserves and all that for a little while. When the gaffer and Bob and Dean got sacked Hinsh spoke to me about it being virtually all hands to the pump. It was good to see a man of that profile at work.

Were you surprised when you heard that he’d got it?

He hasn’t said this, but he has been a successful second in charge. He was very humble and said ‘I’ve done ok’ – but he has done well, simple as that. I wasn’t taken aback because the papers knew he’d been interviewed. I knew as much as they did, so it wasn’t a shock. But it’s a massive name – you’re talking about a man who nearly went to Real Madrid as an Assistant Manager, so that speaks volumes.

Has he given it the big-time Charlie at all?

No, he’s very down-to-earth. It’s very funny when he swears because he’s got that little twang to his accent. He hasn’t heard my accent yet, though. 

Is your training top on back to front?
No, it’s crappy old kit until our kit comes.

Is that sort of thing a bit of a culture shock for him, do you think?

No, it ain’t gonna be a culture shock for him, is it? The fact is he was at Swindon and Leeds. I know Leeds is a massive club but they had money problems at the time so I don’t think he had everything in abundance. He seems like a hands-on type of guy so I don’t think he’s going to care about getting his hands dirty or worry about wearing an odd sock or not.

Did you do anything different this morning to the rest of the season?

He came straight in and was very relaxed. He’s got set times that he wants to work to, he’s set things that he wants to work with, you know…he wants to shut up shop at the back because we’ve conceded a lot of goals…but it’s a team effort, he ain’t isolating back fours or goalkeepers. It’s a team effort and he seems very big on that sort of scenario.

Because that’s what you and Hinsh said last week, isn’t it? You wanted to shut up at the back, and then you conceded four goals, so there’s no guarantee when you work on those things. Is that a concern?

If that’s the case, which I haven’t found yet because I haven’t been here long enough, then you need to get different personnel, don’t you? If the penny ain’t dropping…but they’re a young, enthusiastic back four or back six players we’ve got there…

Do you think maybe we need another Guy Butters?

Time’s gonna tell, because I wasn’t here day-in, day-out. I started here taking the reserves with Bob Booker, so I wasn’t seeing what went on on a daily basis. I wasn’t seeing the training sessions so I don’t really know.

Does it make the sackings hard for you when you were quite good mates with Bob and Dean?

The simple fact is I’ve been in the game 14, 15 years as a pro…they’re honest lads, Dean White’s probably the most honest lad you’ll ever meet in your life, and he even said, ‘fourth from bottom, what did we expect?’” So it was as simple as that, but it weren’t through a lack of trying, I can tell ya.

Are you still in touch with them?

Yeah, every one of them.

Have you spoken to them about Gus’s appointment?

I haven’t spoken to them since the gaffer got the job, but you feel devastated when someone gets sacked. It’s not nice – you don’t want to see anybody get sacked, especially in this current client. But football’s football and it moves on.

So the next step is Southampton on Sunday. What do you reckon?

I haven’t seen Southampton. I knew it wouldn’t be long before they were out of the situation they was in because they’ve got three good coaches and a good manager there.

Dean Wilkins and…

Well Wally Downes has been everywhere, he’s very good with back fours and things like that. I’ve just had a text come through from him as it happens. I don’t want to show you it, but it’s ok. It’ll be interesting but the be-all and end-all isn’t Sunday, it’s beyond that.

Do you think you’ll be a part of that?

I don’t know what the gaffer’s got planned, we’ve only been together four hours or so. I think so.

I’ve got to say, I think everyone enjoyed seeing you really give it some on the touchline at Wycombe last Saturday. It was good to see a bit of passion.

Well that’s me as a person – I don’t do anything for show, I do it because I care and I give a shit about the club.

Because occasionally you have to say there’s been a little bit of a lack of spirit and possibly a bit of passion missing this season.

Yeah, speaking to the gaffer and his Assistant, I think they’re going to bring a lot of passion in their own way. Just listening to him when he spoke to the players and addressed the staff, this is where he wants to work and he wants everyone to know that he doesn’t want anyone to pass the buck. If you make a mistake as staff, just put your hands up – he doesn’t want any in-betweens. That’s great, it’s music to my ears and the same for the players. He’s down-to-earth, prim and proper, let’s have a go.

A Uruguayan Charlie Oatway?

I dunno about that. Only a little bit more talent, you know. It’ll be very interesting.

Have you given (or thought about giving) him any stick yet?

What’s the phrase? Softly softly catch a monkey, I think. I’ll wait and see how the land lies and see how he reacts to me giving other people stick first, and then if he likes it he likes it…

He’ll have been used to that with Dennis Wise.

Well, Dennis is one of his best mates, and I’ve known Dennis all my life.

Do you get on with him?

Yeah, Dennis’s family and my family grew up together in White City, Shepherd’s Bush. I used to stay round one of his uncles’ house fairly regularly.

He’s been very unpopular amongst the fans, with people saying they don’t want him involved.

I don’t understand that, he’s very good and he’s achieved a hell of a lot in his management career, hasn’t he? He did well with Swindon and Leeds.

I think it’s because of the way he played. He was a very unpopular opposition player.

Oh, of course. The same goes with me at a lower level – I upset everybody but I didn’t care, and Dennis is the same. He did it at a much higher level, don’t get me wrong. I can understand why people dislike the character, but I know Dennis very well and he’s a lovely man.

Do you think there’s a chance he’ll come in at some point?

