I managed to speak with former Owner and Chairman of Swansea City to discuss his years at the club. Here is how it went:-
Swansea City Early Days
If we go back to the very start. What was the first game that you went to and who did you go with?
My father took me down the Swans’ when I was about 4 or 5. In those days, like other kids, we were probably forced to go down there because they didn’t have any company. From a very young age, it was in our family to watch the Swans’. I can’t remember what games we watched then, but my father followed the Swans’ from a young age himself.
I remember sitting in the double decker in the Vetch with basically nobody in the ground. Watching 4th division football mostly, that’s what I can remember. The place was a wreck, it was falling down. That’s about all I can remember from the early days.
I’m guessing that like all kids, you dreamt of playing?
Yeah, I think most of us at that age did. When you come through school, you dream of certain things and my passion from a young age was always football. Playing football, I remember playing from 8 or 9 onwards and naturally everyone wanted to play at the highest level.
Did you ever aspire to being a chairman?
Obviously there was a big time gap [between then and when I did become chairman]. I followed the Swans’ over the years, like most clubs we had our ups and downs. I remember Toshack and the good times and the various times in-between. Obviously things changed, you start work and do what we all do. The last thing in any of our minds, (my friends and those who we grew up with) was being involved in the Swans’. I didn’t think that we would ever get a chance or the opportunity to being on the board or a part of a group running the club. That was the furthest from your mind.
But then the opportunity arose back in the early 2000s. The unfortunate position the Swans’ were in at the time meant bringing various local businesspeople together. Martin Morgan asked me to go along with him to a meeting. The Swans’ were in trouble and he asked if I’d go with him and be a part of the meeting. That was the simplicity of it and then things developed from there and the opportunity arose.
We beat Hull. We stay up. What changed? There seemed to suddenly be a summer of real optimism and investment.
There certainly wasn’t any investment. At that time, we were scratching around for every penny. It’s been well documented, we were paying the bills with our credit card, ticking over by the very skin of our teeth.
We quickly learned. It was me, Leigh Dineen and David Morgan that were the three close friends working at the club. Leigh was chair of the Supporters Trust and we all had a good relationship. A lot of it came down to genuine hard work. I think it was just learning quickly on your feet as you went along in order to keep our heads above water and praying that things worked out right – that thankfully they did.
We brought in a couple of different managers, different approaches. The fact that we were in this position, we wanted to succeed, and we did. We created some momentum after the Hull City game and that generated some passion about staying in the league and we pushed on from there. That momentum grew, I think it goes back to then, the momentum and how everyone were delighted that we were picking up players better than we were before.
How different is running a football club to a business? I’ve ran a couple of small businesses myself, but I’d have absolutely no idea how to sign a footballer or appoint a new manager.
It goes back to my point earlier of learning as you go on but the first thing to say on that was that we had people like Jacqui Rockey at the club. She was there from virtually day one and she had the knowledge of signing players and contracts and things. There were good people there, solid, good people who had been in football for a while, like Jacqui. Those things are good things, good people to work with who put a lot of effort into the club.
We then had different managers like Flynn and Jacket with vast experience with players. My thought at the time was that I could see that we needed experience, we needed to rely on people that had experience, that had been around and in those two particularly, we had that as managers. Those things certainly helped me and allowed me to progress and to learn. There are times that you need certain things and people to rely on and having people with experience around you certainly helped.
How about having to sack managers? You were the one needing to make that decision. It must have been a horrible job.
When you try and drive the club forward and the onus is on you, you can’t let anything stand in your way. You must make the decisions and although you don’t know if it will work out, you have to make them for the best interest of the club. While making those decision is not a good thing to do, it is something you quickly adapt to, and you know you have to do it and to move on. You have to have that ultimate belief that what you are doing is to help the club, and I always believed that, and I’m lucky that those things came to me quite naturally and I did it the best I could.
Choosing a Manager
Did you know what you wanted in a manager at each time? Did it become easier as you learned?
You have an idea of what you want but obviously when we first came in, we were in a situation where we were fire-fighting every day. Initially we had Colin Addison and Peter Nicholas. We had financial constraints and so we had to cut right back to the bone. So, we had Cussack as manager and Freestone as his assistant for a while.
We made those decisions based on cutting finances, I suppose we took a risk and then the next step was Brian Flynn. Each appointment had to bring something different and learning from each coach and manager, somebody new had to offer something different. It needed to suit what we needed at the time, I suppose that is something that I learned quickly, you couldn’t follow a certain pattern, you needed to bring in something new.
