Be Careful What You Wish For

Simon Jordan, 2013, Yellow Jersey Press

Simon Jordan was (or is? Sorry, I am not familiar with the UK celebrity world) a model of a self-made millionaire and the owner of Crystal Palace. The book he wrote is a biography which ends 2010 when he looses ownership of the club. In a similar way like the Neil Warnock biography it provides some insights, how a club is run in England, this time not from the manager but from the chairman perspective. That is, at least, what the description says.
However, the book is more a biography of Jordan than a description of how to run a club. It starts with his childhood, moves on to how he founded he Pocket Phone Shop, a mobile phone company, and finally it describes his time at Crystal Palace. Jordan writes in chronological order, which means he moves back and force between his private life and the club life, which sometimes makes it difficult to follow how the club’s progress. I think a ghost writer would have been helpful here, to structure the whole book a bit better. I have no problem to read about his meetings with celebrities and his latest romances but it would have been better to put that in separate chapters or paragraphs, alternating with chapters about the first and second half of the soccer seasons.
What can you learn about being a chairman of a soccer club from Simon Jordan?
First of all, that soccer is no business. Jordan provides a fresh view on soccer because he wants to apply the business rules, like: make a plan what you want to do and follow it, pay by performance, value a contract. All of that is not necessarily part of the soccer world and the common sense you use in normal life is usually not followed here. There is an old boys network established and they protect themselves no matter what and cover their back. To become part of the network you have to keep your head down for quite a while, offer a lot of favors and maybe you get a chance to make use of it in the future. That is not Jordan’s way. With the head first he tries to break through the wall and tries to uncover all the nonsense and the lack of professionalism which he observes. Sometimes he is successful but often enough he has to let loose and his only hope is to create some damage at the other side, that they are more careful the next time they try to con him.
Unfortunately the details of Jordan’s work are not really described by him to really understand what he is doing with the club. The youth academy, which is probably one of his landmark achievements, is often mentioned, but what he did to build it up, how it step-by-step progressed is not explained. Similar to the Warnock biography it seems that all the work of the chairman is buying and selling players and hiring and firing managers. Again I think, that a ghost writer could have helped here, because based on his descriptions he had a constant overview about the cash flow of the club. Therefore a more detailed description about the earnings of the club would have been helpful, e.g. for tickets, merchandise, sponsoring, TV and how they developed and how it compared for Crystal Palace to the average of the league they were playing in, which back office functions a soccer club has and has to pay and how that changed when the club was promoted to Premier League. All that would have been interesting to know, also the concept and plans the managers had for the team and how they turned out and why things went wrong. Jordan describes that he asked the managers to write a plan how to get to Premier League but there is no detail given. Therefore most of the signings of players he describes sound completely arbitrary and without this background one has always the feeling the build up of the team is something which is done without any sense or plan behind it.
The other think you can learn is the fact, long known from history, that every big wealth is based on one or more crimes. Although I know that in the Anglo-American business world everything is allowed and seen as smart, as long as you are not caught, it is for me not just a minor issue that in the end the success of his business was based on using a pirated version of software from his former company and a way to get around the credit background check system of the air carrier they worked with to get new lines quickly. The example of the Pocket Phone Shop in the first parts of the book also shows that Jordan was not able to build a self-sustaining business. That might not be the first priority for a start-up company but in his description one can already see that also PPS was just before the point when they would get into trouble with cash flow, although they constantly got money by making promises into the future, and he just jumped the ship at the right time to get the maximum value out of it. In principle he tried the same with Crystal Palace but the unpredictability of soccer, an unnecessary relegation and the inability to get promoted again directly with a team paid Premier league wages, thwarted his plans. Additionally to that the financial crises, which limited the interest in high-risk investments, put an end to his juggling with investors but I think it just led quicker to the same end. There his business sense failed, too. He believed that with promotion to Premier League all financial problems would have been solved but in the end one cannot predict the results of a soccer season and must have a back up plan for the worst case. This plan never existed in both operations he led. However, in business one can predict much better the future revenue and sales or what happens if you add 10 or 20 more shops and therefore you can bet on the future to get fresh money, in soccer the future is much more random or, referring to Soccernomics, Jordan didn’t know the game. Based on Soccernomics it would have been a much better strategy to rely on the outcome of the academy and spend all the money in wages of the young players to keep them longer in the club then buying players from outside.
Nevertheless during reading the book I strongly sympathized with Simon Jordan, simply because I understand his feeling to try to break up the old boys network, feeling irritated and angry when people do not follow common sense and act in the best interest of their business. Every big organization has similar problems he tried to address, every global company with more than 50000 employees, every government organization, every big sport or charity organization. If people do not feel ownership for the organization they usually do not try to move it forward and to progress it but they try to profit from it personally to the organizations expense.
Looking from the outside, and partly from the inside as a member of a soccer club in Germany, I think the structures are more professional now for the professional soccer clubs (at least in Germany). The clubs who failed on the business side already had to step down in the last years because this part of a soccer club becomes more and more important, much to the dismay of the fans. People like Simon Jordan have a part in that by digging at the foundations of the old soccer networks and breaking them up, so that more professionalism can come into soccer which can only help the clubs to become more sustainable.

Biography: 3/3
History: 1/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

Next book: Transition and Counter Attacking (Jan 27th)


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