I’d imagine Dennis has got his own sights. I haven’t spoken to him for a couple of years.

He might be looking to rebuild his reputation after the bad publicity surrounding Newcastle.

Yeah, but he got drafted in to do a job and he did that job to the best of his ability. I know Dennis, simple as that, and if it ain’t worked out it ain’t been due to his lack of efforts, I’ll tell ya. I ain’t looking to blow smoke up peoples’ backsides but the same goes for the gaffer here. You can see that he’s going to be here night and day and he’s going to see us succeed.

We’ve got quite a tough run coming up now.

Yeah, November’s terrible.

Do you think that makes it the right time for Gus to come in?

When’s a good time? You could have three so-called easier games and get beat in all three. We’re fourth from bottom – it doesn’t matter who we play at the moment, we ain’t good enough.

What do you think has gone wrong this season, in total honesty?

To be totally honest there are one or two things I’ll keep to myself, because it can’t come out. At the end of the day, the sheer fact is – and I can say this because I was a player – you’ve got to take responsibility. Simple.

Have you seen people hiding on the pitch?

No, I wouldn’t say hiding. I don’t think you could ever see a player hiding, that’s a bit of a myth. Maybe you get people who aren’t as comfortable because they’re losing. Sometimes it’s a natural instinct to go ‘oh shit’…they’re young, there are a lot of youngsters here with big potential, but that’s all we have got at the moment – potential. And hopefully they’ll go on and earn this club lots and lots of money and achieve things with this football club. But at this moment in time that’s only a maybe.

You think about Russell Slade and you think at the end of last season it looked like we couldn’t have got a better manager in terms of man-management and tactics. Can you give us a clue as to why things didn’t work out for him?

Where do I think he went wrong? Again, it’s difficult to comment. It doesn’t take rocket science to sense things are wrong when you’re fourth from bottom.

He’d come out and say the right things after every game and you could tell it wasn’t bullshit. He really did seem to understand what was going wrong.

Oh yeah, he understood. He’s a very intelligent man, very clever, he’s not an idiot. But all managers and coaches – all of us – wouldn’t come out and tell everything. Do you know what I mean? You’ve got to keep a certain amount in-house and start building people back up for the Monday. But if you spoke to him now, off the cuff, I’m sure he’d tell you point blankly what the problems were. At that time he had to try and keep some of these youngsters going. I do believe at the time Russell was here, we were only one or two players short of being quite successful. That’s my opinion.

We were never getting beaten three or 4-0.

Our creative play was fantastic. I do believe Russell was one or two players short and I do know that he was looking at those one or two players very strongly.

Experienced players?

Yeah, he was looking at players who had been there, seen it, done it, but not too old in the tooth.

Like you and Paul Rogers were?

Yeah, I suppose so. But I was better than Rogers, make sure you put that in.

He’s still on the commercial side, you know…

He will be on the commercial side because he’s so close to the chairman. Every time the chairman moves, Paul Rogers is there.

You mean the Club President?

Both. Soon as there’s anyone a little bit higher than him he runs around after them. You can put that in there and all.

You’re not bitter about that at all?

Oh no, I couldn’t be like him. He’s like a dog with a bone with anyone who comes in with a bit of authority, he loves them.

So can you tell us about your day-to-day involvement with the club as it stands?

You know as much as me, I don’t know nuffink at this moment in time. I came in to stand guard for the club with Hinsh and Browny while they appointed someone.

People have banged on about team spirit, and yours is a name that sprang to mind as being able to help with that.

Like I said, I’ve just come in to help. If my job role changes because the club see fit, I’ll go with what they say. Gus has brought in his assistant, and I get on fine with him. Again, it’s only been four hours, so I wouldn’t say we’re best of mates. But he seems a quiet lad and a nice man.

You’ve been through this a few times. Does it ever get any easier, or is it always awkward?

What becomes an obnoxious thing to you is…as you get older you realise the bigger picture. These people who have moved on have often gone on to bigger and better things from us, which is fortunate. But the people who’ve been sacked have got wives and kids, and that’s something that I find difficult to take. Russell had a lovely wife and kids and it wasn’t for a lack of trying that he didn’t succeed but, like I say, I think he was only two players short, maybe three off being really successful.

Do you think he should have been given more time?

I’m looking at 5% of the picture, because I was only there for matchdays at home and the reserves. The Monday to Friday stuff I never saw. His man-management skills, I thought, were spot on. He spoke to players, his door was always open. I’d love to have seen him stay on and succeed, but I’d love to see Gus succeed now, because my loyalties are with the football club. It’s the same group of players and I believe that Gus will turn it around and make them very successful. I believed it with Russell and I believed it with Micky.

Has there ever been a group of players here where you thought that wasn’t the case and we’d be average or worse?

When we were in the Championship for the first time we went through a long period of getting beat. You don’t think ‘we’re gonna finish bottom’, but you think ‘it’s going to be really difficult’…but again, the attitude of this club and these players was that everyone rolled their sleeves up every game and had a go.

Is that what we’re lacking?

I need to find out myself. Now I’ve been in the training ground on a weekly basis I can see how the players train and find out about their characters a bit more.

Are you enjoying it?

I love it. I enjoy being at a player’s beck and call. I don’t mean that disrespectfully to me – I mean if a player wants to do a bit of shooting, a bit of crossing, a bit of this or that to benefit him and his career, I’m there. If he wanted to turn up at 12 o’clock at night for it, because he thought it would benefit this club, I’d turn up at five-to-12 to meet him.