In general, each one did a job for us at the time, but each new appointment had to open our eyes and broaden our horizon. We did that with Kenny after Brian and then again with Roberto after Kenny. Later on, some of the other choices were forced upon us because people wanted to leave but the main aim was to keep advancing, to open our eyes and to see the bigger picture and each manager did that up until a certain point at different times.
Leon Britton told me recently that you were always around the training ground etc. were you a more hands on chairman than most?
Yeah, I assume I am, I have been speaking to people lately in different clubs and for some reason, what shocks me in the modern world is that everything is focussed on off the field issues and not on the pitch. My point was always that if we can get it right on the field then everything will fall into place. The finances off it, the commercial aspect, the ticket sales, it all needed it to be right on the field.
Obviously seeing how people train, the atmosphere and attitude of coaches and players. Seeing match presentation, going into tactical meetings, and listening to what is goes on, all of this was essential to making the right decisions and knowing what is happening from top to bottom of the football club.
Were you close to the players? Were they friends essentially, or did you keep a certain distance?
No, and again it was quite natural for me. I don’t go over the top, I don’t need the players friendship. I operated in a way that whilst I was accessible, I talked to most people every day, but they will also tell you that I didn’t spend hours talking to people and wanting anything out of it in that way. It was to show that I was there and available if they wanted. Everything was on my head, and it was just to show that I was there and to check that everything was alright and if it wasn’t, it was for me to know.
Selling a legend
The Trundle sale. What’s that like as the man with the decision? Obviously, the fans loved him, he was our super-star at that moment. Was it difficult to let him go?
Yeah he was [our super-star] but I am not going to lie about how I felt. We brought Lee in, and it progressed the football club really. You either need a manager as a focal point or a player that can bring the club forward on their shoulder and he certainly did that for us. That was a big thing for us.
But I think what we always did over the years, was that when the opportunity came to bring money back into the club and move forward in a different direction then we didn’t hesitate to do that either. My personal view is that you can stick too much in the past, my attitude as I did with coaches is to spread our wings and to bring in something new and it was the same with the players.
We had an opportunity to bring other players in, to spread our wings and advance in a different direction. That’s what I always built everything on. Once Bristol city wanted Lee it was about maximising the deal and moving forward and that’s what we did.
Did you need convincing of Martinez style of play? It turned out to be the best decision we ever made as a football club, but it was a gamble at the time, wasn’t it? to appoint a novice installing a continental style football in league one?
I had a long chat with Roberto when he left us. We sat down for a couple of hours and talked a lot about his views on football and mine and so the seeds were sown because I knew how he felt. Our club operated within the income level that we brought in – which I think it the right way to operate and so there was no reliance on loans coming in or people putting money in. We relied on what was coming in and that was that.
My overriding thoughts were that because of this, to succeed we needed to bring in something different because we needed to do things compete differently to other clubs that had bigger crowds, different investors and were prepared to lose millions each season. We weren’t in that position and so we needed to operate differently.
My view was that it was best to have a different style of football, a different look at it or even recruiting from different areas. We had so many players from Spain, I think we had 50 players from holland as well. There was always a thought to do things different because everyone in British football seems to do the same thing, signing the same old players and the same old managers that are failing year after year at different clubs. We didn’t want that. I didn’t want that.
That’s how in most cases we gave people the chance. In Roberto’s position we gave him the opportunity to start his career, coming back from Chester. Again, it pointed us in the right direction to continue. It enabled us to see it working. You say that it was a risk, I meet different football clubs, last week, this week and for me they have a bigger risk in appointing the same managers that are failing elsewhere. Bringing in someone with enthusiasm and who is there to prove a point is instrumental for us.
League One Champions
We were so good that season though, weren’t we? As a fan, that season in League one was probably my favourite ever season.
We were and it set us forward in a really good direction. Leeds and Forest were the top clubs in the league at that time and we certainly outdone those bigger clubs and that was our main objectives – to beat the system as a club and that season certainly started that.
I don’t think I have ever been more disappointed as when Martinez left. He’d told us that he was ‘forced out as a player and would need to be forced out as a manager’ and then he jumped ship to Wigan. What was it like for you, were you disappointed and when did you first get wind that he was leaving?
I remember going into his office early summer that year after we won promotion and the first season went OK in the championship, but I think, and I can only go by my opinion, that Roberto was starting to look at whether we had the finances to go forward. He had players names on a chart and how much they cost, and I think that the doubt was beginning to set in on whether we were able to push on and whether we could go much further.
