Monday, 7 June 2010

In A League Of Her Own

With the start of the World Cup less than a week away, West Ham news is slower than molasses in winter, emptier than a beer closet in a premises where painters have been at work (Twain?) and patchier than 90 minutes of Jonathan Spector at leftback (my mate Ned)...

West Ham are reportedly upping their efforts to sign 40 year old Everton striker Yakubu now Avram Grant has been confirmed as the club's new manager. Grant is set to take charge at Upton Park later this month once he is issued a work permit. The club have already sealed the signing of Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger as Grant looks to revamp a squad that narrowly escaped Premier League relegation last season. According to several news reports, the former Portsmouth and Chelsea boss is keen on a reunion with Yabuku, a player he coached when in charge of Israeli side Maccabi Haifa during Yukubu's spell at the club from 2002-03.

The Mail states Everton could look to off-load the injury-plagued striker after the arrival of Jermain Beckford on a free transfer last week. It is thought Goodison Park boss David Moyes would seek upwards of £6million for the Nigeria international. West Ham are understood to have already had a £5m offer rejected. Yakubu is currently preparing to participate in this summer's World Cup with Nigeria, and netted in a 3-1 friendly win over North Korea. Despite his injury problems Yakubu has an impressive scoring record for the Toffees. He has netted 32 times in 66 appearances since joining from Middlesbrough in 2007.

Other unsubstantiated susurrations from the recondite Cockney deepthroats that haunt the various United forums include a deal agreed for Blackburn Rover's hulking man-giant Christopher Samba; a move for want-away Middlesbrough defender David Wheater; a tentative approach for Tottenham's doggedly mediocre Jermaine Jenas; talks with Lecce's veteran Uruguayan Guillermo Giacomazzi; a cursory interest in Celtic's Aiden McGeady (yes please, but also no fucking chance!) and the sad, imminent departure of Alessandro Diamanti, possibly to Parma, almost certainly for considerably less than the one-paced, one-footed, one-trick maestro is worth. Shine on you crazy diamond.

In other news the salacious details of Benni McCarthy's axe from the South African World Cup squad are slowly coming to light. News reports in Johannesburg say the married Bafana Bafana star was left out of the final selection after he apparently 'entertained women' in the early hours of the morning in his luxury hotel room in Sandton. Frankly, I would've thought Benni doing any form of physical activity should be encouraged at this point but that's just me. This was also the reason why goalkeeper Rowen Fernandes was cut from the team.

Sources in the camp told City Press that McCarthy and Fernandes were apparently entertaining women at 04:00 on Thursday morning at their hotel. Coach Carlos Parreira was furious and immediately decided to cut the two from the team after security showed him CCTV tapes of McCarthy and Fernandes taking the women up to the room. The incident took place shortly after the South African team’s pen-ultimate practice match (before the final team was announced) against Colombia. It had been believed until now that McCarthy had been left out of the team because he was overweight and unfit. Several sources, including a top soccer official and a hotel staff member who wanted to remain anonymous, confirmed the events.

Fernandes initially denied the report and McCarthy would say only that "the final squad is a tough call for any coach to make and I am sure it was not made without heartache." Benni then thanked the team's technical staff for helping him with his physical shape after recovering from a niggling knee injury. His exclusion did not come as a surprise. "No one's place in the final squad is a given," he said, before insisting he pushed himself to the limits to make the cut. "I am proud to have been given the privilege to have been capped in the South African national squad, unfortunately this time it was not to be."

Finally, the following article appeared in yesterday's Observer and I'm putting it here for want of knowing what else to do with it. It is a profile of Karren Brady (who I shall henceforth call 'Kaen' to compensate for the excessive use of R's in her name)...

Businesswoman Karren Brady seems to operate best in the world of male mavericks, of outsider, outspoken, I-did-it-my-way entrepreneurs.

Her main patrons have been the former publishers of the Sport newspapers and sometime porn barons Davids Sullivan and Gold; Alan Sugar hired her to replace Margaret Mountford on The Apprentice.

Now Philip Green has appointed her as the first female board member of his Arcadia retail group. There's not a MBA between them.

Looking at that line-up of employers, you might be forgiven for concluding that her success must be due to her being one of the boys, someone you can curse in front of and she's not going to report you to HR, that she's a barrow boy's idea of a businesswoman.

Some of this might be true. Successive interviewers have noted Brady's no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach to business, even calling her "bossy" – well, she is the boss, that's what she's good at – but if that was where Brady's qualities ended she'd never have got so far.

To take Birmingham City FC from administration into profit as a 23-year-old managing director, one would expect her skills and talents to be something altogether more sophisticated, more strategic than the approving description David Sullivan gave her – "a sacker".

Brady is one of the handful of British businesswomen whose names spring easily to mind, a reminder of the obstacles women have to deal with when trying to get ahead in business. But what is curious about Brady is that if business is still a man's world, she always seems to find herself in the most manly bit of it. And thrives there. She is often described as the "first woman of football", but you could equally call her the first woman in football or, indeed, the only woman in football. This woman-in-a-macho-world factor helps explain our fascination with her. Indeed, you could argue that it's put her on the women-in-the-workplace front line.

Brady's motivation to make money was fixed early. She was born in Edmonton, north London, in 1969. Her father was a self-made millionaire who made his fortune, complete with swimming pool, holidays in Barbados and Rolls-Royce, from his printing business while she was growing up.

