Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Good Vibrations

Simon Jordan once wrote that if he saw another David Gold interview on the poor East End Jewish boy done good he would "impale myself on one of his dildos". Well let's hope he doesn't see today's Telegraph where Jim White has contributed another fluff piece on the new Hammers chairman.

Opening gambit: 'A couple of days after he has effected a takeover of West Ham United and David Gold's phone won't stop ringing. His mobile is spinning across his desk as he attempts to talk, rattling the trophies adorning the study of his Surrey mansion with its noisy buzz. "Sorry about this, but I can't seem to turn the vibrate function off," he says, picking up the busily humming device. "You'd think in my business one thing I'd have learnt is how to turn off a vibrator."'

I didn't want to take any chances, so just in case Jordan missed the morning papers, I thought I'd reproduce the rest of the article here...

Gold is rarely mentioned without reference to his business. He prefers the euphemism 'adult products' to the harsher pejorative often cast in his direction, but whatever it is he sells beneath its brown paper packaging it has enabled him to finance quite a lifestyle.

Here, at its epicentre in the Surrey hills, Gold enjoys its trappings: the helicopter on the lawn; the grand piano in the hall gently playing to itself; the lavish portraits on the walls of family members depicted, Marie Antoinette-like, gambolling in imagined sylvan idylls. Not to mention sitting proudly on the sideboard, the original FA Cup, the trophy which he bought for more than £450,000 in 2005.

"It goes up to 1913, who won it that year?" he says, addressing the engraving on the front of the silverware with a magnifying glass. "Oh no, please don't tell me it was Aston Villa."

But for West Ham followers it is not the fruitier aspects of Gold's business portfolio that interests them. They are more concerned about his stewardship of football clubs.

In particular, after the failed Icelandic intervention at Boleyn Road, they would like him to repeat the trick he carried off in the Midlands, where, over 16 years until last August, he presided over the stabilisation of Birmingham City.

"Actually, I'll pull you up on that," he says. "What we did was a bit more than stabilise Birmingham. Without us you can safely say that club would not be in existence. It would now be a supermarket. It came really, really close to going into extinction."

With his brother Ralph and partner David Sullivan, Gold bought Birmingham in 1993 for a pound. Last summer the threesome sold it to Carson Yeung, realising a profit of £20 million each. It was a result Gold could hardly anticipate when he first stepped off his chopper at St Andrew's.

"When I saw the stadium, I thought: 'I wonder if I can get my pound back' " he says. "Clearly I'd overpaid."

So has he overpaid again for West Ham? This time it has cost him and Sullivan in excess of 50 million times that Birmingham investment.

"Yes, yes, of course we have, it's madness what we paid," he says. "The place was a car crash. Every page we turned in every document revealed yet another problem. It was the worst set of figures I have seen."

In which case: why on earth has he done it? He is now 73, his business empire is stout and profitable. What, then, propelled him back into football's self-inflicted financial mire?

"You have to say I'm certifiable, potty," he says. "There's no other business like this. In fact that's a misnomer, it's not a business. We've lost the plot. The Premier League is pulling in more money than any other league the world has ever known, yet show me a club making a profit. It's insane.

"I would not have done the deal if it had been any other club. I've only done this because it's West Ham, my roots. I can see my mum looking down, she was mad for the club. I remember her at Birmingham, she must have been 90, we were playing West Ham and she turned up in the directors' box wearing both a West Ham and a Birmingham scarf. I said, 'mum, it doesn't work like that'. She said, 'I don't want anyone to lose'. Only my mum."

So this is just about sentiment? "It's in my blood," he says. "I could have played for the club. I was offered an apprenticeship when I was a kid by the legend that was Ted Fenton. But my father refused to sign the forms. You had to get parental consent, so that was it.

"My father was very belligerent. I didn't speak to him for 30 years. Not because of that. It was many things. I never had a good relationship with him. Would I be where I am today had I taken up that apprenticeship? Who knows. But I'd have loved to try."

In fact, such is his affection for the club, this latest represents the third time Gold has sought a long-term relationship with West Ham. Before engaging with Birmingham, the Gold brothers and Sullivan owned 27 per cent of the Upton Park action. But it was not a happy courtship.

"They didn't embrace us," he recalls. "I'm not talking the fans, I mean the principals of the football club. They didn't give us a seat on the board, they were reluctant even to let us into the directors' box. Eventually, we were allowed into the directors' guest lounge, but never into the inner sanctum."

If the West Ham bigwigs worried that encouraging men of their business ilk on to the board might tarnish the image of the club, things have changed. Twenty years on, Gold's business nous is more than just welcome, it is a lifeline. And it will be stretched to its limits to sort things out.

"I hate debt," he says. "Personally, I would avoid it at all costs. Interest is a burden on a football club that puts you at competitive disadvantage. If Man United are paying £50 million a year in interest, if they didn't have that debt, then they could use that £50 million to reduce ticket prices or improve their squad. That seems self-evident to me. West Ham have borrowed against future income. That's absurd."

But it is also a fact of history. The question now is: what will he and Sullivan do to sort things out?

"We'll bring in leadership," he says. "It was quite clear there was none. Any question you asked, it all boiled down to: well we weren't given any direction. It had become a rudderless ship. We will bring openness.

"The manager was saying to us, 'I've never seen a director at the training ground'. That will change. You will see passion from us. We will bring 16 years of experience. We are people who have overseen success, but also we have overseen failure, the test is how you can recover from that."

One of the things Gold particularly wants to do is take over the Olympic Stadium after 2012. That would give West Ham access to much greater revenue streams. There is just one drawback to the plan: Sebastian Coe has long made it clear it is unlikely to happen. "We are not in the business of building Premier League football grounds," he once said.

"Yes, and I remember Harold Wilson saying, 'We will never devalue the pound'," says Gold. "Look, the best way to secure the legacy of the stadium is for a football club to take it on. Seb's a politician, but you've got to be realistic.

"How embarrassing to have one event there a year, with 4,000 people watching a weekend of athletics. No, football is its best hope. Maybe it's too late to affect the design of the building. Maybe it is about us taking it on and converting it afterwards. But believe me, it is in their best interests as much as ours."

But if that doesn't happen, what else can Gold offer? A future of belt-tightening and austerity might be the vogue manifesto for the forthcoming general election, but don't fans wish for something rather more from their chairman?

"Come on chairman, gamble with your money. Show some ambition. Bring me success. I want to go to a cup final," he says. "Yeah, that is the traditional way of regarding your chairman. Now, I might be wrong, but I think that's changing. Now I think fans are saying, do whatever you can, but I will not tolerate you taking my club into administration. I think if you treat the fans right they very rarely turn on you.

"Yes, on that bad day [in May 2008] when we got relegated [Birmingham] there was such despair it spilt over into uncontrolled red mist. For a few weeks they were mortified and it manifested itself in anger towards us.

"I've learnt, fans need two things: they need heroes and they need scapegoats."

And which is he going to provide?

"Come on, the chairman is very, very rarely the hero," he says. "You have to face up to that fact, it goes with the territory. If you're not up for it, you shouldn't be involved."

1 comment:

TBI said...

I live in Amsterdam and I can safely say I have never been stabbed with a dildo (yet)


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