I always thought that we could, I thought that nothing could stand in our way. But doubts started in his mind, I could tell. We started the season reasonably well and whether he’d been approached or Wigan were quick to jump that summer – I don’t know but that first season in the championship, I think that he started to have doubts.
Was Jordi Gomes a factor? Again, you hear certain things and that’s one that I’ve heard.
Yeah, that was a player that at the time, he wanted us to do a permanent deal on and one or two others as well but as club we couldn’t afford to do it and that was that.
Was that was a tough summer? I think that it was the same summer that Bodde was linked to Derby and we lost Roberto, with Pablo Souza coming in.
Yeah, looking back, we could have sold Ferrie Bodde but we didn’t. It was a tough summer, but I found it, on a personal level a really tough start to the following season. That was probably the toughest time as a club from when I took over.
Looking back there was a big change in the club which now through experience I understand better. A change like Roberto leaving is massive and then you had to reorganise and go again. It’s never easy following on from someone who is so liked and successful playing in a certain way.
It took us a few games to even get going in that first season under Paolo and you might say that we lacked a few players at that time. I remember playing in Coventry where Chad Bond scored and that game, in particular, was such a relief. I think it was the first one that we’d won under Paolo and the fact that Chad Bond was playing showed that we were a bit short. We pulled through and then went on an eleven-game unbeaten run, wining 7 or 8 of them 1-0. That was a big season to get through.
You said earlier about different managers bringing in different things. I’ve said in this magazine before that Martinez was a fantastic manager and we played incredible football that was brilliant to watch but we would leak stupid goals, especially from set pieces. Paolo tightened up our defence and Brendan inherited a team that had the best of both. When you appointed Brendan, he had failed elsewhere, he didn’t have the best CV and yet you saw something in him. What was it?
You are spot on with what you say. Paolo put a lot on defending – the fact that we were then doing zonal marking at corners made a huge difference because we had quite a few smaller players and he understood that. The system that he introduced certainly was a big factor that Brendan followed on with. The players adapted very well to Paolo’s system, and he did engrain the defending a lot and how the midfield worked. Leon Britton would remember us playing in Barnsley and having 800 passes and drawing 0-0, we barely had a shot but that was Paolo. But that set-up and what he brought to training was a perfect set-up for Brendan.
I met Brendan and discussed his thoughts on football and looked at his training methods and what he wanted to achieve and why he struggled at Watford and Reading. For me, it was quite obvious that he had been at 2 clubs that never really wanted to play football in the way that he and we wanted to. At Reading he was following on from Steve Coppell which was totally different.
Talking to Brendan, what he wanted to do was to play a 4-3-3 formation that suited us down to a tea and the players too. Then you had his personality, once I met him, I thought that it was a good match, we talked through things and then it was a matter of coming back and telling the board who I thought should get the job. As you said, not many people had heard of him or seen much from him but to be fair to them, they were supportive, and they gave him the opportunity and we never looked back.
How to sign a player?
You must understand the game incredibly well?
I think that I do but some people might think different. Again, it is a learning process and seeing people at work. Nowadays, I suppose my role would be a sporting director or director of football because I filled all of the roles [as chairman]. The main two roles that I filled was a modern sporting director or director of football. I oversaw all our recruitment, I put a recruitment team in place and so that is what I do. These are the things that I’d learned along the way, and it is what I really enjoyed when doing the job.
With a signing like Scott Sinclair, who cost a fair whack. How does it come about? Do you sit down with Brendan and tell him that we have x amount to spend, or does he say we need a winger and you say these are the ones we can afford? How did it work?
The basis of how I worked, how I felt that I worked best was working with the managers. If we go back to Brian Flynn, then he knew Leon Britton, Alan Tate and we had Kevin Reeves at the time who was also sorting those sorts of things. I’d talk to Reeves in particular about players. Then when Kenny came in, he brought Garry Monk in, Kevin Austin too, both those players that contributed, you could add Willy Guret into that.
The managers usually have a good knowledge of what players suit them and they have been in the market a while and so they always have 3 or 4 players that they have worked with and you have to back the manager with that [in order] to give them support and confidence.
