This blog could have been entitled “Community ownership in football – a reply to the Billy Dodds”, but I opted for a play on an headline appearing in the Sport section of the Sunday Herald. Now why would I be moved to reply to footballer turned pundit Billy Dodds?
Some background. I like Billy Dodds. He scored a double against Rangers in the 2-1 League Cup semi-final win in Aberdeen’s last run to silverware, adding another goal against Dundee at Hampden in the final. In the following season, he scored a hat-trick, including a last minute penalty equaliser, in a game at Cappielow that eventually ended Greenock Morton 3 – 7 Aberdeen (AET): Dean Windass contributed four (4) in extra-time and I still count that as one of the best matches I attended. Fast forward a few years and Billy Dodds lived in the central belt, when (via Dundee United) he became a Rangers player. I happened to meet him a couple of times when I worked as a teller in the Milngavie branch of the Abbey National and he was always very polite and friendly, which is all a youngster working part-time on a cash-desk can really ask for. Fast forward to the present day, and I enjoy his contributions to the controlled anarchy that is “Open all Mics” on BBC Radio Scotland. I have no axe to grind against him; in fact I have much to thank him for.
In a piece called “Board games? I’m not a fan” in today’s Sunday Herald, he gets it badly wrong.
His column in the Sport section is a defence of Barry Smith, manager of Dundee. As I type, Dundee are nine points behind Ross County at the bottom of the SPL, a plight that has the potential to be worsened by the fact the Dingwall side have played one game less than the Dark Blues. Dodds’ defence of Smith is not what he gets wrong. I quite agree a manager who steered Dundee through the First Division notwithstanding a whopping 25 point deduction for entering administration, then became the manager of “Club 12” in this season’s SPL without any real chance to prepare his squad, deserves a fair crack of the whip before being given the heave-ho.
Dodds takes a look at some of the board room politics, critiquing short-termism and supposing there might have been a leak of some sort to the press about a potential sacking. I have no problem with that analysis either, but this where his column takes a turn for the worse. What he gets wrong is his condescending view of fan involvement in the board room. He writes:
“I think part of the problem is having fans on the board. Dundee supporters won’t like me for saying that, but then some of them don’t like me anyway. They’re great fans, and I’ve always been a big advocate of Dundee being in the SPL because it needs the Dundee derby, but they are very hard to please. I know that from being there as a player and as an assistant manager.”
Dundee supporters won’t like you for saying that? Well, yes, but I would go further and surmise no football supporters will like you for saying that, as I (and, generally, the article) do not portray Dundee fans as uniquely positioned not to be board members. It continues:
“Some of the people running Dundee are rookies at boardroom level and this is a learning curve for them as well.”
This is patronising in the extreme. There is a move to greater community involvement in the management of important assets across Scotland. It goes without saying that anyone coming in to manage an asset will have a bit to learn, but any deficit involved in such a “learning curve” can be offset by the fresh perspectives new blood brings. Dodds then goes on to consider the role of company director:
“Directors, particularly rookies, always believe the grass is greener on the other side, that some other manager will be better. But that’s not always the case, far from it.”
With respect, at this point the piece descends into claptrap. “Directors…always believe the grass is greener”? Too bold, Mr Dodds. If only directors had some kind of statutory duty to constrain irrational urges and beliefs and do what is best for the company and its shareholders. Oh, that’s right, they do. It is found in the Companies Act 2006. I have blogged about it before (as it happens, in a matter relating to the other Dundee team). Even if there was not such a statutory duty, I would submit that most business minds are pragmatic realists rather than Walter Mitty delusion-merchants daydreaming their way to a greener portion of grass. (In fairness to Dodds, maybe he was restricting his point about directors to the act of selecting a football manager, rather than making a point on general business matters, but he does not say that.)
Dodds had to learn the ropes of punditry and journalism after his playing days finished. It would be churlish of him to deny fans the chance to learn the ropes of fan-ownership. Increased fan involvement might just have prevented some of the recent nonsense that has taken place in fitba, to one very famous Glasgow club in particular. If that had necessitated one or two patient explanations to “rookies” along the way then that is a price well worth paying. The Sunday Herald should have thought very carefully before printing a piece that seems to boil down to a manifesto for excluding fans from the game and the business model that they prop-up. As it happens, I propped it up with twenty quid when I (and Aberdeen) visited Dens Park on 29 December 2012, and it saddens me that Dodds’ article essentially says someone like me should not have a say in what happens at “my” club.
An entrenched version of the view expressed in Dodds’ article leaves cultural assets in the hands of plutocrats and/or men (yes, usually men) who society quietly classifies as knowing how to do things, or at least able to do things better than the proletariat. That lazy, laissez-faire-ism needs to be challenged at every turn.