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
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’.