It was the same with Roberto with Angel and all the different players we brought in – Nathan Dyer another one. Those things work well and when Brendan comes in, it was a similar thing. There were certain players that he’d worked with, he had been at Chelsea and so he knew Scott. Half the people were telling me, which happens in football, ‘don’t bring Scott in because he didn’t do well at Plymouth’ or ‘didn’t do well at Wigan’ but that’s the nature of football.
I think that what I did worked well, and I worked well with managers. Brendan wanted to bring Scott in, and I went against quite a lot of opinions to bring him in and that proved to be the best decision that Brendan made, and that I made at that time because it was the difference between getting in to the Premier League or not.
It’s the same then when we get to Laudrup and we bring in Michu, Pablo and Chico. But it’s about having that relationship with the manager and understanding who they can bring in that fits the style. Modern football has gone a bit away from that and to me, it is never the same unless you are working in line with the manager for success because you both need that.
Swansea City – Premier League
The fairytale happened. Premier league football. You must have known things would change dramatically? Was any part of you concerned? Were you at all worried about what was going to come next?
Obviously I was delighted to get there, the first Welsh club essentially to get there and it changed the perception of the club around the world. We’d achieved something that nobody thought that we could achieve and that was obviously great. There was definitely a bit of apprehension, a sense of going into the unknown. We’d gone from a club that nobody looked at to suddenly being up there with the best and that’s a big change, you cant deny that. I don’t think we feared anything and that proved the way that we approached it.
At this stage, you were the biggest legend in Swansea. You were credited as the genius behind our success. ‘In Huw we trust’ was a common term. What was that like? For a fan, for someone from the city?
It was certainly unusual. It was something that in football, you can’t hide from the fact that as we progressed, but you can be up there one minute and everyone is after your neck the next minute if things go against you. We were lucky, I was lucky, we had such a long success which resulted in Premier League football and as you said, people look upon you differently. I was never naïve enough to think that things might change and that’s something you just have to accept.
You very rarely get a popular chairperson, do you?
It is difficult, at big clubs these days and even smaller clubs, you can’t please everyone all of the time. With the modern era with social media, I think it’s even more difficult job as we had years ago.
Money, money, money
As we got to the Premier League. We are promised all these riches but when do you get the money?
Whether the Football League or the Premier League, then the money comes in mostly into the club on a monthly basis. Sometimes you get it in two or three bits but mostly on a monthly basis. Obviously getting to the Premier League then there is a huge jump in revenue but that coincides with a huge increase in players wages and the way that things are run. All clubs find this.
While it’s massive thing financially for any club to get into the Premier League, it isn’t as simple as how some people see it. It changes the whole outlook of the club, there is a huge increase in costs and those things just go hand in hand. The increased costs are something that all promoted clubs have to deal with.
Did some players have contracts that automatically went up with promotion?
Yeah, when you are in the Championship and you have serious ambitions of getting promoted then quite naturally you incentify the players, the coaches, and the manager by adding clauses or bonuses into the contracts – especially the star players.
It helps so that we are all based with that ultimate aim, which is promotion. All these contracts come to a head when you get promoted. Overnight there is a big increase, and you know that whether it is bonuses for the promotion or the extra salaries, they all kick in with promotion and that’s what you have to contend with.
We have seen a lot of club’s gamble when they reach the top flight, spending beyond their means. Was there that temptation?
No, I’ve had some time to look back and think through what we did, and I think the first few years, we did things like we always did. Naturally you are spending a bit more because salaries are higher and we managed to go in the market and sign a few players, initially under Brendan and then Laudrup.
Those first few years went well for us and the way that the club was run then, I thought was more or less as we have always done. Following the same plan as we showed coming through the leagues. It proved a good thing with results and the way that the club was progressing over the first few years.
Was Brendan interested in anyone that was unrealistic?
I think that we were generally on the same page. Generally, whichever manager you work with wants something that you can’t afford. They want to go down a different road and sign ‘6 players that would change everything for you’ but I think that we had an agreement, we knew the players that we were signing, especially the first year or two.
We brought in Graham, Vorm and Routledge in. I think that we still signed players that had a point to prove in the Premier League and all those little things were good for us. We had a good working relationship – myself and Brendan and we both knew that we had to keep things under certain constraints and they worked very well for us.
As a fan, I expected it to be one season. Is that how you approached it? If we had gone down after one season, then we’d have been in a very good financial position to return.
We all wanted to stay up. It was new to all of us. You can’t forget that. It was new to everyone in the club. I think through the years, I have learned a lot but getting into the Premier League is another learning curve and you are taking everything one year at a time initially.