Not surprisingly, money was a driver in the Brady household. When hockey-loving Brady was selected to play for her country, rather than saying: "Well done", her father remarked that there was no money to be made from hockey. As Brady recalls: "It put me off for ever." She spent her secondary years at a convent boarding school and her ease with male environments is probably explained by her choice of sixth form, another boarding school where she was one of six girls to 600 boys. As she said recently: "You had to learn to adapt… you develop your own integrity, your control of your own space. It grows you a thicker skin."

She didn't let boys distract her from studies; she got four A-levels, but wasn't interested in taking a gap year and doing a degree: "I wanted to earn my own money."

After working at Saatchi & Saatchi, she moved on to LBC where she sold advertising airtime to, among others, the then owner of the Sport, David Sullivan. He soon spent £2m with her and she found her commission outstripping the rest of her team's combined.

Impressed with her forceful sales technique, or possibly just to save himself some money, Sullivan offered Brady a directorship which she accepted. Then, after spotting a for-sale ad in the Financial Times, she convinced Sullivan to buy Birmingham City which was in administration. He made the 23-year-old managing director. Sometimes, she'd say she was 25 because she thought people would take her more seriously. A sex-change might have been more helpful; it took football a while to adjust to a young, single, glamorous women being in charge. At her first press conference, she was questioned about her "vital statistics" rather than the ones on the balance sheet.

When she met the squad, one Birmingham player quipped: "I can see your tits in that shirt", to which Brady replied: "Well, don't worry, when I sell you to Crewe, you won't be able to see them from there, will you?" He was transferred soon after.

She was banned from the men-only Notts County boardroom and when visiting other opponents' grounds would often find herself being led to the wives' seating rather than the directors' box. Birmingham manager Barry Fry reveals in his autobiography: "We initially dismissed her as a 'bimbo', but soon realised she was 'one hard bastard'" – probably when she sacked him.

So you could say she's had to deal with a certain amount of sexism in the workplace. But she was unbothered by it: "I was very confident of my own ability, who I was, what I was planning to do, and what other people thought of me was utterly irrelevant."

By the time she left Birmingham in October 2009, she had floated the club on the stock market, becoming the youngest MD of a PLC and the club was in the Premiership. And she'd taken the business from being in administration to being valued at £82m in a takeover by Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung.

Her exit from Birmingham was preceded by the only blemish on her CV: being arrested during an investigation into the corruption of football transfers; she denied any wrongdoing and no charges were brought. At the time, Arsenal were interviewing for a new managing director and it was reported that lifelong Arsenal fan Brady was cut from their shortlist because of this unwelcome attention.

However, most of the time, attention is something she seems to embrace – from the time she flashed a bit of thigh for the photographers in a Birmingham football kit. Early on, she probably realised she didn't have much choice and, being the only single woman in football, her love life was scrutinised by the tabloids.

They didn't have long to wait. In 1995 she married Canadian centre-forward Paul Peschisolido. Professionally, they'd had an on-off relationship on account of her selling him on from Birmingham, yet the romance is more stable and they have two children. She received some flak for returning to work three days after the birth of her first-born, Sophia, and now claims to "regret that deeply" – she took six weeks off after the birth of Paolo.

Later, in 2006, she was informed by doctors that surviving these births was a minor miracle. They discovered she had a brain aneurysm that could have easily burst under the strain of childbirth. In true Brady style, she had neurosurgery to remove it and was sending emails two days later.

A month on, she captained a team to victory on the celebrity version of The Apprentice for Comic Relief, which led to a move on to the regular series and helping Sugar interrogate the final five contestants. Now with Margaret Mountford leaving the show, Brady is one of Sugar's lieutenants; she's currently on Junior Apprentice, putting precocious teens though their entrepreneurial paces. However, Sugar is still doing the sacking.

Meanwhile, Gold and Sullivan bought another football club, West Ham, and installed Brady as vice-president. The day after the final game of the season, they left Brady to sack the club's well-liked but hapless manager, Gianfranco Zola. He is now in dispute with the club over his severance package; the club say he is due niente.

So with the "sacker" being installed on the board, should Arcadia employees be checking the terms of their employment contracts? Well, in order to take the role, Brady has had to step down from her non-executive position at Mothercare and it appears her seven years there were relatively stable. She also holds non-executive directorships at Channel 4 and Kerrang! with little controversy.

But you have to wonder why, after turning round Birmingham City, she wasn't snapped up by a household name to transform their fortunes. Instead, she's teamed up again with Sullivan and Gold in the gaudy world of football. One could speculate that the business world is wary of the unreal world of football finance or that she's not considered a member of the corporate establishment, like Brahmin-type females such as Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino.

But then again, maybe that's just how she likes it.


Born 4 April 1969 to an Italian mother and an Irish father. Attended a convent school in Hertfordshire and a boarding school in Elstree. Married to former Birmingham striker Paul Peschisolido, the couple have two children, Sophia and Paolo.

Best of times Brady was made managing director of Birmingham City in 1993 aged 23. Within a year, she had taken the club from administration to a trading profit. In 2007, she was voted Businesswoman of the Year. The next year, she received the Spirit of Everywoman award, acknowledging her achievements for women in business.

Worst of times Though no charges were brought, Brady's arrest during an investigation into corruption in football transfers reportedly cost her the job of managing director at Arsenal. The discovery of a brain aneurysm in 2006 led to an emergency operation.

They say "We initially dismissed her as a bimbo, but soon realised she was one hard bastard.'' – Barry Fry, former manager of Birmingham City

She says "I always laugh when I read about sexism cases. Somebody referred to [a woman's] bottom as an apple or something. Then I remember what I had to go through. I think – really? That upset you? I don't think it bothered me. I was very confident of my own ability."

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