Judge and Jury: Newcastle two employed the wrong tactics for City game - In terms of crisis management, the handling of the Douglas Hall and Freddie Shepherd debacle at Newcastle United was an unmitigated disaster, says Martin Thomas, managing director of

We are reminded constantly that football has become big business. Murdoch’s millions and the bravado of numerous larger-than-life entrepreneurs have revolutionised the nation’s favourite game.

We are reminded constantly that football has become big business.

Murdoch’s millions and the bravado of numerous larger-than-life

entrepreneurs have revolutionised the nation’s favourite game.



But maybe recent events, bloody though they have been for the Newcastle

board, will serve to demonstrate that managing a club’s corporate

reputation has become as important as a team’s performance on the

pitch.



Of course Douglas Hall and Freddie Shepherd were tricked by the News of

the World, but who cares? They appeared to symbolise a football ruling

elite that has lost touch with the average fan.



Allegedly immoral behaviour is often forgiven - it certainly didn’t harm

the careers of David Mellor and a certain US President. But cheating the

fans, and appearing to revel in the fact, is another matter. Ratner made

the same mistake with his throwaway line about ’crap’ jewellery.



For a week, Hall and Shepher tried to bluff it out. ’Keep your heads

down and it will soon blow over’ was the apparent advice. It was an

approach that totally failed. By going to ground and issuing a stream of

vaguely worded press statements, they simply antagonised the Newcastle

fans and provided constant ammunition for the media pack. Finally, but

far too late, Hall and Shepherd, or more likely their advisers, realised

that they couldn’t bluff their way out of this one. They departed with

their reputations totally destroyed, leaving Douglas’ father, Sir John

Hall, to ride to the rescue.



We have now been treated to a series of highly flattering profiles of

the saintly Sir John, back to save his beloved club once again. The City

has breathed a sigh of relief, the fans have stopped protesting and

Newcastle United might actually win a football match.



Were Hall and Shepherd so cut off from reality that they couldn’t see

the scale of the mess they had created? I always thought that the first

rule of crisis management was to take the initiative: become master of

events, not the victim. The fact that Newcastle United plc is now a

quoted stock added a whole different dimension. The City will not react

positively to any business that fails to respond professionally to a

crisis. The shareholders, not the supporters, ultimately pulled the plug

on Hall and Shepherd.



The irony is that since resigning, the two have seen the value of their

Newcastle investments soar on the back of a revived share price. But as

one football sage famously quipped: ’football is a funny old game’.



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