The first year went well and with Laudrup coming in – the second year went even better. It seemed, whichever way you looked at it, things were going in the right direction. The results were and the club was.
We were looking at things year on year, seeing how things go and then doing our best. The longer that you are in the Premier League, both the fans and myself and everyone working in the club, we all loved it more and more and wanted to stay there. That’s where the difficulties arise.
When you look at things slightly differently and change the way that we did things and looked at things. The subsequent years after that, as it proved became more difficult to sustain but we were still lucky enough to be there 7 years.
Brendan, Liverpool and Allen
When Brendan left, I heard a rumour, that there was a gentleman’s agreement that he wouldn’t sign a Swans player within 12 months? He shortly signed Joe Allen, was there any truth to that rumour?
I think we had a clause in place, they existed in the contracts. Naturally, you never know when you put a manager in place whether you either end up sacking them or you end up with them moving onto different things. Obviously, Brendan was one of them that chose to move on.
We had the interest from Liverpool with Joe Allen. If we had felt that we didn’t want to entertain any players leaving, then there is a clause in place that we could maintain that. However, every club that exists, no matter who it is, when the money is right, and someone makes an enquiry then you certainly need to look at whether it helps the club move forward in different ways. We had the discussion and then that moved onto Joe Allen leaving.
So essentially the clause is in place, but it doesn’t mean anything because if a club offers a price that is worth selling for then it makes sense to sell – which is essentially the case whether there is a clause or not?
Yeah, that’s true. In football as we know, whether a manager or a player, if a so called bigger and better club comes in and a player hears about it then it is usually a hard battle to keep the player. That was in place but usually with negotiations then if the selling party is happy to sell then it goes ahead.
What was it like for you personally with players like Joe Allen moving onto huge clubs like Liverpool. You’d have known him from 8 years old or whenever it was. Did you take a personal pride in seeing him play Champions League football and challenging for Premier League titles?
Yeah, I think you touched on it there. The realism in the world of football is that it doesn’t matter what we think of our clubs, there are always bigger clubs. Whether that is Real Madrid or Barcelona knocking Liverpool’s door or whoever.
When we look at the 18 years that I was at Swansea and bringing the likes of Joe Allen and Ben Davies though and more recently looking at the Welsh team that has 6 or 7 ex-Swans players in that squad. Looking back watching the swans that was unheard of. Those things do fill you with a lot of pride and it gives you that feeling that you were doing something right. It is natural for players to move on and it’s a big thing.
The club had a good standing in the game of football, there was a good view towards Swansea City from other Premier League clubs – the way that we run the club and the academy and that always gives you a sense of pride and of achievement about what we did.
Michael Laudrup at Swansea
Did Michael Laudrup approach the club or vice versa? How did that work? Obviously, he is a footballing superstar.
You build up your contacts over time and there were one or two people we were working with in Spain. It coincided with that point that we had a lot of respect around the Premier league but also across Europe. We had a lot of Spanish players playing with us through the years, and Dutch players as well and so a lot of people from Europe had noticed the club. Seeing Brendan leaving to Liverpool from Swansea also helped bring a few more people to the table that were interested in taking the job. Managers look at clubs to see if it suits them well in advance.
I asked Michael why he wanted to come to Swansea and his first words to me were “because Swansea play football like a big team”. Thats because we played in a similar way as Man City at the time. He could relate to that. He likes that challenge; it was similar in Spain with what he was doing with Getafe. He wanted to challenge the top clubs there and he liked the idea of that challenge here. When I met him, it was very much a chat and a handshake, and we saw things from the same page. It was quickly up and running that he would be our next manager. It was an easy one to do.
League Cup and Europe
The League Cup win, the Europa league run, could you have ever dreamt of anything like that?
No, not to us when you look back over the years. Lots of things changed during that season. The style of play, introducing new players like Michu, Chico, De Guzman and Hernandez. All the players that joined us under Michael, they made a huge difference to everything that we did. Going to Wembley and winning the league cup, it was something that we could only dream of. It resulted in us having European football the following season and it was fantastic for us all to experience and put us on a different footing everywhere.
I’m curious with Laudrup leaving. Again, you had the decision. How much of it was based on that West Ham match? I remember the game well and we were tactically awful, playing a deep defensive line against a team with no pace and Andy Carroll winning headers in our box.
I don’t think that he was sacked for just that one game. There were lots going on at the club at that time. Michael was trying to change things with past and present players and the European competition proved difficult, playing those games mid-week, and then playing on the weekend. That had a huge baring and impacted the environment in general.
It culminated in that match. As we all know, there was a meeting called on the Sunday and the decision was made.
Looking back, was it the right thing? Was it the wrong thing? All we can say is that Michael was a great guy and achieved so much for this football club.
Looking back from my point of view, perhaps it shouldn’t have been done like that. Maybe it shouldn’t have been done but the fact is that it was. We then look at what Garry Monk achieved, and we finished that season strongly with the change. The following season, Garry taking over as a young coach saw us playing the best football the club has played for many a year with a very strong squad of players. I think that I’m right in saying that we finished the highest we ever have in the Premier League.
It’s difficult to say whether it [Laurup sacking] was the right decision because the following season we were even stronger but it’s never a good thing with someone like Michael who achieved so much for the club and as I said I wish things had been done differently but we moved forward.
Brendan / Laudrup differences
Players from the time have told me that Brendan was someone who would micro-manage players while Laudrup would let them get off and do their own things. There was a difference between the Continental approach to managing and the British style. I understand that there was also a split between the foreign players Michael brought in and those that had been there longer. It was as difficult time within the squad, wasn’t it?
We were all gaining and learning from experiences along the way. I learned a lot over that time and there were a lot of players there that had grown up and grew as a player with the Swans. A couple of them were coming to the end as players at the top level and I think that there is nothing to hide there. Michael saw things differently to some and would have been happy for a few of those players to move on.
Looking back then that might have been the difference. The split in the club, different style of management as you say, people are different, there is no right or wrong way. As long as they keep getting results then ultimately that’s what matters. The time when players come to the end of playing at that level of football and battling to stay involved is difficult for any manager to take care of and it proved it with us in Swansea.
Monk – Swansea Way?
I think it’s a little bit harsh. The points were that we were going down a slightly different route of playing, you can’t forget that that team that went out on the pitch and went up to Old Trafford first game of the season and beat Manchester united 2-1 away, I think is one of the best teams that Swansea have ever put on a field. I think that wasn’t the issue that season, I feel and I’m not afraid to say that trying to think that you can better that situation was our downfall.
Whether owners, managers, players or coaches, they always think that they can better what you have achieved, and maybe more care should be spent on maintaining the balance rather than improving it. Sometimes people try and improve things that are impossible and the whole thing goes backwards and that’s what we found in the second year with Garry in charge and he found it difficult. Trying to reinvent the wheel when you are already achieving beyond your means.
The wage bill increased a lot over this time. I think 2013/14 was £62 million, the following year was £82.5 million?
There were reasons for that because every two or three years there is a new Premier League TV deal and therefore more finances. I will admit that we had drifted perhaps from our normal, usual way of doing things though – what we had done for years.
We did over-stretch and try and think that we could stay at the top of this level by doing things differently, which is really difficult without having someone backing you with loads of money to cover the little mistakes you make – the signings that don’t work out. That’s football, sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn’t.
I look at a player like Bafétimbi Gomis and I wonder if he was a player that you would have signed years previously, I know he was a fantastic player and I don’t know the ins and outs of his wages but he was on a free transfer and so I imagine they were a lot higher than we would usually pay?
Yeah, I think there is nothing wrong with what you are saying. I think it slightly went away from what we had done the year before. We had done well with a few signings, things worked well in different ways, and I think we were signing players that perhaps were hungry to prove people wrong, players that wanted a footing in Premier League and to improve their career. Very similar to what Brighton are doing now, whether they come from different countries or different styles of football, it is about finding the odd gamble that is more withing where you want it to be rather than the other way around. I can’t disagree with that, there were definitely a couple of players that we would have done differently.
Selling the club
When did you and the other board members discuss selling your shares? I know that you’ve taken criticism on this, and I’ve always said that I love Swansea City Football Club but I love my kids more. If I was in your position where I could sell my shares and set my kids up for life, then I’d jump at the chance.
What you have to remember is that we all grew up on with the Swans dream. As you know, we worked for nothing for a number of years. [With the sale] Any money that we would get, then the main aim was not to take any money out of the football club. The offer that came in, they weren’t borrowing money from anyone else, they weren’t adding debt to the club, they were doing a deal that was their money and that was always a big factor, it was never the clubs money. We looked at it in that way, it was the best way to do things in those sorts of circumstances.
There was also the realism about whether we could maintain what we were doing and that was difficult. Three years running we were nearly in the relegation zone; we were fighting to stay in the premier league. We had Garry Monk and then Guidolin came in and finished that season well, he then went, and we had Paul Clement that came in and finished that season well. Annually we were fighting a relegation battle.
Like I said about managers and coaches trying to change the outset when the club is doing the best it can, the same applied to us. The club could get relegated any season and we are back to square one. Could we keep the club going after relegation? I don’t think any of us knew, did we have the fight and the commitment to do that after nearly 20 years? especially when the club goes backways. All that comes into play when someone comes knocking to buy the football club. The timing was probably about right for us.
Do you wish things had been done better with the Supporters Trust with regards to the sale? Should they have been involved?
The only thing that I would say is that I 100% think that things should have been done differently for everyone’s sakes – for us, the Supporters Trust but also the club too, things could have and should have been done better.
What was it like being chairman but with a majority share group above you? What was it like having a boss essentially?
Again, I’m not going to hide the facts. I was told from different people that things wouldn’t be the same [after selling the shares] but I naively thought that I would still remain important to the new owners. I was getting older, but I was still learning. They had said to me that I would be important to them, they wanted me to continue in the role and so I thought that it would remain as it was. But from day one, I certainly wasn’t able to run the club how I had previously. You might say ‘well that’s obvious’ but that’s what happened, and things were never the same again. Looking back, I wish that I had left the club when we sold it in 2016.
Was that on every issue? Footballing-wise. Managers? Players that came in and out?
Yeah, from day one. I had a certain way that I wanted to do things, I’m not saying that I was always right, but I used to do my own due diligence on managers. I always knew what I wanted to do well in advance, looking at what was right for us.
Obviously going down this route [new owners] then there were other people that needed to be involved.
Managers was number one but signing players too, again I was always well prepared in advance. As most people know in football, the timing is important – whether changing managers or signing players/selling players. You need to do things right and early in the transfer market. I felt that from the initial change in 2016, I don’t think many things were as they should be from that day on.
What could have been…..
Did you want to get Joey Allen back. I remember the first thing that the new owners did was to sell Ashley Williams and then Joey Allen was in the team of the tournament in the Euros. I know that he wanted to come back, was that one of the things that frustrated you? because I was.
Joe was difficult anyway because there were many reasons. That wasn’t an issue for me. There are always some players that you sign and some that you don’t. It often depends on the agent, he had a bigger offer from Stoke. We felt it was bigger than that what was right and you set your stall out on what was right. I had no issue on that.
I tried to get Brendan back, there was other varying managers that I would rather have brought to the club for different reasons, and they never did. Looking back over the years it is about bringing the right manager in to form a partnership. A part of that is allowing a manager to bring in a few players that they want, whether that is Laudrup, Jacket or Martinez – that is what we’d done.
There is a good balance in letting them bring in some players that links their style of play and the knowledge that they have on those players are usually good. It worked well over my time but when you bring in coaches and managers that don’t see things that clearly then everything starts to deteriorate, the team performance, the recruitment, everything in the club goes wrong and that’s what we saw from 2016 onwards.
You told us that before the sale, you built up the trust from the other shareholders and essentially you would choose a manager and they would back you. What would happen now? Who was your port of call If you like and what made them think that they had a clue what they were doing?
My relationship with the new owners meant that quite naturally, they had to be a part of that process. I see things different, I’m a little old fashioned, I have my own way of doing things, I spend hours looking at if a manager is right for us or not. As soon as I meet them then within 5 minutes, if you don’t get a clear understanding of them then they won’t be coming to the club. When you have more people in the process that don’t see that and will never be able to see that, then it becomes a much harder approach.
Relegation came. How hard was it? As a fan, it’s frustrating but for you, staff would go and it’s a lot of hard work that you’d put in.
Yeah, it was. It certainly had no fun in it. However, we all knew, as we talked earlier, when you get promoted, one day, sooner or later, we will get relegated. Perhaps we were thinking that we could find a way of staying there year on year and push and push. It came difficult to do that the last few years, there is an element of feeling like the end of the world at the time.
We were going to face relegation but not only from the Premier League but from the time I was there we hadn’t been relegated at all. For 17 years we were finishing higher and higher and then all of a sudden it starts grinding to a halt and going backwards and so it does feel like the end of the world, but we also have to remember where we came from.
When I sit back (and I do think about all these things that we have spoken about) and you can’t forget where we come from. What I experienced as being a part of the supporters and as chairman, the only thing that you can hope in football is that you leave the club in a better place than when you took it over. I can comfortably say, whatever anyone thinks or feels, that the club was in a far better position when I left than when I joined it and that’s all you can hope for in football. As you see in other clubs, things can go in loads of different ways. As long as it has gone in the right direction then you can keep your mentality relatively intact and feel that it’s been worthwhile.
Resigning as Chairman
You stepped down as chairman 2 days after the January transfer window closed in 2019. Was the Dan James non-sale the straw that broke the camel’s back?
Yeah, but not just for that reason. Whether people believe it or not, when I worked for the Swans, everything that I did was about what I thought was right for the club. If we had a negotiation, then I tried to keep to those principles. It may have been something that I should have done previously but when it came to Dan James, at the time, there was no coming back because I felt so frustrated with how things were at the time.
The deal wasn’t right for us, and I wasn’t going to sign it off. It was the last day of the transfer window, and I wasn’t going to sign it off, everyone was kicking a fuss but that’s what I thought. It was nonsensical for the club and so I wasn’t going to do it.
I assume that you took joy when he left for far more money a few months later?
I was delighted that it worked out for the club. After I left the club, Dan James, who I signed for £70,000, McBurnie I’d signed for £100,000, Joe Rodon who came through the ranks and a few others, all left the club for big money. It showed again (and it comes back to that point that there is a bit of pride) that I was a part of that process along with a few others that brought them to the club. Then they move on and brought a lot of money to the football club. It’s good business and what I was there to do.
Dan James to Leeds United
Just for everyone to understand. I don’t know whether you went up to Leeds or you were on the phone but the new owners wanted you to sell Dan James for far less money than he later went for to Manchester United but you refused? And that was essentially the end?
Yeah, the fact is that I had Leeds on the phone. I had Dan and his agent on the phone. Dan was up there, ready to sign, do a medical and the figures I was being quoted were nonsensical to do a deal for that type of money, I wouldn’t sign off or agree to it. I was still chairman and so I needed to be the one that signed it off and I was not prepared to do that on that particular sale.
But the board wanted you to? They thought that it was a good deal?
Yes. They certainly wanted me to do it yes.
The last question that I asked you last time we spoke was what it was like being the most loved person in Swansea. There were now sections of fans that had you down as public enemy number one? What was that like?
There are two things. Firstly, you can’t get carried away when everyone thinks you are fantastic, but it did upset me [when some of the crowd turned]. One of the worst things for me was up at Brentford. We won away that day with Routledge and Dyer scoring and a group of supporters were implying that we’d pinched money out of the club, I think that was the worst thing.
Yes, people can be critical when we lose, when we are struggling, or after relegation, people can say whether we should have sold or shouldn’t have sold, all those things you can accept, and you have to grin and bare it. But for supporters I grew up with to think that any of us would take money out of the football club, that was the worst thing. For people to even think that would be a possibility. That is the biggest thing for me.
Money and the club
On that note because again, I’ve written this many times in the magazine. People have rumours, and one thing that I hear a lot of, is essentially what you have just said but not towards yourself but to the current owners. One thing that I say is that it isn’t possible to take money out of the club without firstly the supporters trust knowing about it but also through the fact that accounts are verified and released. Could you say anything on that?
It is said in football generally, not just in Swansea, but other clubs, especially when things aren’t going well. People see the big transfer fees coming in and the big money from television deals and so people ask, ‘where is it going?’
The West Brom owners have recently been publicised for doing loans to the club because there is that transparency.
People who think that owners can just take money out of a club don’t understand how it works. Yes, there are salaries, yes people work there and get paid for it, but to think that things are going on that shouldn’t go on isn’t the case.
You have audited accounts, you then have quite a few audits from the Premier League because they help fund the academy and so they see the cashflows etc. People are unaware how much it costs to run a football club, salaries, agents, infrastructure, staffing, stadium. They all add up to a huge operation that needs to be funded.
With Swansea City, as you say, we also have the Supporters Trust – they participate in board meetings and are made aware of the financial information, everyone involved gets copies of the accounts. Money can’t simply go in and out of a football club without trace.
Finally, would you ever come back?
No, I don’t think so. As I said, looking back I wish I’d left in 2016. No, I would never come back there. Those times have gone. As always with me, I move on, I do different things and get a different experience with something else.
I would like to say a BIG thank you to Huw Jenkins for his time for this interview. It was over 2 hours and it was very appreciated.